What ifs aside, Iowa proves worthy of praise, might actually be best in B1G West
Ultimately, it turns out Northwestern delivered two blows to Iowa’s B1G West title hopes.
After last weekend’s results, Iowa actually had a slight shot at the winning B1G West. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, though, Northwestern’s canceled game against Minnesota all but clinches the division title for the Wildcats.
If Iowa wins its final 2 games (vs. Illinois and Wisconsin), it can finish 6-2. If Northwestern drops its finale against Illinois, it will end up 5-2.
However, while Iowa would have the higher winning percentage in that scenario, Northwestern’s 1-point head-to-head victory is the deciding factor, according to the B1G’s tiebreaking procedure.
Curiously, the B1G hasn’t formally proclaimed Northwestern the B1G West champion, however, so who knows whether the league is planning on scrapping or amending the tiebreak rules. Northwestern hasn’t claimed the title, either. Its official Twitter account simply says it is first in the B1G West.
When Iowa began 0-2, there were doubts about the Hawkeyes even making the season respectable. Iowa is now merely playing for pride, but the fact it had life in the race so deep into the season is truly remarkable.
In the aftermath, all Iowa rightly cares about is continuing to build momentum. Iowa is fortunate to have not missed any games to the pandemic so far. Coach Kirk Ferentz isn’t fretting about the legitimacy of Northwestern’s division title.
“Not to be smug, but I really don’t care, quite frankly. I just hope we get to keep playing games. Looked like we weren’t going to have that opportunity,” Ferentz said. “Just the chance to practice, to compete, to be with the team on a daily basis, this is what we all like doing.”
Iowa reeled off 4 consecutive victories to climb into 2nd place in the B1G West and rise to No. 19 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. Iowa can realistically can end the regular season on a 6-game winning streak, because they’re now playing like the formidable team many expected.
Checking in at No. 1️⃣9️⃣ | #Hawkeyes #CFBPlayoff pic.twitter.com/B0p2CiNj1p
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) December 2, 2020
Iowa should easily beat Illinois, which had its game last week canceled due to COVID-19 concerns at Ohio State. The Hawkeyes have a 6-game winning streak vs. the Illini. I wouldn’t be shocked if they defeated the 2-1 Badgers, either. The sample size is too small to give Wisconsin a definitive advantage over Iowa.
Three of Wisconsin’s games have been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. The Badgers lost a close contest to Northwestern, and their victories were against subpar Illinois and Michigan.
The fact that we were even talking about division title permutations until Northwestern’s cancelled game is a testament to how Iowa has done a complete 180 after that crushing Week 2 loss to the Wildcats. Iowa had Northwestern on the ropes with a 17-point lead, but the Wildcats stormed back to win 21-20.
That was the last close game Iowa had played until Black Friday. The Hawkeyes responded from that narrow loss to Northwestern by routing Michigan State, Minnesota and Penn State by an average of 30 points.
When the moment finally presented itself again, Iowa stepped up in crunch time against Nebraska (1-4). The Iowa defense came up huge in the clutch during Friday’s 26-20 victory in the Heroes Game. Chauncey Golston sacked Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez, and Zach VanValkenburg scooped up the fumble with 1:18 left to ice the victory.
Iowa is clicking on all cylinders in all three units. The rushing attack and special teams have held to form, while the defense has been better than expected. The only disappointment has been the passing game.
Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent have been a phenomenal 1-2 punch in the backfield for Iowa. Junior defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon is making a strong case for B1G Defensive Player of the Year. Kicker Keith Duncan has shown enough this season coming off leading the nation in field goals to merit being a legitimate NFL prospect. Charlie Jones and Terry Roberts have made momentum-swinging special teams plays.
Iowa’s 2 losses are by a combined 5 points. It’s not hard to squint and imagine a 6-0 Hawkeyes squad as the West’s representative in the conference title game. Alas, the best Iowa can finish now is divisional runner-up. Regardless, it’s a massive accomplishment to finish with no worse than a .500 record in conference play after the way the season began.
Iowa’s response to adversity will certainly be valuable for next season.
“I’m proud of what they’ve done the last four weeks.”
Sunday Conversation with Coach Ferentz 🎧: https://t.co/Icu2RBxtkA | #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/ml5coCVkoZ
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) November 30, 2020
Iowa was extremely disappointed by the way it began the season, but this revival is worthy of praise even though it ends without a trip to Indianapolis for the conference title game.
This is just the fourth undefeated November by Iowa through 22 seasons under Ferentz. Kudos to Iowa for having the mental toughness to not fold.
Everything is earned.
Mekhi Sargent on going 4-0 in November ⤵️ | #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/Mj70r99o6G
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) December 1, 2020
“This team, has chosen the right path after two tough losses, they have chosen to keep pushing forward and they are enjoying it with each day a little bit more and hopefully they are just also realizing that each week it’s a challenge,” Ferentz said. “We talk about that all the time. Respect what it takes to win. Especially in this conference.”
The Iowa players and coaching staff should get a ton of credit for not hanging their heads and mentally checking out. In this unprecedented season, Iowa has taught us a sage lesson about the value of resilience, and for that, Hawkeyes fans should feel an immense sense of pride.