Opinion | Half the regular season is over for the Hawkeyes, and there are promising opportunities ahead

Iowa’s next three opponents have a combined two wins this season.


Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa Hawkeyes running back Tyler Goodson (15) rushes with the ball for a first down in the first half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. (Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY Sports)

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

MINNEAPOLIS — Iowa’s dominant 35-7 victory over Minnesota was important – and entertaining – for the Hawkeyes on a number of fronts.

Two straight blowout victories to get back to .500? Check. Bragging rights over Minnesota for the sixth year in a row? Check. Kirk Ferentz being petty at the end of the game in hilarious fashion? Surprisingly, check.

At the halfway point of Iowa’s eight-game 2020 regular season, the team stands at 2-2. Not great, but certainly a lot more promising than two weeks ago when the Hawkeyes were in an 0-2 hole.

Two weeks ago, after Iowa blew a 17-0 lead and lost to Northwestern to fall to 0-2, I wrote that the Big Ten West was wide open, but the Hawkeyes weren’t part of the race. The first part of that isn’t as accurate anymore. But Iowa has helped itself out on the second part.

Victories over Michigan State and Minnesota have Iowa back to at least being in the hunt for the division. And there are plenty of opportunities ahead, particularly over the next three weeks.

The next three games on Iowa’s schedule: Penn State (0-4), Nebraska (1-2), and Illinois (1-2).

The Illini might be the worst team in the conference this year, and surprisingly the Nittany Lions are also battling for a chance to claim that title.

Iowa has defeated Nebraska five years in a row, and Illinois in six straight tries. Though that doesn’t necessarily mean anything for this season’s game, I like Iowa’s chances against both opponents.

I like them this week, too.

Penn State being terrible is an interesting one-eighty. This looked like Iowa’s toughest game entering the season. Now, Iowa winning in State College isn’t as improbable as it once seemed. That’s significant for the win-loss total of this season’s team, and to help Iowa bounce back in this series that’s been lopsided lately.

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The Hawkeyes haven’t defeated the Nittany Lions since 2010 — that’s six losses in a row. Included in those Iowa losses is a 13-3 defeat at State College in 2011, 24 and 27-point drubbings the next two seasons, and three losses the past three seasons by a combined 13 points.

Time for some Iowa revenge. Penn State is allowing 34.8 points per game through the first four weeks of the season. Yes, I had to triple check to make sure that was accurate. And the Nittany Lions may have a quarterback controversy this week, as starter Sean Clifford was benched in the team’s loss to Nebraska over the weekend.

I expect Iowa to be favored in all three of its next three games. A Hawkeye victory in Happy Valley, followed by wins over Nebraska and Illinois in the following weeks, would make the season finale against Wisconsin in Kinnick Stadium on Dec. 12 all the more interesting.

Iowa’s loss to Northwestern still hurts the Hawkeyes. A lot. The Wildcats are 4-0 on the season and would need a mini collapse over the next four weeks for the Hawkeyes to take over in the standings.

Iowa is fourth in the West standings. Northwestern is at the top, followed by a very good Wisconsin team (2-0) that has the upper hand on Iowa the past four years, and Purdue (2-1), a team Iowa already lost to this season.

There are a lot of what-ifs in this column that need to happen for Iowa to keep it interesting in the standings. But at least the opportunities are there. That wasn’t the case two weeks ago.

And this is a heck of a lot more captivating.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.

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