Opinion | Even after losing to Purdue, Iowa remains the favorite to win the Big Ten West

Iowa still has the best shot of going to Indianapolis for the conference title game, even if losing to Purdue made winning the division more difficult.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz talks with an official during a football game between Iowa and Colorado State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Rams 24-14.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz began his postgame press conference after the previously undefeated and second-ranked Hawkeyes had just lost to Purdue, and said it had been, “A really disappointing and difficult day for our football team.”

Yeah, that about sums it up.

Iowa was a double-digit point favorite playing at home a week after winning a top-four matchup, only to lose to a two-loss Purdue team in a game that never seemed to work in the Hawkeyes’ favor. The surrealness surrounding the Hawkeyes being ranked No. 2 for the first time in 36 years has been replaced with a somber feeling that the lofty future this team seemed destined for may have suddenly been squashed.

Well, not entirely.

Iowa was the heavy favorite to represent the Big Ten West in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game prior to the loss. Despite the ugly setback at the hands of the Boilermakers, the Hawkeyes remain the favorites to win the division.

RELATED: Opinion | How Iowa responds to Purdue loss will mark turning point of 2021 season

The Hawkeyes sit at 6-1 overall, and 3-1 in the Big Ten, through seven games.

Part of the reason Iowa should still be considered the top team in the West is that the seven-team division hasn’t been all that impressive this year.

Nebraska already has four conference losses, so count the Huskers out of any West race. Same with Illinois and its 1-3 Big Ten record. Northwestern is only 1-2 in conference play so far, but the Wildcats aren’t particularly good this season, so they are out too.

That leaves four teams: Iowa, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Purdue is the only other ranked team in the West aside from now-No. 11 Iowa. The No. 25 Boilermakers are ranked for the first time since 2007, after upsetting the Hawkeyes.

But it will take another upset or two to keep Purdue in West contention. Head coach Jeff Brohm’s team has yet to play No. 9 Michigan State or No. 5 Ohio State. Plus, Purdue already has one Big Ten defeat after losing to Minnesota. So, no offense for the lack of confidence, but the Boilermakers are out.

Minnesota has only suffered one loss against a conference foe, but it also lost to Bowling Green, so my confidence level isn’t super high there, either.

And then there’s Wisconsin. The Badgers are already 1-2 in Big Ten play. A third loss would all but ensure Wisconsin’s elimination from Big Ten title contention. And maybe the Hawkeyes will be the team to hand the Badgers that third loss.

After this week’s bye week, Iowa starts its five-game stretch to end the season in Madison against Wisconsin on Oct. 30. Then, the Hawkeyes face Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois, and Nebraska. Iowa will likely be favored to win every game.

Iowa showed enough in its first six games of the season to believe it should win the West this year. But the Boilermakers also showed that the Hawkeyes are vulnerable.

The only compliment Ferentz could muster about his team’s performance last week was the play of the kickoff and punt return teams. It’s hard to disagree with him on that one.

I wouldn’t worry too much about Iowa’s defense. When there isn’t a receiver named David Bell on the field, defensive coordinator Phil Parker’s unit is elite. Even after the poor showing, the Hawkeyes are only allowing 14.6 points per game.

Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s unit on the other hand? Well, being better than 118th in the nation in total offense would do wonders for the Hawkeyes.

Quarterback Spencer Petras just had his worst game as a Hawkeye, throwing four interceptions in the Iowa loss. The offensive struggles aren’t all on him, though. It’s tough to lead an offense when pass rushers are in your face all day. Speaking of offensive line troubles, Iowa only averaged 2.5 yards per rush against Purdue.

And when Iowa’s ground game isn’t working, the Hawkeyes don’t do a great job of getting its explosive targets on the outside — wide receivers Tyrone Tracy Jr., Keagan Johnson, etc. — the ball.

One loss shouldn’t discourage anybody into thinking the Hawkeyes aren’t a good football team, because they are. Purdue just exposed a lot of Iowa’s weaknesses. Those weaknesses are why Iowa isn’t in the College Football Playoff race anymore.

But, even after its first loss of the season, Iowa is still leading the Big Ten West race.

There’s just a slimmer margin of error if the Hawkeyes want to keep it that way.

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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