A clear starter, wild-card backup
Junior Jake Rudock needs to improve his touchdown-interception ratio (18-13) from a year ago, but he should have better command of the pocket with a season under his belt (2,383 passing yards in 2013). “When a starter gets better, it’s not a big story, but Jake’s really improved,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Sophomore C.J. Beathard played in five games last season and gives Iowa a running quarterback with a strong arm. He’ll be inserted on occasion to keep the defense guessing.
True freshman Tyler Wiegers is the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster. He completed 62 percent of his passes his final two prep seasons. If he doesn’t redshirt, that’s a bad sign.
Don’t overlook the center
Outland Trophy candidate and senior Brandon Scherff and underrated junior centerAustin Blythe are the anchors. Blythe has all-Big Ten potential.
Senior Andrew Donnal has played several positions, but appears locked in at right tackle. Junior Jordan Walsh started every game at right guard last season. Left guard Sean Welsh, a redshirt freshman, is the next man in at left guard.
Two redshirt freshmen, Boone Myers and Ike Boettger, have built themselves into ready-for-action players. Sophomores Cole Croston and Mitch Keppy are two more to watch on the right side of the line.
Hawkeyes can go with two approaches: power or speed
Mark Weisman (975 yards as a junior) is a fullback playing running back. JuniorJordan Canzeri (481 yards) has a home-run burst. Sophomore LeShun Daniels is a mix of the two, but needs to do a better job of protecting the ball. Freshman C.J. Hilliard will likely redshirt.
Don’t forget senior Damon Bullock, the 2012 Northern Illinois hero. He could be a receiving option in open space, where he is most dangerous. Canzeri may also be used in the same fashion.
With Adam Cox out for the year (torn ACL), junior Macon Plewa is the starter at fullback. Converted linebacker Drake Kulick, a freshman, is his backup.
Big-play guys must arrive
Think of Kevonte Martin-Manley as a security blanket. He led the Hawkeyes with 40 catches and 388 yards last season. Most importantly, he became a favorite target of quarterback Jake Rudock.
Tevaun Smith and Jacob Hillyer have to be more consistent. Matt VandeBerg was busy during the Aug. 16 scrimmage, catching passes, blocking and even running a reverse.
Iowa shouldn’t miss a beat at tight end. C.J. Fiedorowicz (third-round NFL Draft pick) is gone, but Ray Hamilton and Jake Duzey will get the first cracks at filling in.
There’s a reason fans are clamoring for a guy such as redshirt freshman Derrick Willies. The Hawkeyes sorely need a downfield option, and with Damond Powell(24.2 yards on 12 catches last season) recovering from sports hernia surgery, somebody needs to stretch defenses.