IOWA CITY — Kirk Ferentz believes the 2014 Iowa football team has a chance to do a lot of good things.
But, the 16th-year Hawkeyes coach cautions that development over the summer months, into fall camp and even into the season will determine if Iowa can maximize its potential and build on last season’s 8-5 record.
“There’s a lot of work in front of us,’’ Ferentz said. “This group has worked hard since returning to campus in January. We still have a lot of competition going on and I think we’ll know more in August where we are on things, but the guys are working hard.’’
The uncertainty at several positions — linebacker, wide receiver, defensive back and kicker — and the need to develop depth on the offensive line and in the secondary are among reasons Ferentz sees plenty of questions to be answered as Iowa works toward its Aug. 30 season opener against Northern Iowa.
Those same questions are also among the reasons the Hawkeyes can be found projected to finish in a multitude of spots in preseason college football publications which have hit the newsstands in recent weeks.
Most list Iowa to finish anywhere from second to fourth in the retooled seven-team West Division of the Big Ten and all agree on two things — that Wisconsin is likely the preseason pick in the division and that Illinois and Purdue will likely fill the bottom two spots in the standings.
Athlon’s lists Iowa as its choice to finish second to Wisconsin in the division, rating offensive tackle Brandon Scherff as one of its preseason all-Americans and rating the Hawkeyes in the 26th spot among the current group of 128 Football Championship Subdivision programs.
The publication projects a 9-3 regular season for Iowa, including a 6-2 mark in its conference games.
Phil Steele, who publishes an in-depth preseason analysis of every collegiate program, lists Iowa behind Wisconsin and Northwestern in its countdown but still lists the Hawkeyes among his favorites in the Big Ten West.
His publication ranks Iowa 32nd in the nation, but points to a schedule which includes division heavyweights Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern at home among the reasons he believes the Hawkeyes have a chance to contend for a division title this fall.
Steele also cites the return of eight starters on offense as a reason he sees Iowa in the race until late November.
Lindy’s College Football also shows a great deal of respect for the Hawkeyes’ most experienced linemen, placing Scherff on its first-team all-American team and ranking Carl Davis as a second-team all-American at defensive tackle.
Iowa is called “the Big Ten’s most improved team’’ by Lindy’s, which projects that the Hawkeyes will finish third behind Wisconsin and Nebraska in the division race.
USA Today College Football also ranks the Hawkeyes behind those two teams in the division while The Sporting News has Iowa finishing fourth in the West with Minnesota slipping ahead of the Hawkeyes in its preseason estimation.