Iowa football’s road to the Big Ten championship is a long one

Iowa needs to win, win, and win to conquer the division — and it needs some help from Wisconsin and Michigan.

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Iowa football’s road to the Big Ten championship is a long one

Iowa's Nate Stanley lines up on offense during a football game between Iowa and Wisconsin on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. The Badgers defeated the Hawkeyes, 28-17.

Iowa's Nate Stanley lines up on offense during a football game between Iowa and Wisconsin on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. The Badgers defeated the Hawkeyes, 28-17.

Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa's Nate Stanley lines up on offense during a football game between Iowa and Wisconsin on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. The Badgers defeated the Hawkeyes, 28-17.

Shivansh Ahuja

Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa's Nate Stanley lines up on offense during a football game between Iowa and Wisconsin on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. The Badgers defeated the Hawkeyes, 28-17.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

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After Iowa lost to Wisconsin in Kinnick, the road to the Big Ten West now runs through Madison. It’s still extremely early in the season, and college football is unpredictable, but the loss to the Badgers certainly sets the Hawkeyes back in terms of divisional-title aspirations.

The Badgers are 3-1 and face a tougher schedule than the Hawkeyes, but for Iowa to make it to Indianapolis, a few things need to happen.

For one, Iowa can’t afford to trip over a lesser opponent. Yes, the West is competitive, but realistically, at the start of the year and now, it’s a two-team race for the division.

Iowa could have its hands full with two road games in particular: Indiana and Purdue. Indiana has been better than advertised in 2018, and Purdue just smacked No. 23 Boston College (a team similar to Iowa) in West Lafayette. Plus, it looks like the Boilermakers found their quarterback in David Blough.

However, the Hawkeyes should be favored in all but one of their remaining games: Penn State.

The Nittany Lions will be the toughest road test for the Hawkeyes, hands down. Penn State has an explosive offense, averaging 55.5 points per game — a big difference from Wisconsin’s grind-it-out attack. Iowa kept things close last season, but that was at Kinnick, not in Happy Valley.

But in the end, for Iowa to run out of the tunnel in Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 1, the Hawkeyes will need some help from other teams in the Big Ten.

RELATED: Hensley: The Big Ten West is Wisconsin’s to lose now 

Wisconsin

This one’s obvious, but Wisconsin must lose more games, especially in the West, than Iowa for the Hawkeyes to have a shot at Indianapolis.

Wisconsin’s remaining schedule: home vs. Nebraska, at Michigan, home vs. Illinois, at Northwestern, home vs. Rutgers, at Penn State, at Purdue, and home vs. Minnesota.

What works in Iowa’s favor?

The Badgers’ toughest games are both on the road. Unlike Iowa, Wisconsin faces two of the power teams out East: Michigan and Penn State, and both of those teams face Wisconsin on their own turf. Add in Northwestern for another away game that could potentially cause problems.

Wisconsin isn’t the untouchable powerhouse preseason analysts had projected; the Badgers are certainly beatable, and BYU showed that in a head-scratching win.

What works against Iowa?

Well, the loss at home to the Badgers. If both teams win their remaining divisional games, Wisconsin wins the West.

Michigan

There are two teams remaining on Wisconsin’s schedule that Iowa does not play: Michigan and Rutgers.

After losing to Kansas and then Buffalo, Rutgers does not have a shot to beat the Badgers, especially in Camp Randall. Michigan, though, is a different story.

What works in Iowa’s favor?

The more momentum Michigan gains, the better for Iowa. The Hawkeyes and Wolverines don’t face each other this season, but the Badgers make a treacherous journey to the Big House.

It’s not a divisional loss, but a conference loss nevertheless.

What works against Iowa?

Nothing, really. The only chance for the two programs to clash would be in the Big Ten Championship. Until that idea becomes a reality, a powerhouse Michigan team works in Iowa’s favor. 

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