March 22, 2016

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Iowa's memorable 2015 season ended with a blowout loss in the Rose Bowl that will be tough to forget.

The process of moving on starts in earnest Wednesday with first session of spring practice.

The Hawkeyes, who started 12-0 and easily won the Big Ten West before losing to Michigan State in the league title game and Stanford in Pasadena, open the 2016 season on Sept. 3 against Miami (Ohio).

''If you have a tough year... (or have) a tough ending like we did last year, (do) you respond to it or you get in the fetal position and let people run you over?'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. ''Now the other challenge is how do you handle a little bit of success?''

The first step for the Hawkeyes in moving past their sluggish finish is to find some new starters.

Iowa's biggest hole might be in the middle of its line, which paved the way for its offense to control nearly every game last season.

Center Austin Blythe and guard Jordan Walsh have graduated after helping the Hawkeyes rush for nearly 3,000 yards - and free up space for four different backs to have at least 200 in a single game.

Sean Welsh, the third member of Iowa's impressive interior, is back and listed as both a starting center and a guard on the initial spring depth chart.

Though Welsh will be just a junior in the fall, Ferentz compared him to former Iowa lineman Marshal Yanda, now a four-time Pro Bowler with Baltimore.

''Wherever we move him, he seems to handle it really well. He's not 6-foot-6 and 330 pounds or any of that stuff, but he's just a really good football player, really productive on the field. We make a living off players like that, really that type of guy. He's got an unbelievable attitude,'' Ferentz said.

James Daniels, the rare true freshman to start for Ferentz, is out for the spring after offseason surgery but should be ready to compete for starting time at center by the fall.

Iowa also returns tackles Ike Boettger and Cole Croston and guard Boone Myers, who has the flexibility to play tackle as well.

''We're certainly in a little different situation than a year ago. We had a lot of question marks about how guys would produce in game situations,'' Ferentz said. ''At least we've seen all these guys in a game situation now. But that being said, there is a lot of growth to be had.''

Iowa's defensive line remains in flux, mostly because senior Drew Ott is still waiting to hear back on his petition for a sixth year of eligibility after going down early last season with a torn ligament in his right knee.

Ott's case seems to have dragged on longer than in should, and Ferentz still isn't sure when the NCAA will issue its final ruling.

But if the Hawkeyes can get Ott back with tackles Jaleel Johnson and Nathan Bazata and sophomore end Parker Hesse - who shone in Ott's absence - they'll have one of the Big Ten's best fronts entering the fall.

Though he wasn't able to perform in drills, Ott was tested at the recent NFL combine in case his eligibility suddenly runs out.

''I'm not going to make judgment on that. It's just really hard to put a finger on. It's what it is. We'll bide our time,'' Ferentz said. ''Everybody's working hard on it. You have to get the right people all together.''

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