The Iowa Hawkeyes are 4-2 and 2-1 in the Big Ten, and their College Football playoff goals are behind them, but 2016 doesn’t have to be a lost cause. In fact, Iowa still controls its Big Ten destiny in many ways, though it’s going to be a lot easier said than done.
The Hawkeyes are currently ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten West, behind only undefeated and No. 10 ranked Nebraska, which plays Indiana this weekend. The Huskers are the cream of the crop of the division so far, but they do have games at No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 2 Ohio State still remaining on the schedule — so an undefeated season is asking a lot. That’s not to mention a season-ending clash in Iowa City versus the Hawkeyes, a game that’s always intense due to the rivalry between the two schools.
Basically, if Iowa can keep itself moving forward, take it one week at a time and keep winning, the Hawkeyes will likely have a chance to be part of the Big Ten West race by the time all is said and done. Of course, that’s not factoring in Wisconsin, currently 4-1 and 1-1 in conference and with games to play against Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska, so the final stretch of the season could end up getting very interesting in the West depending on how the dominoes fall.
The best thing Iowa can do is take care of business.
Despite the lousy start to the season if the Hawkeyes are within earshot of the division race in November, it would be quite the turnaround. Nowhere near expectations, of course, but a turnaround none the less.
The problem for Iowa is that is has been playing very underwhelming football as of late, which makes this weekend’s game at Purdue a surprisingly tough matchup.
Saying that the Boilermakers are the underdogs heading into this contest really means nothing in the context of this Iowa season. Iowa was a huge favorite against FCS opponent NDSU and lost at home. It was a historic upset and one that will live forever whenever huge college football upsets are brought up. Iowa even appeared to be the favorite against Northwestern in Week 5. The Hawkeyes were coming off a win at Rutgers and at the very least got the taste of the NDSU upset out of their mouths. The Wildcats came into the game at Kinnick Stadium a lowly 1-3 and proceeded to beat Iowa, 38-31.
So no, it doesn’t matter that Iowa is the perceived favorite heading into this matchup. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz knows that the principle of “any given Sunday’ applies in college football and it may apply even more to his Hawkeyes team — which has shown a tendency to play down to its opponents.
That was something he touched on in his weekly press conference.
“These guys, to me, are on the right path and they’re very capable of playing very, very good football,” Ferentz said of Purdue. “So we’ve got to get ready. On top of that it’s a road challenge.
“I think anybody that plays or competes in college football needs to understand every week is a new week. We’ve already experienced that. And favorites, point spreads, all that stuff. I’ve got no idea what it is for this game, but I just know this: Those are good for people that aren’t competing. What our guys need to understand is we need to get ready to play. We haven’t really done anything yet. So, you know, if we want to be a good football team, we’ve got to push forward here.”
To Ferentz’s point, though Purdue is in no way considered a Big Ten power, head coach Darrell Hazell and his team are desperate to prove that they’re on the right track, and they very well may even be fighting for Hazell’s job on a week-in, week-out basis.
The Boilermakers took a bad Illinois team to overtime last week and won on the program’s first ever game-winning field goal in overtime, which means that despite the opponent, they’re feeling a bit of momentum. That momentum plus the desperation of fighting for a head coach’s job can be a very powerful combo. Throw in the fact that the game will be at home for the Boilermakers and the Hawkeyes are without a doubt stepping into a very hostile environment this Saturday.
Though expectations haven’t been met in 2016, both teams still have a lot to play for. At this point it’s a question of who wants it more
For Iowa, it’s also an opportunity to show the Big Ten that the Hawkeyes can still be a contender and that the team won’t get sucked into playing down to its opponent anymore.
It’s a test of focus.