With Iowa’s toughest opponents coming to Iowa City, the Iowa football team’s schedule is built for them to make a Big Ten Championship run.
This 2014 season, Iowa does not play Michigan State, Penn State, Michigan, and Ohio State which are predicted to be the best teams in the East division. The two teams they do get are a feisty, Randy Edsall led Maryland team and a low, but improving, Indiana on homecoming day for Iowa.
Maryland will be a challenge, especially with a good quarterback in C.J. Brown and possibly the best wide receiver in the Big Ten in the dynamic Stefon Diggs. Iowa catches Maryland at a good time as Maryland has to go through a brutal six game stretch that includes Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State, and Michigan. Maryland may be a little beat up or distracted when Iowa rolls into town although they do have a bye right before the game with the Hawkeyes.
While on their side of the division, Iowa has the heavyweights at home as both Wisconsin and Nebraska come to Iowa City. This is the spot where the champions of West may be decided as they are the last two games of the season for the Hawkeyes. Both teams should be strong but home field advantage could be enough for Iowa to edge past them.
Both teams are a little shaky at quarterback, but they both have stellar run games. Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr will hope to improve on his redshirt freshman season where he threw 8 interceptions in seven games of meaningful playing time with only 9 touchdowns. They have a young but good defense that will challenge the Hawkeyes offense.
Right now it looks like Joel Stave will once again start for Wisconsin this fall at quarterback although Wisconsin is letting the public know that there is indeed a competition for the spot. No matter who starts at quarterback, Wisconsin’s offense will be very formidable because of their running game. Running back Melvin Gordon might be the best running back in the whole country after averaging a staggering 7.8 yards per carry last season. They also return four starters from the line that blocked for the second best yards per carry rushing attack.
If Iowa does get those two wins, the East division should be in their hands as the other teams don’t pose as much as a threat. Purdue should be better than last year but they do look toothless once again as they look to get out of the basement of the division.
Iowa hasn’t played Illinois since 2008 so it will be great to once again ignite the border rivalry but this game might not do it justice as Illinois doesn’t look that good this season. They lost their starting quarterback and their top four receivers so their passing attack is going to be really hurting. The good news is that they return nine players on defense. That could also be bad news as that defense ranked 112th in FBS giving up an average of 481.5 yards per game.
Northwestern looks to rebound from such an awful campaign where they beat only one Big Ten team last season. They do return 16 starters and a lot of those players have talent. Super star running back Venric Mark was granted a fifth year of eligibility after missing most of last year with injuries. Last year this team was ranked as high as 16th in the AP poll before collapsing. This team has talent, they just need to put it all together. This could be a tough game as Northwestern seems to always have Iowa’s number. Normally you can throw the record out the window for this game as either team can win any given year.
Minnesota had a surprise year under head coach Jerry Kill as they were in the top 25 for the first time since 2008. They had a bit of a blow to the team this offseason as starting quarterback Phillip Nelson announced that he was going to transfer. That leaves Mitch Leidner to start, someone who split time with Nelson for parts of the year. Minnesota will rely heavily on their running game this season, much like they did last season. Iowa has played Minnesota well in the past couple of seasons and will hope they do the same as Minnesota returns 15 starters from their 8-5 season.
With all of that being said, Iowa has a good chance of winning all of their Big Ten games. Do I think that will happen? No, I don’t. I’d say a 6-2 record is more likely, with possible losses coming from Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern, or Minnesota. But that record hopefully will be good enough to get us in the discussion for leaders of the West division. If Iowa does worse than 4-4 though, that’s when the public will be calling for head coach Kirk Ferentz’s head as there are no excuses this year. The Big Ten schedule is as easy as it can be, Iowa just has to execute and the West division may be theirs.