Kirk Ferentz enters 2014 with a very different attitude than he did a year ago.
Iowa walked into 2013 having lost eight games the year before and talk about Ferentz' job security was bubbling over. But on the strength of three star linebackers and an improved offense, the Hawkeyes bounced back in a big way.
Iowa won more games than it had in four seasons and both sides of the ball showed mark improvement. The defense went from ninth in the Big Ten to second while the offense went from 310.4 yards per game (11th in the Big Ten) to 376.9 ypg.
The task at hand for Ferentz and company now is to maintain success and show his team can compete in a new division. The good news for Iowa fans is the schedule sets up very well for the Hawkeyes to do just that in 2014:
2014 Iowa Schedule Analysis
No joke non-conference
There is no marquee showdown with, say, Oregon or Notre Dame like some other Big Ten teams, but Iowa plays a pretty interesting and tricky non-conference slate. Despite dominating the game last year, anything can happen against Iowa State when those two in-state rivals battle for the Cy-Hawk. And the road trip to Pitt will be extremely testy on Sept. 20. An unblemished record out of the conference would be a significant victory for both Iowa and the Big Ten and would give Ferentz and company a lot of momentum heading into the B1G slate.
There is no Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State or Michigan on the schedule for Iowa this year. Those are the best four teams in the East Division and Iowa will miss all four. The Hawks will host Indiana on Oct. 11 and visit Maryland on Oct. 18. In fact, the entire month of October should be a breeze for Iowa as those will be the only two games on the schedule during that month. A bye week to begin (Oct. 4) and to end (Oct. 25) October should allow for Iowa to regroup after the first five weeks and get refreshed for the toughest portion of the schedule — which is…
Beware of November
There is an outside shot that Iowa is perfect heading into the final month of the season. November is when things get interesting for the Hawkeyes with the hardest four Big Ten games of the season taking place in the final five weeks. The month begins with a visit from Northwestern before Iowa goes on the road for back-to-back games with Minnesota and Illinois. But after 12 weeks of play, the entire season for Iowa likely comes down to the final two games.
A case could easily be made that Iowa will play a two-game schedule in 2014. The last two games of the year will feature home games with West Division front-runner Wisconsin and heartland rival Nebraska. These two games were decidedly different last year for Ferentz, as Iowa was trounced by the Badgers at home (28-9) and smoked the Huskers in Lincoln (38-17). The win last year over Nebraska was the first in the series for Iowa since 1981 and, actually, the Hawkeyes have lost three of the last four against both Big Reds in Iowa City.
Related: 2014 Iowa Hawkeyes Team Preview
Iowa is picked to finish second in the division due in large part to the luck of their Big Ten schedule. With none of the best teams (other than Wisconsin) on the slate, the Hawkeyes should be able to pile up wins in ’14. If Iowa can reverse the recent trend against both Wisconsin and Nebraska at home, then it has a good shot of winning the West and playing in its first Big Ten title game. Even if the Hawkeyes don’t win the division, a nine-win season is well within reach for the once embattled coaching staff.