After going from 4-8 to 8-4 this past season, the Hawkeyes might be ready to move back to the upper echelon of the Big Ten. But coach Kirk Ferentz is going to have to replace three very productive linebackers and two starting defensive backs from a unit that ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense, allowing only 18.9 points per game. On offense, quarterback Jake Rudock returns after throwing for 2,383 yards with 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He looked more comfortable in a hurry-up offense in the middle part of the season. Tailback Mark Weisman is also coming back after running for 975 yards with eight scores, and left tackle Brandon Scherff decided to return for his senior season, instead of entering the NFL draft. Like Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes should benefit mightily from an unbalanced Big Ten schedule. Iowa doesn't play Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State during the regular season.
Former Louisville coach Charlie Strong replaces the departed Mack Brown, and the Longhorns can finally get back to playing football and not being consumed by speculation. Strong's first season probably hinges on whether former starting quarterback David Ash can return to the team because of concussions. If Ash can't play, rising sophomore Tyrone Swoopes or incoming freshman Jerrod Heard, an ESPN 300 prospect who has committed to the Longhorns, might get a chance to win the job. The Horns will have to replace three starting offensive linemen, as well as receiver Mike Davis. Strong figures to put a tougher and more physical defense on the field, and UT might bring back eight starters on that side of the ball. The schedule sets up well for a fast start in Strong's first season; UT plays six of its first seven games inside Texas, including neutral-site games against UCLA in Arlington and Oklahoma in Dallas.