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Iowa recoups after season full of speed bumps

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Iowa recoups after season full of speed bumps

Running back Mark Weisman is one of six returning starters on the Hawkeye offense. Weisman took advantage of his playing time last season as he averaged 5.1 yards per carry en route to rushing for 815 yards and eight touchdowns.

Half-full or half-empty. How is your Iowa football drinking glass?

Did Iowa, at times apparently inept offensively and just OK defensively, have the kind of season it deserved last year, finishing 4-8 with a six-game losing streak that included embarrassing blowout losses to Penn State and Michigan?

Or did the Hawkeyes, just six points away from a 6-0 start, four points away from two other wins and eight points away from yet one more, suffer through an uncommon streak of bad luck and untimely injuries?

Ultimately deciding which is true — or if the answer falls somewhere in between — is of little consequence. Unless the Hawkeyes have used — or failed to use — the disappointment of 2012 for motivational fuel and intellectual tools.

“We just have to pay close attention to detail,” offensive tackle Brandon Scherff said. “And we just have to put the past behind us.”

Five of Iowa’s losses (Iowa State, Central Michigan, Indiana, Purdue and Nebraska) were by an average of 3.2 points, with two coming on field goals on the final play of the game.

The Hawkeyes were the only team in the country to play six games decided by three points or less (two were wins). Nine of their 12 opponents played in bowl games, and one who didn’t — Penn State — would have after winning eight games but was ineligible.

“I can’t imagine anybody was happy about last year — fans, anybody that follows the team, certainly people involved with the team that put a lot of hours into it,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “There’s a simple adage: It’s a lot more fun when things are going the way you want them to go. That’s what happened, and the only thing you can do is try to do something about it, so certainly that’s where our focus has been.”

Iowa returns 16 starters — six on offense, eight on defense, a punter and the kicker. The returnees include its top two rushers, four of its top five wide receivers and its top three tacklers.

The Hawkeyes are taking a glass half-full approach to not qualifying for a bowl game.

“If you want to find a silver lining, which I’m always in favor of doing that, we got a month jump on a lot of our opponents,” Ferentz said. “The month of December we were training instead of getting ready for a ballgame.

“There are a lot of negatives in that, too. But … at least we got to work earlier, and as a coaching staff, we got some of the stuff done we normally do right after the bowl prior to the holidays. So it enabled us to do some other things moving forward.”

Ferentz gave the Iowa program a national foothold early in his career, taking over a team that needed to be rebuilt and suffering through two terrible seasons before getting over .500 in his third year and then winning 10 or 11 games for the next three seasons.

But now Iowa has won fewer games than the season before for three consecutive years (from 11 to 8 to 7 to 4) and has lost five games or more in six of the past eight seasons.

A normally content fan base has shown some signs of frustration, but Ferentz deflects the criticism.

“It’s just part of the deal,” Ferentz said. “The one thing I have learned through the years, a lot of people offer up observations. It’s better probably to focus on solutions, at least from my end. That’s what I need to be worried about. I’ve got all kinds of people giving me observations. We’ve just got to try to focus on what we can do to get better.”

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