It seems every few years the Iowa Hawkeyes rise from seemingly nowhere in the Big Ten, when few are looking, and make a run in the conference. This year has just that feel as we creep closer to the start of the season.
For much of the offseason I have decided the Big Ten is Ohio State’s to lose, with Michigan State giving the Buckeyes their most legitimate threat along the way. In the west division I have spent much time debating between Wisconsin and Nebraska, but along the way I started to become more intrigued by Iowa. There is nothing sexy about Iowa (is there ever?), but they have exactly the kind of roster that should prove to be difficult to beat in the Big Ten’s west division and the schedule is about as favorable as any in the conference. No Ohio State, no Michigan State, no Michigan and no Penn State. Oh, and Iowa gets Wisconsin at home after the Badgers host Nebraska the previous week. Iowa then gets Nebraska at home the following week to wrap up the regular season. Iowa could (should?) be in the driver’s seat for the bus to Indianapolis when those games come around.
So why not Iowa?
The formula for success for Kirk Ferentz and Iowa will be pretty familiar. Play solid defense (second in the Big Ten in total defense last season behind Michigan State), run the football and avoid mistakes in the passing game. It has been a while since Iowa was able to effectively establish the run, thanks in no small part to the Angry Iowa Hating Running Back God, but they showed improvement with some stability in 2013. Iowa was in the middle of the Big Ten in rushing offense last fall, but with left tackle Brandon Scherff leading the blocking and Mark Weisman capable of carrying the load, Iowa should be able to run the football fairly well this year. Iowa is also at their best when they have a defense that can force turnovers. Iowa has forced at least 20 turnovers in a season in six out of the last seven seasons and is routinely in the top half of the Big Ten in turnovers gained. Last season Iowa lost twice as many turnovers (22) as they did the previous season (11, leading the Big Ten). Forcing turnovers may not be the problem as much as what they do with it once they do gain control of the football.
I thought I was picking out a sleeper in Iowa at first, but it turns out everybody seems to be on the same page when it comes to the Hawkeyes. The unofficial media poll conducted by The Plain Dealer in Cleveland saw various reporters from around the Big Ten pick Iowa to finish second in the west. Athlon Sports ranked Iowa at 26th in their preseason rankings. Phil Steele has Iowa third in the west (just behind Northwestern – I’ll believe this when I see it) and The Sporting News was much more pessimistic by having Iowa picked fourth in the division. On College Football Talk, the Hawkeyes kick off our top 25 countdown as our No. 25 team.
I think Iowa is a potentially dangerous team in the Big Ten, but the Hawkeyes will have to get on track early. The September 20 game at Pittsburgh could be somewhat telling. I think Pittsburgh could be a team capable of making a run to a division championship in the ACC Coastal, but neither Iowa or Pittsburgh would be considered favorites in their respective conferences. Iowa though, could be more likely to pull an upset over a favored and dominant force in a conference championship game scenario. If I had to pick one between Pittsburgh vs. Florida State in the ACC Championship Game or Iowa vs. Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, I would say the Hawkeyes are more cable and equipped to pull the championship game upset.
Iowa has not been to a Rose Bowl since the 1990 season. That drought will more than likely continue for another year, but this is not a team to sleep on even if their games may do just that at various times this fall.
Read More: College Football Talk Top 25 – No. 25 Iowa