FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2016, file photo, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz reacts as Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey scores during the first half of the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game in Pasadena, Calif. Iowas 12-0 start last season led some to labe
Lenny Ignelzi, File
August 12, 2016

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Iowa's 12-0 start last season led some to label the Hawkeyes a fluke. A blowout loss to Stanford in the Rose Bowl only seemed to confirm those suspicions.

Iowa is intent on proving that it's still a national contender and the Hawkeyes should have a team capable of doing so.

Iowa is a favorite to repeat as Big Ten West division champions. The Hawkeyes return 13 starters from last year, when they finished 8-0 in the West and fell inches shy of a playoff berth.

Quarterback C.J. Beathard had a strong first season as the starter despite a litany of injuries. If Beathard can stay healthy, a run at Big Ten Player of the Year isn't out of consideration. Iowa's defense, which let up just 20.4 points per game, will be led by Thorpe Award-winning cornerback Desmond King.

''Basically since 1999, when we got here, our goal has been the same, to be Big Ten champions,'' said coach Kirk Ferentz, who is entering his 18th season with the Hawkeyes. ''I think what it comes down to is, all you can ask for is opportunity. We feel like we do have a solid foundation built right now.''

SEASON OPENER

The Hawkeyes shouldn't have too much trouble when they host Miami of Ohio on Sept. 3. The Red Hawks went just 3-9 in 2015 and were pounded at Wisconsin 58-0. Miami averaged a paltry 17.9 points per game last season while giving up 32. Iowa dominated Illinois State in last year's opener, the first sign that perhaps the Hawkeyes were in for a special season.

SENSATIONAL C.J.

Beathard emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten in 2015 despite injuries that hampered his mobility. Now healthy and a senior, Beathard appears poised to put together one of the best seasons an Iowa quarterback has ever had under Ferentz. Beathard threw for 2,809 yards with 17 touchdowns and just five picks a year ago, and Ferentz recently compared him to Brad Banks, who was second in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2002. ''There's just something about him,'' Ferentz said.

BACK-TO-BACK?

Iowa's powerful rushing attack paved the way for its offense last season, but star running back Jordan Canzeri has moved on. The Hawkeyes should be fine, however, if they lean on big back LeShun Daniels Jr. and speedster Akrum Wadley. Daniels and Wadley each rushed for over 190 yards in a single game in 2015 and appear ready to play bigger roles.

KEY GAMES

Iowa's season will likely come down to a three-game stretch starting in late October, with home games against Wisconsin and Michigan wrapped around a road trip to Penn State. Iowa fans know better than to sleep on North Dakota State's trip to Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 17. The Hawkeyes will be coming off its rivalry game with Iowa State, and the Bison are the five-time defending FCS champions.

PREDICTION

Iowa goes 11-1 and wins the West only to fall to Michigan State in a rematch of the Big Ten title game. Of course, Iowa could always go 8-5 - like it did in 2010, the last time the Hawkeyes entered a season with such high expectations.

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This story has been corrected to show in last paragraph that Iowa played Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.

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