This Thanksgiving Eve, Kirk Ferentz will be visited by 3 ghosts.

There’s Spencer Petras, Iowa’s ghost of Thanksgiving past. Will Ferentz be tempted to go back to his nominal starting quarterback if he feels healthy enough to play?

Then there’s the ghost of Thanksgiving present, reminding Ferentz that there’s still plenty for the Hawkeyes to play for this season.

If Wisconsin stumbles in either of its last 2 games, the door opens for Iowa to reach the Big Ten championship game. And even if the Badgers win out and take the West, a 10-2 record would put the Hawkeyes in a bowl destination that would beat the heck out of being in Iowa on New Year’s Eve. (To be fair, so would 8-4, but please stay with the narrative.)

And finally, the spirit of Thanksgivings future: Alex Padilla.

If Padilla can continue turning Iowa’s offense from liability to asset in the final 2 weeks, this is no longer just about closing out 2021 on a strong note. It will provide a glimpse into the entire program’s immediate future.

For Petras, it would probably mean a trip into the transfer portal. He’s a proven adequate-if-not-spectacular Big Ten starter. The California native would find plenty of programs receptive to his talent, including just about all of them closer to his home. At a place like San Jose State, he might even tear it up.

It won’t be Charles Dickens writing the plot to this story, of course. The man died 19 years before Iowa’s first football game. That level of premonition would be more of a Jules Verne thing.

But I digress.

The authors of Iowa’s future will be Padilla and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz.

Ferentz the Younger surely recognizes what’s happening here, so he would be wise to add a few more pieces to Padilla’s plate in these last 2 weeks. There is a progression from mid-game replacement to starter, which Padilla successfully navigated against Minnesota last week.

Now it’s time for the next step — the evolution from backup-turned-starter to full-time starter. Many have done it before, with Tom Brady being the all-time gold standard. But far more have struggled to make the move from trustworthy backup to The Man.

For Iowa, the time is now to learn where Padilla sits in that spectrum. If his first 2 games prove to be aberrations, Petras has reason to stick it out through spring football and regain his job. Or if things go completely south, perhaps Iowa peeks into the portal for a quarterback coming from elsewhere.

Those scenarios are what makes these games against Illinois and Nebraska so huge.

Should Padilla clinch the starting spot, the Hawkeyes have their guy for the next 1-2 years. Building the rest of the offense around him becomes that much easier. And it potentially alters the trajectories for Petras and whichever program he might elect to go to. Potentially, it’s an outcome that will produce nothing but winners.

For Iowa fans, it’s an exciting plotline to follow in a season that’s turned interesting once more.