Iowa football: ‘Everything’ still achievable for No. 9 Hawkeyes, with Wisconsin in the way
“Our goals are all in front of us. One thing we can’t do is be undefeated. Everything else is out there for our taking.”
That’s where we last left quarterback Spencer Petras and his Iowa Hawkeyes, fresh off a home humiliation at the hands of Purdue.
Those same Boilermakers blessed the bye week with a loss to Wisconsin. A week after taking control of the Big Ten West away from Iowa, Purdue put the Hawks right back into the driver’s seat of the division. Coupled with a pair of top 10 losses, Iowa even managed to climb back to No. 9 without even lifting a talon.
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That makes what Petras said even more true than the day he said it.
“Everything” really is out there for the taking. Even the Playoff. Don’t laugh. All of the “traditional” powers of the CFP have a loss, too, so running the table still means something bigger to the Hawkeyes. 2021 isn’t witnessing 2007-level chaos, but a 1-loss Big Ten champion is unlikely to be left out in favor of an undefeated Group of 5 team, even if it is an unlikely Iowa.
It’s much easier said than done, and the Hawkeyes’ coaching staff knows they have a lot to do down the stretch.
“We’re happy where we are at, but certainly not satisfied,” Iowa special teams coordinator LeVar Woods said during the bye week. “There’s still a lot more out there for our team.”
But they need to figure some things out — especially offensively — and be grateful their one loss isn’t a disqualifier.
“We are working on some things during this pause in our schedule as we head into our final five games,” Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said during the bye week. “The goal is to play relevant football in November, and the rest is up to us.”
But first, there’s a pretty relevant game left in October before you can move on to the 11th month — one that historically has decided the division, often by the slimmest of margins. Its outcome will absolutely determine how relevant the games in November will be for the Hawkeyes.
It’s those same Badgers that already spoiled some things for the Boilermakers.
It’s a great Iowa rivalry because of how evenly matched it has been. Wisconsin is tipping the scales currently with a 48-44-2 lead in the overall series and 9-6 edge in the trophy series. Twelve games ago, it was 40-40-2.
The Hawks owned a 10-game win streak from 1985-1996, but the Badgers have surpassed them in status during the Big Ten Conference Football Championship era. Wisconsin has appeared in 6 title games and even won the first 2. Iowa lost its only visit to Indianapolis. Kirk Ferentz inherited a 36-36-2 record in the series, which means he’s just 8-12 against the Badgers.
Still, Wisconsin has 14 conference titles to Iowa’s 13, 32 bowl bids to Iowa’s 34, 32 consensus all-Americans to Iowa’s 29, a 17-15 bowl record to Iowa’s 17-15-1, two Heisman winners to Iowa’s one. And outside observers of these teams likely would say the comparisons don’t stop there. The last time the Hawkeyes won in Madison, the score was 10-6.
Both Ferentz and legendary Wisconsin coach and athletic director Barry Alvarez coached for Hayden Fry at Iowa — together even.
Who knows why it took so long to put a trophy on the line between these two.
Iowa’s holding that Heartland Trophy now, but Wisconsin has won 7 of 9. Even if you dismiss the history when looking at these teams as they get set to square off in 2021 at 6-1 and 4-3, remember the same could be said before the Boilermakers came to town. And Iowa isn’t staying home for this one.
“These divisional games are going to come down to who makes fewer mistakes and who works the hardest,” Brian Ferentz said Wednesday.
Do you believe the Hawks are that team? Their coaches certainly do.
“I love the guys on this football team,” Woods said. “The men in the locker room are really good men. I feel strongly about this team. They are a resilient group.”
That resiliency gets tested right away coming off their first loss. They’ve had an extra week to prepare, and everything fell their way. Now it’s up to the Hawkeyes to go into Madison and get it done for the first time since 2015.