Injuries have plagued much of the Iowa football team this season, with quarterback Ricky Stanzi going down, the offensive line being shuffled around, cornerback Jordan Bernstine missing the season, and tight end Tony Moeaki having another stretch of injuries.
But no position has been hurt more than running back.
Sophomore Jewel Hampton was the presumed starter coming into the season after rushing for nearly 500 yards last year behind Shonn Greene. But Hampton hurt his ACL in the spring and after he reaggravated it in fall camp, he had to have surgery and missed the entire season.
Second string running back Jeff Brinson was also hurt, and though coaches were hopeful he would see action this season, he never fully healed.
Third stringer Paki O'Meara was never injured, but after another promising preseason camp, he could never deliver in a game, which was evident in the first two games against Northern Iowa and Iowa State.
That left rushing duties to freshmen Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher. Both had good years, but didn't come close to Shonn Greene type production.
Robinson rushed for an Iowa freshman record 775 yards despite missing two games due to injury.
Wegher, a true freshman, rushed for 528, but wasn't dominant when Robinson was out.
The 2009 Iowa running game can be compared to the 2004 season, just not to that extreme. Iowa had a good year in 2004, pulling off a last second win against LSU in the Capital One Bowl, but the running game wasn't able to keep up with the extraordinary passing game.
After losing their top three running backs to injury, the Hawkeyes were forced to start former walk-on Sam Brownlee. Brownlee rushed for only 227 yards on 94 carries with only 2.4 yards per carry and zero touchdowns.
His back-ups did a little better, but didn't get enough carries to be useful.
Luckily, quarterback Drew Tate was able to bail out the running game so as to avoid an awful season.
While 2009 wasn't as bad as 2004 for the running game, it was a big drop off from 2008, when Shonn Greene rushed for 1,850 yards, an Iowa record. But just as the running game turned around with Albert young's 1,335 yards in 2005, the 2010 season looks much brighter for the Hawkeyes.
With Hampton and Brinson back, the running game will undoubtedly be stronger and help relieve Ricky Stanzi.
Iowa might still have a problem at running back next season, but it will be much more welcome than this year's problem.
2010's main question mark will be who to start. Do you start Hampton, Brinson, Robinson, or Wegher?
It's a much better choice to have to make than this year's, but it will still be a tough one.
While Brinson and Wegher are very talented, Hampton and Robinson have the best chance of starting next year.
They have very different styles. Hampton is a speed back while Robinson is a power back. Iowa may start both and have a two-back rotation.
Robinson can wear defenses down with his power, and Hampton's speed is a great complement. The combination of both should turn Iowa's rushing offense into one of the best in the Big Ten.
But the return of Jewel Hampton will help much more than the running game alone.
Iowa's pass offense lived off the play action pass in 2008, and was extremely effective in that area of offense because of the threat Shonn Greene posed running the ball.
But play action was relatively ineffective for the Hawkeyes in 2009 because of the lack of a running game.
That threat should be back in 2010 with a better and more experienced unit, allowing Stanzi more options in the passing game and overall allowing for a better offense.
The return of all four running backs in 2010 will certainly be a key to Iowa's offensive success. But with so many options, who to start? While Jewel Hampton and Adam Robinson look like the favorites, Jeff Brinson and Brandon Wegher will surely give them a run for their money.
But it's a safe bet that coach Ferentz is much happier with this dilemma than the one he faced in 2009.