DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) It will be hard to forget how the season ended for the Iowa Hawkeyes, but they'll always remember their sensational start that nearly put then in the College Football Playoff.
Iowa's surprising 12-0 run before losses in the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl surely can be a rallying point for next season. And the losses - one on a late touchdown, the other a blowout loss in its first Rose Bowl in 25 years - can turn out to help build an even stronger team.
''Very proud of the way the guys have done things, and that really goes back 12 months,'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said after Friday's 45-16 loss to Stanford. ''So this game hurts. We'll learn from it. We'll move on. We'll improve.''
Iowa was picked to finish in the middle of the Big Ten West, then rolled off 12 wins in a row to move into the league's title game against Michigan State. The Spartans won the game 16-13 on a TD with 27 seconds to go.
Next season, the Hawkeyes will likely be the favorite in the Big Ten West. They'll bring back a host of starters, including quarterback C.J. Beathard and the majority of their defense. And their schedule should provide the opportunity for another strong start.
Replacements must be found for several key players, though.
Senior center Austin Blythe and guard Jordan Walsh will depart after helping the Hawkeyes control most of their games with a punishing rushing attack. Running back Jordan Canzeri will be gone after running for 984 yards and 12 touchdowns despite nagging injuries.
Wide receiver Tevaun Smith had 563 yards on 32 catches, including an 85-yard TD reception in the Big Ten title game.
Safety Jordan Lomax and end Nate Meier will be the biggest losses on defense, although cornerback Desmond King may jump to the NFL after winning the Thorpe Award. End Drew Ott has petitioned for a medical redshirt, and if the Hawkeyes get him back next season it'll be a huge boost.
Beathard proved Ferentz's decision to name him the starter over Jake Rudock was a wise one. He threw for 2,809 yards and 17 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He and Matt VandeBerg, who caught 65 passes in 2015, should form one of the league's top duos next season.
The Hawkeyes should be formidable on defense even if King and Ott don't return.
Tackle Jaleel Johnson blossomed into a star in 2015, as did middle linebacker Josey Jewell. Freshman end Parker Hesse more than held his own after Ott was lost for the season, and he could develop into a force by next fall.
Iowa will be dogged by questions about whether its loss to Stanford exposed the Hawkeyes as a team that benefited from a soft schedule to rise above where they belonged. But that's still much better than last fall, when many wondered if Iowa had seen its best days under Ferentz
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