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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Iowa’s shot at the top is not as far fetched as it may sound

We may actually be nearing the apocalypse. Think about it: We are living in a world where Donald Trump is a leading presidential candidate, and the University of Iowa football team has an extremely high chance of finishing the regular season undefeated. If it’s hard for you to comprehend putting the words “undefeated” and “Kirk Ferentz” into the same sentence, I’m right there with you. However, the Hawkeye’s head coach threw some liquid nitrogen onto his hot seat and has the Hawkeyes primed for a Big Ten West division title, and maybe, just maybe, even more. Forrealz?

Yes, forrealz. The roll the Hawkeyes are on right now has shades of a 2009 season, one that rewarded Ferentz with what still seems like a ridiculous contract, even if this season resurrects his career. That year, a senior-laden group, charged up by what is still a hard to fathom 11th ranked 2015 recruiting class per Rivals.com, claimed the Hawkeyes most successful season under Ferentz, culminating in a BCS bowl victory over Georgia Tech. Their recipe? A top ten ranked defense coupled with a steady offense. If that sounds familiar, it’s kind of the exact same thing this year’s team is doing.

The 2009 unit finished the season ranked eighth and 10th nationally in scoring defense and yards allowed per game, respectively. This season, their defense is 10th and 12th in the same categories, respectively. They especially get it done by stopping the run, allowing less than 75 yards per game, and forcing teams to pass, where the secondary, led by junior cornerback Desmond King, leads the Big Ten in interceptions with nine on the season. King has especially been opportunistic in that regard, leading the team with six interceptions, the second-most picks in the nation. The Hawkeyes defense does a good job handing the ball back to their defense, which has been rock solid all season.

Led by senior running back Jordan Canzeri and junior quarterback C.J. Beathard, the Hawkeyes have gotten it done both on the ground and through the air thus far, boasting a very balanced attack. A Canzeri-led rushing attack has already accumulated over 1,500 yards on the season with over five yards per carry, generating 18 touchdowns on the ground in the process. Even when Canzeri went down this past weekend with an ankle sprain, sophomore Akrum Wadley picked up the slack, rushing for over 200 yards and four touchdowns. 

However, running the ball had never been much of a problem over the last few mediocre years for Iowa, as the offensive problems mainly stemmed from an inconsistent passing attack. Beathard has definitely steadied that, completing over 60 percent of his passes while only throwing three interceptions versus nine touchdowns. This kind of offensive balance, plus a fearsome defense, should allow Iowa an easy path into the Big Ten championship game from here, but could the Hawkeyes be on to even bigger and better places?

The Hawkeyes should be favored heavily in every remaining regular season game on their schedule, with a home game against Minnesota and an away game at Nebraska being their “toughest” hurdles from here on out. That being said, if the Hawkeyes do get into the Big Ten championship game, their chances of leaving Indianapolis unscathed remain small, as any of the three likely teams they’ll face (Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan) will most likely be heavily favored. Still, this Iowa team is definitely no pushover, and it would certainly be surprising if it got blown out last year the same way Wisconsin did in the title game. 

It would equally surprise me if they won, but let’s imagine a world in which Iowa does win the title game and sits undefeated at 13-0. Suddenly, Iowa would have an enormous case to make the playoff.

While the Big Ten West will never be mistaken for the SEC West, the Hawkeyes did beat every team that was put in front of them, and the strength of their conference is certainly not their fault. Iowa should also earn some points for having a nonconference schedule that included defeats of two Power Five schools. While Iowa State might resemble a MAC school more than a Big 12 school, Pittsburgh appears to be a pretty solid resume booster, as the Panthers are undefeated outside of their blemish against Iowa and could earn the ACC Atlantic division title. While Iowa will not get in to the Playoff over undefeated ACC or Big 12 teams, or one-loss Pac 12 or SEC teams, an undefeated Hawkeyes team would certainly deserve a spot if there are not four teams who meet those criteria. At the beginning of the season, the mere whisper of a College Football Playoff bid would incite laughter, but not anymore, as this Iowa team looks to have the goods to make possible an improbable run. 

Email Rushad at machhi@wisc.edu and let him know if Iowa is for real.

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