Iowa Football 2014: Five things

Rick Brown

Defensive back Greg Mabin is a key sleeper player for the Hawkeyes this season.

Spotlight player:Brandon Scherff, Iowa's left offensive tackle, is a man of few words. He lets his play on the field speak for him. He skipped the NFL and came back to school for his senior year wanting to be the best in the nation at his trade. If he is, he'll be Iowa's fourth Outland Trophy winner.

Sleeper player:Greg Mabin emerged as a surprising contender with Sean Draper and Maurice Fleming at left cornerback. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound sophomore was moved from wide receiver to defensive back in the spring of 2013. He has yet to play a down for the Hawkeyes.

Biggest game: Iowa will be favored to start 3-0 before a Sept. 20 road test at Pittsburgh. This one could be a telling sign of things to come. This is the first of three road trips in a four-game stretch for the Hawkeyes — at Pittsburgh, at Purdue, home against Indiana, then at Maryland.

Biggest worry: The linebacker and secondary positions are the obvious choices, but I'm going with placekicking. That has been a program strength under coach Kirk Ferentz. Someone — likely Marshall Koehn or Mick Ellis — will have to step up for Iowa to win a close game or two.

Measuring success: An eighth New Year's bowl under coach Kirk Ferentz, and double-digit victories for the fifth time in his 16 seasons as coach, would more than live up to expectations. There's a good chance that will happen if Iowa gets some early-season momentum and stays relatively healthy.