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The Hawkeyes have fallen into near-irrelevance over the last decade or so, last sharing the Big Ten title back in 2004 and going sub-.500 in conference play over the last four seasons (15-17).

But 2014 has a chance to be a comeback season for Iowa, thanks in part to a very kind Big Ten schedule. Most of the offense is back, and while there are holes to fill on defense, that unit still has a shot to be very good. Coach Kirk Ferentz has felt his seat get hot recently but a return to contention in the Big Ten might bring a welcome cooling. There will be no excuses for this team this year; it's West Division title, or bust.

Iowa Odds to Win Big Ten: 12/1 at Bovada
Iowa Odds to Win College Football Championship: 100/1 at Bovada
Iowa Regular Season Win Total: 8.5 at Bovada

Iowa began last season with a home loss to Northern Illinois, but then won four in a row. The Hawkeyes then dropped back-to-back close games to Michigan State and Ohio State (they led both at halftime), and after a victory over Northwestern they then lost at home to Wisconsin. But Iowa won its last three in a row, including victories over Michigan and at Nebraska, then ended the season with a tough Outback Bowl loss to LSU to finish 8-5 both SU and ATS.

The five Big Ten victories were the most for the Hawkeyes since they won six in 2009. And last year was the first time since '09 Iowa posted a winning Big Ten ATS record (5-3), after going 9-14 ATS in conference play over the previous three seasons.

This year the Hawkeyes return 13 starters; eight are back on offense, led by QB Jake Rudock, leading rusher Mark Weisman and three along the offensive line, but only five are back on defense, after losing all three starting linebackers.

This season's schedule, as mentioned above, is very kind; Iowa gets its toughest Big Ten games, against Wisconsin, Northwestern and Nebraska, at home, gets four winnable Big Ten road games (against Purdue, Maryland, Minnesota and Illinois) and misses Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan.

The Hawkeyes have a chance to be 6-0 in Big Ten play heading into the last two games of the season, at home against the Badgers and Cornhuskers. That would put them in great shape as they quest for their first appearance in the Big Ten championship game.

Big Ten Championship Odds at Bovada as of August 5

Ohio State 10/11
Michigan State 15/4
Wisconsin 9/2
Nebraska 11/2
Michigan 10/1
Iowa 12/1
Northwestern 40/1
Minnesota 66/1
Indiana 100/1
Maryland 100/1
Illinois 200/1
Rutgers 200/1
Purdue 300/1

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