THE LINGERING QUESTION: Will the defensive front develop? It long has been a strength for Iowa, but only one starter returns. Is there a pass rusher in the house? Any run stuffers? The back seven should be fine as long as the front develops.
THE BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Marcus Coker becomes one of the Big Ten's top running back and the defensive front develops quickly, pushing the Hawkeyes to a fast start and building confidence for a team that may be a dark-horse Big Ten title contender.
THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO: The offense bogs down, the defense wilts under the pressure and off-field issues that have dogged the Hawkeyes carry over. RB Adam Robinson, the team's top rusher with 889 yards and 10 touchdowns, was dismissed from the program in January, and 13 players were hospitalized later that month with a muscle disorder caused by grueling workouts that made many question the school's conditioning tactics.
STAT TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Iowa committed just 11 turnovers last season, the second-fewest in the Big Ten. New QB James Vandenberg must protect the ball again.
OVERVIEW: The Hawkeyes must figure out a way to run better after ranking just eighth in the Big Ten in rushing (148.4 ypg). In addition, the offense as a whole needs to become more consistent. An inconsistent offense was a major reason the Hawkeyes saw the wheels come off a once-promising 7-2 start to the 2010 season; they lost their last three regular-season games.
BACKFIELD: A quarterback is needed with Ricky Stanzi gone. He went 26-9 as a starter, ranking second in school history in career wins. Junior James Vandenberg has first dibs on the quarterback job. Vandenberg (6-3/212) started two games in 2009 when Stanzi was injured and went 1-1, playing well in an overtime loss at Ohio State. Vandenberg is 47-of-95 for 515 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions in his career, but he threw just eight passes in 2010. RB Marcus Coker looks like a future star; he broke out late last season as a true freshman. Coker, a 230-pounder, was offensive MVP of the Insight Bowl after running 33 times for 219 yards. He started four games in 2010 and played in only seven but still finished with 622 yards and three touchdowns. Coker must stay healthy, as depth is iffy.
RECEIVERS: Marvin McNutt is a legit go-to receiver. He led the squad with 53 catches for 861 yards and eight touchdowns last season and needs just five TD catches to tie the school career mark of 21. But who will complement McNutt with Derrell Johnson-Koulianos gone? It could be Keenan Davis, who like McNutt is a big target and works the middle of the field well. Brad Herman will play tight end, which often is a position of strength in Iowa City.
LINE: The unit should be strong. The Hawkeyes return three starters in Ts Riley Reiff and Markus Zusevics and C James Ferentz, the coach's son. Reiff looks like a future first-round NFL draft choice. The staff will audition guards during fall drills, with Adam Gettis and Nolan MacMillan the favorites to win the spots. Each started at times last season while battling injuries. There also is depth on the line, which should be the strongest area of the offense.
OVERVIEW: This should be a speedier unit than the 2010 defense, which often struggled in the fourth quarter. The defense needs to develop up front and find some safeties. It will help to have standout coordinator Norm Parker on hand all year after he was sidelined much of last season because of complications from diabetes.
LINE: The line will be a question mark after the departures of Es Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard, and T Karl Klug. T Mike Daniels is the lone returning starter and he has a chance to be a star. Daniels is tough, strong and smart. E Broderick Binns was supposed to star in 2010 but lost his starting spot and notched just one sack. He needs to regain his 2009 form and be a pass rusher. The rest of the front is unproven, so it's a position that needs to develop quickly.
LINEBACKERS: Even with 2010 tackles leader Jeremiha Hunter gone, the staff likes the potential with the return of starters James Morris and Tyler Nielsen. The unit could use more size, but there is depth and athletic ability. Morris was a freshman star last seasons who could develop into one of the defense's top players after notching 70 tackles after being pressed into duty. Nielsen is back after a neck injury limited him to eight games in 2010. Coaches need Christian Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens and Bruce Davis to take the proverbial next step in their development.
SECONDARY: The safety spots need work with the graduation of three-year starter Brett Greenwood and the early departure to the NFL of two-year starter Tyler Sash. There isn't a lot of experience at the position. Tanner Miller appears likely to replace Greenwood, and Jordan Bernstine could move from corner to strong safety. Cornerback should be a position of strength with returning starters Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde, who also could move to safety. Prater was a first-team All-Big Ten selection last season and the team's best defensive player, while Hyde was the defensive MVP of the Insight Bowl. Each can make plays: Hyde had two interception returns for touchdowns in 2010, and Prater had one.
The Hawkeyes look set at kicker with Mike Meyer, who nailed 14-of-17 field-goal attempts last season. Punting duties are up for grabs with Ryan Donahue gone. The overall unit needs lots of work. Big returns and blocked kicks cost Iowa games against Arizona and Wisconsin in 2010.
the recruiting side
Average national rank past 5 years: 43rd
The buzz: Iowa finished with the No. 4 class in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes landed four four-star prospects, from three states - Illinois, Iowa and Ohio. The Hawkeyes signed players from 12 states in the class, finishing only behind Notre Dame (14) and Vanderbilt (13) in that category. The coaching staff again is all over the Midwest and has commitments from recruits in Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio for the class of 2012. - BRIAN PERRONI
Keep an eye on redshirt freshman G Brandon Scherff. He has a chance to win a starting spot; at the least, he figures to get into the rotation. He could be a good one down the road.
It sets up well. First, there's no Wisconsin or Ohio State. In fact, it's not unreasonable to think the Hawkeyes could start 9-0. The biggest hurdle the first two months looks to be a game at Penn State, a foe that Ferentz has dominated in going 8-2, including a current three-game winning streak. That would set up a big November, which has a visit from Michigan State and a trip to Purdue; that sets up the regular-season finale at Nebraska in what may be a de facto Legends Division title game.
Most of the heavy lifting for the coaches comes on offense. Who will play quarterback with Stanzi gone? Who will make bring the heat with Clayborn departed? Are there two safeties to replace Sash and Greenwood? Iowa also must figure out how to win close games, as its five losses last season came by a combined 18 points. More offensive consistency would help. If Iowa can adequately fill those holes, it has a shot to win the Legends Division.