The Iowa football team lost more than just eight of its 12 games last season, including the last six in a row.
It also lost the confidence of those who put together Athlon Sports’ annual preseason college football magazine.
The 2013 publication, which soon will arrive at newsstands, has picked Iowa to finish last among the six teams in the Big Ten Legends Division with a 1-7 record. It also has Iowa finishing 4-8 overall, which would match last season’s overall record.
“With what they did last year and the huge question at the quarterback position, it really wasn’t that hard of a decision,” said Mitchell Light, who is the managing editor for Athlon Sports. “I’ll be interested to see what other people do, other publications other people who make picks.
“But I’ll be surprised if a lot of people don’t have Iowa sixth.”
Iowa is coming off a 2012 season in which its passing attack struggled throughout under first-year coordinator Greg Davis.
James Vandenberg took every snap at quarterback last season as a senior, but he still only threw seven touchdown passes after throwing 25 the previous season. The inability to throw downfield put more pressure on the running game, which was productive at times until injuries started to mount.
Whoever wins the job to replace Vandenberg at quarterback will enter the 2013 season with no game experience.
Davis and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz both said during spring practice that the competition between sophomore Jake Rudock, junior Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard was too close to pick a starter.
“Greg Davis as offensive coordinator that hasn’t really worked out,” Light said. “I know it’s relatively new there. But they were always a pretty good offensive team, but last year, they weren’t.”
Light declined to say publicly in what order Athlon has the six teams finishing in the Legends Division, other than saying that Minnesota was picked for fifth place. Light said it was too early to share all of Athlon’s team rankings because they haven’t been released yet.
Iowa defeated Minnesota 31-13 last season, but the Gophers won the previous two games against Iowa at home in 2011 and 2010. Iowa will return to Minneapolis to face the Gophers in the Big Ten opener Sept. 28.
“On paper, does Iowa have more talent than Minnesota? I don’t know,” Light said. “But right now, the (Minnesota) program has more momentum.”
Iowa’s 2013 schedule is another reason for Athlon’s low rating.
Big Ten preseason favorite Ohio State returns to the schedule, along with Wisconsin, while Penn State and Indiana were dropped from the schedule. Iowa also will face Mid-American Conference power Northern Illinois in the season opener Aug. 31 at Kinnick Stadium before playing at Iowa State two weeks later. Iowa handed Northern Illinois its only regular-season loss last season by a score of 18-17 in the season opener played at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Iowa State then defeated Iowa 9-6 the following week at Kinnick Stadium. The loss lowered Ferentz’s record to 6-8 against the Cyclones.
Iowa also has lost 17 of its last 29 games dating back to late in the 2010 season. Last season’s 4-8 record was the worst under Ferentz since Iowa finished 3-9 in 2000.
“I think the (Iowa) program is stagnant; it’s clear,” Light said. “No one can doubt that Kirk Ferentz did amazing things at Iowa. They’ve been relevant in the Big Ten for a decade. But the program has kind of stagnated, and lots of teams in the league are getting better, and they’re in a difficult position.”
Athlon has Iowa ranked 10th overall among the 12 Big Ten teams, ahead of only Purdue and Illinois, both of whom compete in the Leaders Division.
“If Iowa was in the Leaders, you could make a strong case for Iowa finishing fourth, honestly,” Light said. “But they’re not.”
Light said his best-case scenario would have Iowa finishing at or slightly above .500 this fall.
“It wouldn’t shock me at all if they over achieved and a made a bowl game and went 7-5 or 6-6 just because I think they still have some talent in the program,” Light said. “But it’s clear from the outside looking in that there is not a lot of momentum around the program.”
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.