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Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Nonconference primer: Iowa

By Brian Bennett

We're just a little more than seven weeks away from the start of college football season. To get you even more pumped up than you already are, we're examining the nonconference opponents on each Big Ten team's schedule this fall.

Today, it's time to turn to the Iowa Hawkeyes:

Northern Illinois, Aug. 31

Coach: Rod Carey (0-1, first full year; coached team in 2013 Orange Bowl loss)
2012 record:
12-2, 8-0 MAC
Offensive headliner: The Huskies are promoting quarterback Jordan Lynch for the Heisman Trophy, and with good reason. He was a legitimate contender last year after he threw for 3,138 yards and 25 touchdowns with only six interceptions and ran for 1,815 yards and 19 scores. He finished No. 4 in the FBS in total offense and No. 7 in rushing yards per game.
Defensive headliner: Senior safety Jimmie Ward led the team with 104 tackles and three interceptions last year, adding 11 pass breakups and a forced fumble.
The skinny: Northern Illinois made an unlikely run to a BCS game and returns one of the top players in the nation. That said, Iowa beat the Huskies last year on a neutral field, and Florida State proved a lot of skeptics right by dismantling NIU in the Orange Bowl. This should be a Top 25 team to start the year, one with an experienced and talented offense. But the Huskies still have to show they can beat a decent power conference team.

Missouri State, Sept. 7

Coach: Terry Allen (30-48, eighth year)
2012 record: 3-8, 3-5 Missouri Valley (FCS)
Offensive headliner: Receiver Dorian Buford was an All-Missouri Valley first team pick after catching 59 passes for 642 yards. That included a 100-yard performance against Kansas State.
Defensive headliner: Junior defensive back Caleb Schaffitzel made several FCS All-America teams with 109 tackles, five interceptions and six pass break-ups last season.
The skinny: After starting 0-6 last year, the Bears showed some progress by winning three straight games and taking FCS champ North Dakota State down to the wire. Allen, the former Kansas and Northern Iowa coach, has yet to lead Missouri State to more than six victories or a winning conference record.

at Iowa State, Sept. 14

Coach: Paul Rhoads, (24-27, fifth year
2012 record: 6-7, 3-6 Big 12
Offensive headliner: Quarterback Sam Richardson takes over the full-time starting role after getting his feet wet late last year. He passed for 541 yards and eight touchdowns in two starts and only had one of Iowa State's 17 interceptions in 2012.Defensive headliner: Free safety Jacques Washington had 90 tackles and three interceptions in 2012.
The skinny: Iowa State continues to overachieve and has become an annual bowl contender under Rhoads. However, the Cyclones are very young at several spots, including quarterback, left tackle and the defensive line and must replace star linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. That might be too much for most programs to overcome, but Rhoads has a way of defying low expectations every year.

Western Michigan, Sept. 21

Coach: P.J. Fleck (first season)
2012 record: 4-8, 2-6 MAC
Offensive headliner: Quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen started six games for the injured Alex Carder last season and inherits the full-time gig this season. He threw for 1,825 yards and 15 touchdowns in his understudy role a year ago.
Defensive headliner: Senior Johnnie Simon will play outside linebacker after being a two-time All-MAC selection at safety. He had 103 tackles and an interception last season.
The skinny: The Broncos fired Bill Cubit, who went on to become Illinois' new offensive coordinator. In his place, they hired 32-year old P.J. Fleck, the youngest coach in the FBS. He's a fast-talking, hyper-energetic guy, but Fleck has never even been a coordinator before. Will he be in over his head? After a string of mostly uninspiring seasons, Western Michigan feels it's worth the risk.

Thoughts:

Iowa is looking to bounce back from last year's 4-8 swoon, and to do so, it will have to perform well against what counts for a better-than-average Big Ten nonconference schedule in 2013. The opener against Northern Illinois should provide a strong test, especially since the Hawkeyes will be breaking in a completely untested quarterback against Lynch. Iowa has dropped two straight in disheartening fashion against Iowa State, and this year it has to go back to Ames. Another loss in this series would increase the fan grumbling about the state of the program. The Hawkeyes ought to be able to take care of business against a subpar FCS team in Western Michigan, but don't forget that Iowa lost at home to Central Michigan last year. If Kirk Ferentz's team isn't at least 3-1 coming out of these games, it could be another long year in Iowa City.

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