Published on NewsOK Modified: January 2, 2014 at 1:40 pm •  Published: January 2, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — It might be misleading to say that Iowa exceeded expectations in 2013, since hardly anyone expected much of anything from the Hawkeyes.

But Iowa came through for longtime coach Kirk Ferentz this season. After a 4-8 season that ended with six straight losses, Iowa put up eight wins, a 5-3 mark in the Big Ten and landed a New Year's Day bowl bid.

Though the Hawkeyes (8-5) closed the season with a 21-14 loss to LSU in the Outback Bowl, that didn't put much of a damper on what they accomplished.

Iowa made major strides in 2013 and should be in position to challenge for a Big Ten title in 2014.

"To be around this football team, to coach them, to go to the practice field every day with those guys, weight room, wherever they've been, it's been a really great group of guys to work with. The guys have played hard, competed hard each and every step," Ferentz said Wednesday.

Ferentz, who is signed through 2020 with a prohibitive buyout at roughly $2.7 million a year, made a number of coaching changes before his 15th season in Iowa in hopes of reversing a disturbing three-year slide.

Iowa got off to a rough start when quarterback Jake Rudock, playing in his first career game, threw a late interception to help give Northern Illinois a 30-27 win in the opener. The Hawkeyes answered with four straight wins, but losses to Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin showed the gap remaining between themselves and the Big Ten elite.

The difference between a middling regular season and a strong one came down to the final two games; at home against Michigan and on the road at Nebraska.

The Hawkeyes rallied past the Wolverines and blew out the Huskers in Lincoln, securing their best league finish since 2009.

"I'm extremely proud of these guys. It's been a lot of fun to be around them on a daily basis. It's been a great 13 months," Ferentz said.

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