Breaking down any given team's strengths and weaknesses doesn't paint a complete picture. To truly gauge a team's win-loss potential in the preseason, analyzing the schedule is arguably just as important. We will have detailed, timely, matchup-based write-ups on each opponent in the week leading up. In the interim, we present to you our Northwestern opponent summer look ahead. It's a little thing called "Know Your Opponent." The title describes itself: take a peek at the schedule, read up and head into the fall having already completed part of your weekly opponent studying diet.
Returning starters: Offense - 8 Defense - 5
2013 Record: 8-5 (5-3 Big Ten)
Coach: Kirk Ferentz, 16th season
The Hawkeyes bounced back from a 4-8 finish in 2012 to go 8-5 last season. Iowa took care of business against Minnesota, Northwestern, Nebraska and Michigan, and they didn't have any bad losses. With the exception of Northern Illinois, all of the teams that defeated the Hawkeyes ended up playing on or after New Year's Day, when LSU beat Iowa 21-14 in the Outback Bowl. The Hawkeyes finished ninth in the Big Ten in scoring offense, but third in the conference—and ninth in the nation—in scoring defense.
There is cause for optimism here. Quarterback Jake Rudock returns as the starter and has a promising group of receivers at his command. Rudock likes to spread the ball around; nine of his teammates went over 100 receiving yards last season. Opponents will have to key in on speedy receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley, who poses a threat on offense and in the return game. But Iowa's strength will be in the trenches. Iowa returns a versatile trio of running backs in 2014. Senior Mark Weisman bulldozes defenders with his size and power while Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock provide a mix of speed and elusiveness in the backfield. Coach Kirk Ferentz should continue to give all three of his backs their fair share of touches behind an offensive line that returns three starters.
Although the Hawkeyes had a top 10 defense last year and allowed only 18.9 points per game, they lost some key pieces. They bring back just five starters and lose all three of their starting linebackers, who totaled 322 tackles last season. The big and experienced defensive line, anchored by tackles Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis, isn't great in the pass rush, but it can stop the run and hold its own at the line of scrimmage. The secondary's returnees had just one interception last season, and their top coverage man, All-Big Ten cornerback B.J. Lowery is gone. But sophomore Desmond King should fill in nicely for a secondary that finished ninth in the nation in passing yards allowed in 2013.
Five Players to Know
Jake Rudock, QB: In 2013, his first year as the starter, Rudock passed for 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns. He completed just 59 percent of his passes and threw 13 interceptions, which tied for most in the Big Ten. With a season under his belt, a premier offensive line and an improved receiving corps, Rudock, a junior, has the potential to take the next step in 2013.
Brandon Scherff, LT: The 6-foot-5, 315-pound senior is one of the best in the business. In charge of protecting Rudock's blind side, Scherff anchors one of the best offensive lines in the country and is projected to be a top 10 pick in the next NFL draft.
Mark Weisman, RB - The senior back has run for almost 1800 yards in his last two seasons after joining the team as a walk-on in 2011. Weisman is an absolute beast at 6-feet and 240 pounds, and punishes tacklers with video game like force.
Kevonte Martin-Manley, WR - Martin-Manley's receiving numbers dropped last season, yet he still led the team in catches and receiving yards. As he looks to rebound in his senior season, Martin-Manley should continue to be Rudock's most reliable target and a dangerous asset in the return game. His 15.7 yards per punt return and two returns for touchdowns last season were best in the Big Ten.
Desmond King, CB - One of the best freshmen corners in the country last season, King has big shoes to fill in 2014 with the departure of B.J. Lowery. King should build on his 69 tackles and eight pass break-ups last season and be one of the bright spots in Iowa's depleted defensive backfield.
Expectations are high in Iowa City. A veteran offense and a light schedule make the Hawkeyes contenders in the West Division. Iowa avoids Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State, and hosts Wisconsin and Nebraska to close out the year. Iowa's strength up front on both sides of the ball makes for a bad match-up for Northwestern on Nov. 1. Our staff ranked Northwestern's trip to Iowa City as the 2nd toughest game on the 'Cats' schedule. But The Hawkeyes better not sleep on NU. While the game is at Kinnick Stadium, the Cats have won four of the last six against Iowa and will be fresh off a two-week bye. That game is months away though, so for now, just enjoy the hilarity of Damon Bullock's vine account.