Iowa football: Winning the Big Ten West is viable again for red-hot Hawkeyes
Life is good in Iowa City after the Hawkeyes reeled off back-to-back impressive road wins the past two Saturdays. Combined with Wisconsin’s loss Saturday, Iowa is suddenly back in the Big Ten West title chase.
Iowa is 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten. The loss to Wisconsin three weeks ago is still a big hurdle, but the Hawkeyes are playing so well and the Badgers are struggling. Is it possible that Wisconsin will lose again somewhere? Or even lose twice? It’s very possible.
The Hawkeyes have six games left in six weeks, three at home starting with Maryland on Saturday, and three on the road. Northwestern and Nebraska are the other home foes, and Penn State, Purdue and Illinois are the road games.
The Hawkeyes will probably be favored in five of those six games, with Penn State the only outlier. The Nittany Lions do look less imposing now after losing at home to Michigan State. Purdue on the road might also be interesting from a favorite/underdog standpoint. The Boilers have won three games in a row and have looked good doing it.
Right now, no one looks better than Iowa in the Big Ten West.
“I just love how the whole team’s coming around,” Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette said. “We can pass, we can run, the whole team’s blocking — it’s all working in our favor.”
Iowa’s 42-16 win on Saturday was impressive, because the offense has hit high gear. That’s 90 points in two weeks — on the road, no less.
“We’re trying to be a championship-level football team around here,” Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson said. “Once you get up on a team, you need to step on the gas. That’s what we’re trying to do. Whether or not we’re doing it right now, we’re trying.”
The loss to Wisconsin was tough, because the Hawkeyes had a fourth-quarter lead, at home no less, and let is slip away. They had to deal with that during the bye week, but they’ve come out refreshed and rejuvenated since then.
“Having the taste throughout the bye week was tough,” tight end T.J. Hockenson admitted. “We’ve been able to get that taste out of our mouth,” Hockenson said.
“Nobody’s stopped us (the last two weeks),” Iowa center Keegan Render said. “We’ve just stopped ourselves.”
With an experienced coaching staff, the Hawkeyes certainly will stay focused on the task at hand and prepare the one next game on the schedule. But there’s also going to be some scoreboard watching the rest of the way with Wisconsin.
The Badgers’ three toughest games remaining — Northwestern, at Penn State and Purdue — mirror Iowa’s schedule. So it’s likely that the division race will get decided then. Whoever runs the gauntlet the best is going to win the division and punch their ticket to the Big Ten Championship game.
With Iowa and Wisconsin trending in opposite directions right now, it’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out.