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10 SEP 2016: Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz during a non-conference NCAA football game between the Iowa State Cyclones and the University of Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won, 42-3. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)

Upset loss to North Dakota State brings tough questions for Iowa

(Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)

Football is famously a game of inches, and no two teams found that out better on Saturday afternoon than the No. 13 Iowa Hawkeyes and the North Dakota State Bison.

With five seconds left to go and Iowa leading 21-20, NDSU kicker Cam Pedersen lined up for a 37-yard field goal. A miss, and Iowa would survive by the skin of its teeth, simply thankful to get out of Kinnick Stadium unscathed.

A make would propel both Pedersen and the Bison into history. It’s not often that an FCS team beats an FBS team. It’s less often that an FCS team beats a highly-ranked FBS team. We’re talking Appalachian State-Michigan at the Big House territory.

The snap, the hold and…

One more inch to the right and NDSU would have gone home so close but so far from a win. That one inch will likely haunt the Hawkeyes for the rest of the season — perhaps even longer.

Pedersen’s kick is a highlight that will be played anytime NSDU is brought up in terms of playing an FBS opponent. Anytime a huge upset is mentioned, that kick will be recalled. It’s a kick Bison fans will tell their grandchildren about one day.

It’s a kick Iowa fans will try to forget, but it’s going to be hard.

Pedersen’s kick was the defining moment of the game, but NDSU played great against Iowa the whole way through. The Bison put up 329 yards on the ground against a very good Hawkeye defense. Senior running back King Frazier led the way with 99 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry, which shows how effective NDSU’s running attack was Saturday afternoon in Iowa City.

Quarterback Eason Stick wasn’t an effective runner throughout the day — his running backs took care of that — but his 29-yard keeper on NDSU’s final drive put the Bison into Hawkeye territory at the Iowa 37. Just 17 more yards were needed to create comfortable field goal range. The rest was history.

North Dakota State, now 3-0, is a great team despite its FCS label. The program has now won six straight games against FBS opponents, all on the road.

Still, the disappointment for Iowa is tangible. As good as NDSU is, this is a game the Hawkeyes should have won. Iowa was thought of as a potential Big Ten champion heading into this season. Optimistic observers felt the Hawkeyes could make another push for the College Football Playoff.

So yes, NDSU is not your average FCS team, but this is a game that an above-average FBS team can’t lose.

The expectations were high for Iowa, and the Hawks crumbled under them in Week 3 of the season. Against a FCS opponent. At home.

There are a few ways to spin this loss in a good light for the Hawkeyes, but why even try? Some might say that one loss doesn’t doom a CFP team, and that’s true. The reality is that the strength — or lack thereof — of that loss has to be considered.

The Hawkeyes will likely drop out of the Top 25, and even if they run the table the rest of the way, this loss will be a huge stain on their resume. It will make it harder for Iowa to be considered over other one-loss teams, and that’s assuming the Hawks go undefeated the rest of the way.

November 02 2013: Iowa Hawkeyes running back LeShun Daniels (29) on a run during the first half of the NCAA football game between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa on November 2, 2013. Wisconsin defeated Iowa 28-9.

Stephen Mally/Icon Sportswire

With games against Wisconsin and Michigan looming large — and now even more important for Iowa — that assumption is a stretch.

If NDSU’s defense could hold Iowa to 231 total yards, what are the Badgers or Wolverines going to be able to do? If NDSU can hold LeShun Daniels Jr. to 2.1 yards per carry and C.J. Beathard to 11-of-22 passing, what will the Badgers or Wolverines be able to do?

Another tough stat: As a team, Iowa rushed for only 34 yards.

Those are some troubling questions for Iowa, but losses like this make those questions a reality.

Sure, there’s the “any given Saturday” principle to consider, and the Hawkeyes very well could bounce back from the loss and regain their Top 25 form and ranking. That’s extremely possible, and it should be, considering Iowa just extended Kirk Ferentz through 2025. He has to coach this team to bounce back.

One loss doesn’t all of a sudden make Iowa a terrible team; the Hawks can still have a very successful season. However, this one loss undoubtedly stole all the magic around Iowa City that surrounded the team during its huge winning streak last season.

The hope was that this would be the year the Hawkeyes took the next step after making such a statement in 2015. That’s gone now.

The Bison stole it and are taking it back to Fargo.

Upset loss to North Dakota State brings tough questions for Iowa

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