Iowa is regarded as one of the tougher teams in the Big Ten but the Hawkeyes have won 10 or more games only once since 2004. The Hawkeyes have struggles at running back and are rebuilding a more aggressive defense, but QB James Vandenberg is one of the most talented players at his position in the league and gives Iowa a chance in every game.
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If the Hawkeyes answers questions at running back and on defense, they could find themselves back in a New Year's Day bowl.
Best-case scenario: Hawkeyes RB Damon Bullock has been getting the majority of the reps with the first team and although the sophomore isn't a workhorse, he's a reliable pass-catcher and can breakaway in the open field. If he can stay healthy the running game will open up play-action passes for Vandenberg. With a mediocre nonconference schedule consisting of Northern Illinois, Iowa State, Northern Iowa and Central Michigan, the Hawkeyes should open 4-0 and host Minnesota and Penn State in two of their first three Big Ten games. Facing Michigan and Nebraska in the final two games of the season is rough, but if the Hawkeyes can at least manage a split with a rebuilt defense that loves to blitz, a 10-2 record and berth in the Outback or Gator bowl is attainable.
Worst-case scenario: If Bullock gets injured early, coach Kirk Ferentz could be pulling fans out of the crowd to get carries. With no steady run game, opponents can tee off on Vandenberg. The new aggressive defense yields too many big plays -- and points -- as the Hawkeyes fall to rival Iowa State and gets blown out in conference play by Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska. Mix in an always unfriendly trip to Evanston, Ill., against Northwestern and a 7-5 record, and it's another berth in the Insight Bowl.
Most-likely scenario: The Hawkeyes have talent on offense and on defense LB Christian Kirksey could emerge as a star, but learning a new scheme and lack of depth at running back are too much for the team to overcome. Iowa should be able to beat the Cyclones in Iowa City and finish 8-4. And with NCAA penalties against Ohio State and Penn State, the Hawkeyes sneak into a New Year's Day bowl.
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