The road to the Big Ten championship game runs through Iowa City. Once again.

Despite the protestations of the masses, there is nothing we can do about it.

And you know what?


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I’m done protesting. The time has come for the nation to stop blaming Iowa football for being good despite its own shortcomings.

Every week for the past 3 seasons, the Hawkeyes have stepped out onto the field with a hand tied behind their backs. And for the most part, the Keystone Kops who comprise the rest of the Big Ten West have failed to take advantage of that.

That’s not on Iowa. That’s on them. And it’s time to start diverting the jokes in their direction.

The climb to 11-1

As far as targets go, few are easier to take aim at than Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz. He’s like Nickelback — a safe and easy punchline. A lazy one, too. I could have thought of a better joke but didn’t bother.

It became easier than ever to take aim this offseason when then-AD Gary Barta revealed the terms of his contract renewal. Unable to force Kirk Ferentz’s hand to fire his underachieving son, Barta negotiated a clause that Iowa would need to finish at least 7-5 and average 25 points per game for Brian to return in 2024.

Iowa’s race to a cumulative 325 points this year turned into a punchline/morbid fascination for those of us who are into that kind of thing.

Because how do you not laugh at something so outlandish? The whole concept is farcical.

But what’s funny to those who live across the street isn’t as amusing to those who live in the same house. Iowa fans were sick of the discourse by the start of the season. Which also placed them in the weirdest dilemma we’ve maybe ever seen for sports fans.

A majority of Hawkeyes fans would like to see Brian gone from his post. But all Hawkeyes fans hate it when they perceive anyone who inhabits the other 49 states as picking on Iowa. It’s a bipolar mix of “Fire Brian!/Stop talking about the stupid race to 325 points!”

So allow me to be the first to take the pledge. I’m done talking about the race to 325 points.

You know what’s more interesting? The race to 11-1. Especially when it’s with an offense that can’t score 25 points per game.

Iowa: Where the implausible happens

Any other team under these circumstances would be playing out the string by now.

Iowa’s already shaky offense has suffered body blows over the past several weeks.

Quarterback Cade McNamara is out for the season. So is the team’s best downfield threat, tight end Luke Lachey. And it certainly appears both are about to be joined on the sidelines by the last remaining true receiving threat in the lineup. Tight end Erick All, who came with McNamara from Michigan under the illusion that they could transform Iowa’s offense, was carted off the field at Camp Randall.

These are the circumstances that usually lead to a missed bowl game. And the Hawkeyes should be no exception.

New starting quarterback Deacon Hill is, shall we say, rudimentary.

In 2 games as starter, he has a 37.5% completion percentage with an average of 4.3 yards per attempt and 73.5 yards per game. These are stats you’d expect to see from a guy throwing a medicine ball rather than a football.

But Hill is also 2-0 as a starter. And we’ve basically conceded that Iowa will play for a conference championship.

Because all the other offenses in this division are sorry in their own way.

The division that couldn’t pass

The reasons for Iowa’s struggles throwing the ball are documented above.

What’s everybody else’s excuse?

Nebraska’s Game 12 upset of the Hawkeyes last year appears to be the only thing keeping Iowa from 3 straight Big Ten championship games.

Here’s where the remainder of Iowa’s opponents rank nationally in passing yards per game:

  • Minnesota: 130th
  • Northwestern: 98th
  • Rutgers: 119th
  • Illinois: 55th
  • Nebraska: 128th

And this is how they measure in points per game:

  • Minnesota: 112th
  • Northwestern: 109th
  • Rutgers: 76th
  • Illinois: 117th
  • Nebraska: 122nd

With the exception of Rutgers, each of those programs recruits with the knowledge that it needs to beat Iowa in order to win the B1G West. And none of them are able to construct anything capable of doing so.

Wisconsin attempted to this offseason, and the hype turned out to be a pile of bull junk.

The Badgers have 3 touchdown passes this season — half as many as the Hawkeyes. Former Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz, currently leading the SEC in completion percentage, is earning a well-deserved laugh at those woes. And people like me are buffoons for thinking he was the issue.

The landscape will obviously change in a big way next year when the B1G expands and divisions go away. For Iowa, that’s a pretty legitimate future concern.

Is it maddening that Kirk Ferentz doesn’t pair this extraordinary defense with even completely average offense? Yes.

The Hawks could be a juggernaut. Or a CFP-caliber program, anyway.

But Ferentz is still the best coach in the Big Ten West by a mile despite the blind spot that is his love for his son. Which is a pretty good trait to have as your worst personal trait, it must be said.

Iowa gets by playing this way because no one in the West is good enough to force them to try anything different.

That’s not on Ferentz. It’s the 6 other teams in the division that deserve our collective scorn.

Around the B1G horn

Couldn’t watch every game? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

No. 2 Michigan 52, Indiana 7

The Wolverines finished with 52 unanswered points after the Hoosiers led 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, making this Indiana’s biggest embarrassment against Michigan since a 58-0 loss in 2000.

The Hoosiers scored on a 44-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Donaven McCulley. Actual quarterbacks Tayven Jackson (52 yards) and Brendan Sorsby (44 yards) struggled to top his 1-play output for the entire game.

As for Michigan’s defense, it was just another day at the office.

No. 3 Ohio State 41, Purdue 7

Ohio State has the unusual distinction of beating all 3 Power 5 teams in Indiana this year — with all the games played in Indiana. Time to schedule a home-and-home with Ball State to truly complete the cycle, I say.

Marvin Harrison Jr. still finished with 105 receiving yards and a touchdown on 6 catches despite an unusually high 3 drops.

The Boilermakers, who lost starting right tackle Marcus Mbow to a season-ending injury last week, had 2 more starting offensive linemen exit with injuries against Ohio State. Things are rough and about to get rougher for Purdue — though it’s pretty impressive Devin Mockobee gained 110 yards in such circumstances.

No. 6 Penn State 63, Massachusetts 0

This was the worst beating Minutemen have taken in Pennsylvania since Valley Forge.

UMass is so bad at football that the Nittany Lions actually dropped a spot in the AP poll after a 63-0 win, which seems like an unprecedented event.

Penn State punt returner Daequan Hardy became the first Nittany Lion with multiple punt return touchdowns in the same game, which speaks volumes about both Hardy (he’s good) and the team that was punting (they aren’t).

Rutgers 27, Michigan State 24

Remember when Dennis Green melted down after his Cardinals blew a 20-0 lead to the Bears on Monday Night Football thanks to 3 non-offensive touchdowns?

This was kind of like that. Minus the quality postgame rant.

Michigan State was up 24-6 at the start of the fourth quarter, but Rutgers recovered a botched punt snap in the end zone for its first touchdown of the game with 13:09 remaining. (The botched punt snap gods were bound to come even things up with the Spartans eventually.)

After the Scarlet Knights finally scored their first offensive TD with 8:30 to go, Michigan State simply failed to field the ensuing kickoff. Rutgers recovered at the 21 and Kyle Monangai scored a touchdown on the next snap.

This is what bad teams do. They find ways to lose. Michigan State is bad.

And Rutgers, now 1 win away from its first non-Covid induced bowl bid in 9 years, ain’t half-bad.

Illinois 27, Maryland 24

Caleb Griffin has now kicked a game-winning field goal in 66.7% of Illinois’ wins this season.

An Illinois defense that has struggled this season buttoned up Maryland’s running game, limiting the Terrapins to 92 yards on 29 attempts — though that includes 25 yards lost by the Terps on 5 Illini sacks.

And if you’re wondering why Maryland hasn’t finished a season in the Top 25 since 2011, it’s because you can always count on the Terps to put on a performance like this against a subpar opponent.

Iowa 15, Wisconsin 6

You’re probably thinking Iowa won this game with 5 field goals. Nope. This score was achieved in ultimate Iowa fashion: 1 rushing touchdown (82 yards), 2 field goals (48 and 40) and a safety. And, of course, no touchdowns allowed.

Wisconsin, now behind the 8-ball in the Big Ten West race, may also be without quarterback Tanner Mordecai for some time.

Week 7 MVPs

1. P Tory Taylor, Iowa

Taylor put on one of the best punting displays in Big Ten history with 506 yards on 10 punts — just 17 yards shy of a top-10 all-time single-game showing. And everyone ahead of Taylor on the list punted at least 12 times in their 500-yard games.

That includes record-holder Nile Kinnick, who booted 16 punts for 731 yards against Notre Dame in 1939 — thereby proving that Iowa invented “Punting Is Winning” long before anyone put the phrase on a t-shirt.

The Hawkeyes downed 6 of Taylor’s punts inside the 20, including a 62-yarder.

Punting is actually part of Iowa’s offensive and defensive philosophies, and Taylor delivered a masterpiece.

2. DB Sebastian Castro, Iowa

Castro covered nearly as much ground as Taylor’s punts, and every NFL general manager should remember his name as a result. Take it from someone who watched Tyrann Mathieu in person — this was a Honey Badger-style performance.

Castro had 7 tackles including 2 TFL, a pass breakup, and the game-sealing interception.

3. OLB Seth Coleman, Illinois

Taulia Tagovailoa will wake up in a cold sweat thinking about Coleman.

Coleman nearly matched his entire sophomore sack total of 4.5 in a single game, taking down Tagovailoa thrice while adding another pressure for good measure. Coleman also tied Dylan Rosiek and Kenenna Odeluga with a game-high 6 solo tackles.

A monster performance.

4. RB Leshon Williams, Iowa

Williams provided 73% of Iowa’s total offensive output with 174 yards on 25 carries. His hesitation move on an 82-yard touchdown run was a thing of beauty — the running back equivalent of play-action.

5. RB Kyle Monangai, Rutgers

Former teammate Isaiah Pacheco is making a name for himself with the Kansas City Chiefs, and Monangai is showing that he’s made of the same angry stuff this season. Monangai is the new Big Ten rushing leader after his 148-yard performance against Michigan State.

And because 100 of those yards came in the fourth quarter, Monangai joined some incredibly elite B1G company.

Play of the week

On a day when almost everything went wrong for Indiana, freshman receiver Omar Cooper Jr. made 1 of the most ridiculous grabs in IU history.

How many times has a player established possession on a reception by using his head?

Blooper of the week

This Iowa fan’s striking resemblance to Chris Farley’s character on the “Saturday Night Live” Super Fans sketch cannot be ignored.