Its bowl hopes were squashed with a particularly one-sided 42-17 setback to Michigan in the next-to-last game of the regular season. It marked the first time in 11 years that Iowa failed to become bowl eligible, and that has become something of a rallying cry for the Hawkeyes as they shift their focus to the season ahead.
"Last year was obviously very disappointing for all of us," said head coach Kirk Ferentz, "and as soon as the season ended in November, we encouraged our players to turn the page and wanted to get them looking forward and then go back to work, and that's pretty much what we've done."
OFFENSE: Iowa is solid along the offensive line and in the backfield, although the team must replace James Vandenberg, a two-year starter at quarterback who saw his numbers dip considerably in 2012. In other words, there is room for improvement for a team that ranked 111th in the nation in scoring offense (19.3 ppg) and 114th in total offense (310.4 ypg). Sophomore Jake Rudock, junior Cody Sokol and freshman C.J. Beathard are all competing at quarterback, although none of those three have taken a collegiate snap. At running back, coach Ferentz said he feels better going into this season than he did a year ago.
"I never feel too good about that position," Ferentz said. "But we're certainly further ahead than we were last year. Last year at this time, quite frankly, we didn't know if we had a Big Ten running back. And Damon Bullock, I think when he was playing, did an excellent job. I think he's grown a lot in 12 months' time, and we're really excited to see how he performs this year."
Ferentz also mentioned Mark Weisman, who entered 2012 with plans to play fullback but wound up leading the team in rushing (815 yds, 8 TDs) as Bullock missed six games due to injury. That duo could form somewhat of a committee this year.
Three starters return on the offensive line, led by right tackle and senior leader Brett Van Sloten. Kevonte Martin-Manley headlines the receiving corps after catching a team-high 52 passes for 571 yards last year as a sophomore. Senior tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (45 rec, 433 yds) also returns.
DEFENSE: The defense returns eight starters. Up front, Dominic Alvis (31 tackles, 3 sacks) is back at defensive end, while tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat (40 tackles) returns to clog up the middle. Darian Cooper (34 tackles) is in line to take a big step forward in his sophomore campaign.
Senior middle linebacker James Morris (113 tackles, 9.0 TFL), a four-year starter, is the unquestioned leader of the defense after consecutive All-Big Ten seasons. Also back are leading tackler Anthony Hitchens (124 tackles) and Christian Kirksey (95 tackles, 2 INT) on the outside.
In the secondary, replacing shutdown corner Micah Hyde won't be an easy task, but Sean Draper showed some flashes last year as a true freshman and could be ready for a bigger role. Senior B.J. Lowery (50 tackles) takes up one of the starting cornerback slots, while senior Tanner Miller (69 tackles) and junior Nico Law form the safety tandem.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior kicker Mike Meyer was a Lou Groza Award semifinalist in each of the last two seasons. He is currently fifth on the school's all-time scoring list and his 81 consecutive PATs are a school record. Last year, he converted 17-of-21 field goals, including a span of 13 straight at one point. Meyer was 5-of-8 from 40 yards or longer. Connor Kornbrath has a hold on the punter spot after booting six kicks 50-plus yards and landing 10 inside the 20. However, he could stand to improve his 37.9-yard average.
OUTLOOK: The Hawkeyes had won at least six games every season from 2001-11 before last year's 4-8 finish. Another such season will not cut it for this proud program.
The biggest question facing the team entering the 2013 campaign is who will win the QB job? Regardless of who emerges in that battle, the Hawkeyes offense will likely lean on the running game quite a bit, and they have two capable runners in Weisman and Bullock. The defense is an experienced unit, albeit not a terribly productive one last year. A season-opening tilt with a formidable Northern Illinois squad will set the tone for the season, and the Hawkeyes have no doubt circled their Week 3 matchup at rival Iowa State, a team they have lost to in each of the last two seasons.
The Hawkeyes will need to rack up wins early if they hope to get back to the postseason, as the schedule from October on features the likes of Michigan State, Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska.