Big Ten spring practice preview: Iowa

Iowa Hawkeyes
2009: 11-2 (6-2)

It’s not often when an Iowa team comes off an 11-2 season and a No. 7 national ranking in the top 25 polls — complete with a thorough beating of Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl — and enters the next season with even higher expectations. But that’s exactly the case in Iowa City this offseason as head coach Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes opened spring practice on Wednesday.

While much of the optimism is guarded, the fact is that the Hawkeyes return 14 starters from a team that went 10-0 when its quarterback, Ricky Stanzi, started and finished a game — despite an inconsistent running game led by two freshmen. With that in mind, are the Hawkeyes the favorite to win the Big Ten in 2010, and can this squad compete for a national championship?

As always, Iowa’s success begins and ends with a strong defense and a solid rushing attack. The defensive line returns intact, led by disruptive end Adrian Clayborn, who racked up 11