The Iowa Hawkeyes head into the 2018 season with plenty of confidence but also a bit of apprehension.  This could be a very nice year — ESPN’s FPI index has them winning 10 of their 12 regular-season games — but there are also reasons to be concerned.

The Hawkeyes have melded into one of those perennial five-loss teams this decade, with the exception of one great season (12-2 in 2015 counting the Big Ten title game and bowl game losses) and one bad one (4-8 in 2012).

So 10-2 sounds really good, right? It helps to avoid Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in the crossover games, and the Big Ten West really isn’t all that great outside of Wisconsin. Nate Stanley is back at quarterback, and having experience at that position is always a great thing.

But what sounds odd for Iowa, especially considering their track record under Kirk Ferentz, is that there’s plenty of uncertainly about how well Iowa can run the ball, and how well they can stop it.

10-2? Not going to happen. But they’ll be close. It’s an Iowa thing to lose a game or two they probably shouldn’t, and I’ve found one. Will that be all?

2017 Record: 7-5* (4-5 in Big Ten)

*regular season

And now, on to this year:

Coaching situation

Kirk Ferentz is in his 20th season as the head coach at Iowa, and his 143 wins are tied for the school record with the great Hayden Fry, so that’s certainly a mark that will fall quickly. Going 7-5 a year ago has the Ferentz and the Hawkeyes hungry for more this year, and it should be a better year for him.

This is his kind of team, and the schedule is very favorable to reel off a lot of wins.

Quarterback situation

Ferentz loves 6-foot-4 Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley, a junior who had some huge games a year ago, including the memorable five-touchdown night in the shocking blowout upset of Ohio State. He’s back for  more after throwing for 2,437 yards and 26 touchdowns with only six interceptions.

“He’s not a ‘look-at-me’ guy, almost shuns away from that a little bit. But in the things that count, he’s there. He’s solid,” Ferentz said at Big Ten media days last week. “He’s mentally tough. He cares so much about his performance. He cares a lot about his teammates’ performance. He cares about his people. All those things that people respond to. Those things you can’t fake. It’s either there or it’s not.”

Strengths & weaknesses

Stanley and the passing game is certainly a strength, especially with talented wide receivers ready to break out with big years. The offensive line is solid, as is usually the case — but not always — and there are plenty of quality tight ends to play the style Ferentz and his staff likes. There are some concerns over how good the running game is going to be and how well the Hawkeyes will be able to stop the run without a lot of beef up front and a new crew of linebackers.

Game-by-game predictions

Week 1: vs. Northern Illinois (W)
It’s a nice thing to have all three nonconference games at home and the Hawkeyes will get off to a good start against Northern Illinios. This will be a battle though, because the Huskies are one of the better teams in the Mid-American Conference. Be careful.

Week 2: vs. Iowa State (W)
It’s Rivalry Week, and this will be the usual bloodbath as well. Stanley is the difference, and he has a big game against that Iowa State secondary.

Week 3: vs. Northern Iowa  (W) 
A 3-0 start is always nice, especially when it’s dispatching an in-state foe for the second straight week.

Week 4: vs. Wisconsin (L)
The Big Ten West is Wisconsin’s to win, and they’ll do it easily. The Badgers are that good, and no one is really ready to contend with them outside of Iowa. This is a huge game for division supremacy, but the Badgers’ powerful running game completely destroys Iowa’s defense.

Week 5: Bye

Week 6: at Minnesota (W)
Road wins are tough to come by in the Big Ten, but the Hawkeyes will get one here. Expect another huge game from Stanley, and a running game that finally finds its legs.

Week 7: at Indiana (L)
OK, here’s that one game that gets away. Indiana is sneaky good and a second-straight road game is just too much. The run defense is again porous and they can’t stop the Hoosiers. Indiana’s defense is also much better, and they’ll make just enough plays against Stanley to pull off the upset.

Week 8: vs. Maryland (W)
Winning at home against Maryland is a must, and the Hawkeyes will do it without any trouble.

Week 9 : at Penn State (L)
This is a tough one, because playing at Penn State is always very difficult. Penn State could very well still be undefeated heading into this game.

Week 10: at Purdue (W)
This is another one of those back-to-back road games that scares me, so watch out for Purdue finding a way to pull off an upset, too. Stanley will find a way, though, and will have a big fourth quarter and Purdue’s defense, which is better but still doesn’t have enough depth to hang for four quarters.

Week 11: vs. Northwestern (W)
This will be another scrappy game, but at home the Hawkeyes find a way.

Week 12: at Illinois (W)
Illinois sits at the bottom of the barrel in the Big Ten West, so this is an easy win — even on the road.

Week 13: vs. Nebraska  (W)
Scott Frost has been gunning for Iowa since he got back on Nebraska’s campus. He says you better get them now, and the Hawkeyes will. This rivalry is a year away from getting very intense again.

2018 Projection: 9-3 (6-3 in Big Ten)
Final Standings: 2nd in Big Ten West 

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