Division: Legends (West)
2010 Record: 8-5 (4-4 Big Ten)
Positives: Believe it or not, there are some exciting positives in Iowa City this year.
Marcus Coker demonstrated that he's exactly the kind of running back that can carry Iowa's fortunes on his tough shoulders. Not only did he carry for 219 yards against Missouri in the Insight Bowl, but he averaged 7.78 yards-per-carry against Ohio State.
Marvin McNutt was last year's leading receiver and comes back for another go-round. The offensive line should be good with James Ferentz, Adam Gettis and Riley Reiff as experienced anchors.
All of that means that the offense at least has a fighting chance.
Defensively, Micah Hyde and Shaun Prater help spark the secondary, along with Jordan Bernstein. Where exactly they'll all play might still be a work in progress (between CB and S), but all three are quality pass defenders.
The linebacker corps keeps Tyler Nielsen and brings back James Morris, which should almost automatically make it better than last year.
Negatives: Sure, James Vandenberg looked really good against Ohio State in 2009, but what else has he done? I didn't think so.
Ricky Stanzi graduated and left a gaping hole at QB that almost has to take a step back.
All-time leading receiver, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos is gone. So too is RB's Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton. So too is TE Allen Reisner.
There's a lot of production gone in those names.
Defensively, the line appears all-but decimated. Adrian Clayborn is gone and took Karl Klug and Christian Ballard with him.
Iowa's safeties (Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood) were some of the best they ever had. Greenwood graduated and Sash left early for the NFL.
On paper at least, things don't look good for the Hawks with that kind of talent gone.
The Schedule: I love this schedule too.
Out of conference, Iowa takes on Tennessee Tech, Iowa State, Pitt and Lousiana-Monroe. Of those four, only Pitt represents a truly difficult opponent (8-5 last year) and they've got a new coach taking the reigns there.
Right away, the conference schedule starts with a bang when the Hawks travel to Happy Valley to take on Penn State. They follow that up with home dates again Northwestern and Indiana.
They go back on the road against Minnesota, but then get to bring Michigan into the friendly confines of Kinnick Stadium. Michigan State comes to call the following week.
The Hawks end on the road at Purdue and Nebraska.
The truly strong teams are spread out nicely. The rotation between home and away games fit nicely.
Getting Penn State and Nebraska on the road isn't great, but it's a small price to pay for missing Ohio State and Wisconsin. Skipping Illinois might not be a bad thing either.
The potential is there, based almost solely on this schedule, for Iowa to achieve much more than many pundits are giving them credit for.
Needs for Spring: The offense is actually in pretty good shape. That is to say, it is as long as most of the parts stay healthy. The line should be good, Coker can carry the load and there's at least two decent receivers to toss to.
Certainly, Iowa will want to work pretty hard with Vandenberg to bring him up to speed, but otherwise, they're in pretty good shape.
Identifying and clarifying the depth chart at running back is probably about the biggest concern there. The last couple of years has made it pretty clear how important quality depth can be.
Defensively, there needs to be a lot of work. A...lot...of...work.
The line should be decent, but the tackle positions really need to come together to keep the center of the line strong.
James Morris had something of a breakout year in 2010, but he really needs to bust it wide open in 2011 and bring Nielsen with him.
The rest of the secondary might end up being just as good as last year, but the entire unit needs to really come together early. There was so much talent lost from this defensive unit that the guys who are left will need to get down and dirty and help bring up the new guys.
Best-Guess 2011 Prediction: 8-4 (4-4 Big Ten)
Make no bones about this: Iowa can go either direction. 2010 was supposed to be a great season, but ended up as a merely "good" season.
This year "should" be a fairly good season based on the talent they have and the schedule they get to navigate. The potential is there for some really exciting things to happen.
However, there has been so much talent that graduated or departed early for the NFL that Iowa could also be fighting an uphill battle all season long.
As nice as that schedule may appear, it also is chalk full of teams that are perfectly capable of taking the Hawkeyes down.
Look for them to put together some exciting moments, grab an "upset" win or two, but also drop a game or two that they could have won.