IOWA CITY, Iowa – Throughout the 2015 season, the spotlight in “Big Ten World” has been focused on events in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, and Columbus.
Meanwhile, the Iowa Hawkeyes are 7-0 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten Conference. The Hawkeyes are ranked 12th in the Associated Press Poll, and 13th in the ESPN Coaches Poll. Iowa is coming off a huge 40-10 road win over then-No. 20 Northwestern.
As it stands, the Hawkeyes are in first place in the Big Ten West with wins over Illinois, Wisconsin and Northwestern. The five remaining teams on their schedule — Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska— have sub-500 records in conference play and three of those teams are below .500 overall.
Three of the Hawkeyes final five games are at home. They have beaten two ranked teams this season. It’s also important to note that Iowa doesn’t have to play Ohio State, Michigan, or Michigan State during the regular season. If the Hawkeyes win the West, they will see one of those teams in the title game.
All of those things bode well for the Hawkeyes chances to win their spot in the Big Ten Championship game on Dec. 5 in Indianapolis. But there’s another reason Iowa chances of reaching the title game are really strong.
They’re a darn good football team.
How good? The Hawkeyes entered their game with Northwestern last weekend missing both their starting offensive tackles, they were already without starting running back LeShun Daniels and they lost Jordan Canzeri in the first quarter, quarterback C.J. Beathard was playing with a groin pull.
Yet, the Hawkeyes offense dominated a Northwestern defense that at one point this season had been ranked among the top 5 in the nation in scoring defense. Iowa rolled up 492 yards of offense with 294 coming via the Hawkeyes’ running game.
“It seems that whatever has come our way, we’ve handled it pretty well… the players have,” said Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. “I’d like to say you can teach that, but it’s just something that grows a little bit in a team. We’re getting great leadership, and once that gets going it can be a really good thing.”
Sophomore running back Akrum Wadley was the next the man up for Hawkeyes against the Wildcats, gaining 204 yards on 26 carries while scoring four touchdowns. Wadley was named the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Week for his effort. Another sophomore running back, Derrick Mitchell, gained 79 yards on 10 carries.
The most steady element of the Hawkeyes offensive attack has been Beathard. He is the fifth-rated passer in the Big Ten. He has completed 61 percent of his passes. He has nine touchdown passes and three interceptions.
Bethard is the first Iowa quarterback to win his first eight games as a starting quarterback.
Defensively, Iowa has played without its best lineman in senior defensive tackle Drew Ott. Earlier in the season, the Iowa defense held Wisconsin to just six points. The Hawkeyes held Northwestern’s offense to just 10 points and under 200 yards of offense.
As a defense, the Hawkeyes are third in the Big Ten in total defense. They are second in scoring defense allowing just 15 points per game and second in rush defense, allowing just 74 yards a game and have allowed just one rushing touchdown all season.
Cornerback Desmond King leads the Big Ten in interceptions with six and is second in passes defended.
You may not like Iowa’s schedule down the stretch, but if it keeps winning by comfortable margins coming into the Big Ten title game, it could be sniffing the the Top 5 and getting the attention of the College Football Playoff committee. You would have to put them in the conversation if they come to the title game unbeaten.
The Hawkeyes will begin their quest to win the West when they take on Maryland on Oct. 31.