IOWA CITY – As painful as Iowa’s 4-8 season was to endure last fall, the sting was even greater for Hawkeyes forced by injury to watch from the sidelines as the 2012 season slipped away.

“There is no worse feeling than knowing that you can’t do anything to help,’’ Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff said. “It was the worst.’’

A knee injury ended the year for the junior seven games into the season, long after cornerback Jordan Lomax saw a shoulder injury end his season before it even started.

“It’s tough to sit and watch. You’re working to get back and you do everything you can to support your teammates, but that’s not the same as being out there on Saturday,’’ Lomax said. “It’s been a long road back and I’m ready to get back out there.’’

Lomax said he leaned on teammates, family members and friends to get through his extended rehabilitation, calling it “the biggest test I’ve had in my life, to stay positive, keep working.’’

Scherff, Lomax and offensive lineman Andrew Donnal are all expected to be ready to return to action following lengthy recoveries Saturday when Iowa opens the season at 2:30 p.m. against Northern Illinois.

Scherff and Lomax are listed as starters at left tackle and right cornerback, respectively, while Donnal is expected to see time along with Jordan Walsh at right guard against the Huskies.

“I can’t wait for Saturday,’’ Lomax said. “It’s a date that has been circled for a long time. I’ve been working for months for the chance to finally get back on the field in a game. It feels like it has been forever.’’

Scherff can relate.

The Denison, Iowa, native compares his level of anticipation to what he experienced his freshman season.

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“Players invest so much time into things and when you have it taken away because of an injury, it’s difficult to deal with,’’ Scherff said. “I’m anxious, excited, ready, all of those things. Saturday is a chance to get back on the field and put last year behind me. I’m ready to move on for a lot of reasons.’’

In addition to the hours spent in rehabilitation, both players attempted to develop their abilities in other ways before returning to action.

Lomax found himself spending more time watching tape, studying himself and watching defensive backs work.

“I feel like I’m coming back as a better player than I was when I got hurt,’’ the sophomore from Upper Marlboro, Md., said. “I studied technique, looked at what I was and wasn’t doing and I feel like I’m improved now compared to where I was when I had the injury.’’

Scherff concentrated on detail work as well.

“Even though I wasn’t out there competing and gaining experience, which always helps, there are other ways to learn and I didn’t let my injury keep that from happening,’’ Scherff said. “I don’t feel like I’m coming back where I left off. I feel like I’m coming back a better player. That made sense to me and now I get to show it.’’