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Why not Iowa?

When the discussion turns to contenders for the first College Football Playoff, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit says the Hawkeyes deserve at least a mention.

"At the end of the day, I look at Iowa with all those positives. And you look at their schedule," Herbstreit explained. "They don't play Ohio State. They don't play Michigan State. They don't play Michigan. Most of the teams that are expected to compete in the Big Ten West are coming to Kinnick Stadium.

"When you have an experienced quarterback and a schedule like that, things tend to work out sometimes, for a team like Iowa."

The Big Ten title chase became a lot more interesting Tuesday, with news that Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller would miss the season with a shoulder injury.

Miller was seen as a catalyst for the Buckeyes' drive to the East Division championship.

"Just devastating news for Ohio State," Herbstreit said. "You could argue Braxton Miller is as important to his team as any player in the sport of college football in 2014.

"All of a sudden it goes from Ohio State being the favorite to win the Big Ten, to overnight I think Michigan State is the team to beat."

The Hawkeyes are viewed as a trendy pick in the West Division, along with Wisconsin and Nebraska.

They bounced back from a 4-8 record in 2012 to an 8-5 mark in 2013, losing to Louisiana State 21-14 at the Outback Bowl.

"No. 1, I'm a fan of Kirk Ferentz and his coaching philosophy and style," Herbstreit said. "This is a team that even though they lost to LSU, the way they played in that game, created some confidence moving forward."

Jake Rudock is back at quarterback, and reserve C.J. Beathard continues to show promise.

"You have a couple experienced quarterbacks, which I think is big," Herbstreit said. "And I think they're always going to be able to run football with the offensive line.

"I think they're going to be better at the tailback spot this year."

A total of eight offensive starters return for the Hawkeyes, who open the season Aug. 30 against Northern Iowa.

"I've just had my eye on them," Herbstreit said. "And I think they have a shot to have a great year."

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