Coach: Kirk Ferentz, 13th season (89-60 at school, 101-81 overall in 15 seasons)

Last year: 8-5 overall, 4-4 Big Ten (tie, fourth); defeated Missouri 27-24 in Insight Bowl

Returning stars

Converted quarterback Marvin McNutt had 53 receptions for 861 yards and eight touchdowns in his second year as a receiver. Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde combined for eight interceptions and returned three for touchdowns. Junior tackle Riley Reiff will start for a third season and possibly be a first-round NFL draft pick if he leaves early. Marcus Coker took advantage of the opportunity as a freshman and rushed for 622 yards and 5.5 per carry.

Newcomers to watch

Ferentz said he could see two freshmen getting carries behind Coker, from among Mika'il McCall, Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock. McCall is a 215-pounder who reminds some of former Hawkeye Shonn Greene.

Keys to the offense

James Vandenberg did so well in relief of injured Ricky Stanzi two years ago (especially in an overtime loss at Ohio State) that coaches have no qualms about him as a first-year starter despite little playing time last season. He has experienced blockers in front of him. The biggest key is for others besides McNutt to develop as receivers to balance an offense that looks to have depth, albeit inexperienced, at running back.

Keys to the defense

The unit took a big hit, especially up front, where three linemen took 102 starts and 90 tackles for loss to the NFL. But when doesn't Iowa have capable replacements on the line? Ferentz thinks a seven- or eight-man rotation could be the answer. The secondary should be solid if Hyde can be switched to free safety, where his ball-hawking skills can be better utilized.

Special teams standout

Kicker Mike Meyer was solid as a freshman, making 14 of 17 field-goal attempts and 31 of 33 extra-point kicks.

Question marks

Receiver, linebacker and cornerback received the most attention from coaches during preseason camp. The most important answer, though, might be an intangible. After winning close games en route to the Orange Bowl in 2009, the Hawkeyes lost three games last November by a total of 10 points. How will this team fare in crunch time? Improved special teams would help.

Outlook

In Ferentz's tenure Iowa has had some of its best teams when expectations were low rather than high. That's the case this season. "We have a lot of young guys that we're eager to see how they come along. I think that's going to be the key for our football team, how we come along," he said before preseason practice started.