The Ohio State Buckeyes have the legendary coach, the No. 1 ranking, the star-studded roster and, of course, that 2014 national championship trophy.
The Michigan State Spartans have the star quarterback, the Top 10 ranking, the doggedly determined coach and a proven track record of success.
When people nationwide talk about the Big Ten’s top contenders for the 2015 College Football Playoff, those are the teams they talk about. With good reason, too: they’ve earned respect because they’ve delivered results on the field—not just this year, but for the past several years.
And yeah, it’s probably true that the Buckeyes and Spartans remain the Big Ten squads most likely to grab one of those four coveted playoff spots.
But if you’re asking which Big Ten team is most dangerous at the moment—which team is most likely to sneak up the top contenders of the league and maybe even the top teams in the entire country. A team you really don’t want to play right now—then there’s simply no question the answer is the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Yep, the Hawkeyes.
Remember the old-school, smash-mouth football those guys play when they’re at their best? Remember those insane crowds at grand old Kinnick Stadium when the Hawkeyes are flying high? Remember just how good a coach Kirk Ferentz can be when he’s got the right talent to make his system work?
Well, those Hawkeyes—the really good ones, not the really boring ones—are back. And having woken up most of the Big Ten to that fact by starting out an impressive 7-0 on the year, the boys in black and gold seem poised to wake up the rest of the nation to their return, too.
There’s really nothing fancy about what the Hawkeyes are doing this year. Just as with the best of his teams in Iowa city—think back to that great 2002 squad with Brad Banks running the show, or the 2009 team that was so totally stacked on defense—Ferentz is winning thanks to a bunch of relatively average players playing basic, hard-nosed, disciplined football … and then one or two other super-talented guys playing on a different level entirely. The Hawkeyes have never and will never have the same kind of athletes that the likes of Ohio State and Michigan and Penn State will have, but when he has just precisely the right pieces, well, Ferentz can and does deliver.
This year, he’s got the right pieces.
The Hawkeyes’ big leap forward this season can be attributed in many ways to the vast improvement in play at the quarterback position. C.J. Beathard is by no means a superstar, but he’s a great deal more athletic than his predecessor, Jake Rudock (now of Michigan), and that has made a world of difference for an Iowa offense still pretty short on playmakers. With Beathard running the show, the Hawkeyes are putting up more than 32 points per game and pose a much more multi-dimensional threat to opposing defenses, as well.
And speaking of defense, it’s safe to say that the Hawkeye defense is doing their part, too. They are giving up a mere 15.3 points per game this season, which places them 10th nationally.
As for this team’s ceiling? Well, it’s probably a lot higher than most would expect.
The Hawkeyes’ stretch run does not include a single ranked opponent, and only the home date against Nebraska on the last day of the season seems tricky in the least. An undefeated 12-0 regular season mark is entirely there for the taking, and in a one-game showdown against a Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game, anything is possible—especially if their defense keeps playing so well, and if Beathard does his part, too.
Iowa Hawkeyes, 2015 Big Ten champions?
Iowa Hawkeyes, 2015 College Football Playoff participant?
Yep, it’s possible.
The Hawkeyes are back, everyone. And flying high again.