As Scott Dochterman painfully reminded us in his article ($$$), the Battle for the Heartland Trophy is here and once again, Iowa is arguably at a crossroads as a program. The 2010 game unquestionably changed the trajectory of both programs. Iowa, who failed to recognize one of the most obvious fake punts in fake punt history (a symptom of the Kirk Ferentz era) gave up a game-winning drive to the Badgers and limped to a 7-5 finish that included embarrassing losses to Northwestern and Minnesota. Wisconsin, on the other hand, won out and was named Big Ten Co-Champion.
Since that game, Wisconsin has won three Big Ten Championships, four division titles and two New Year’s Six Bowls (of note, they also lost three straight Rose Bowls). In that same timeframe, Iowa had one of their worst seasons under Kirk Ferentz, won their division once and their only appearance in a New Year’s Six Bowl was a massacre at the hands of Christian McCaffrey.
And yet…Iowa is very much in the mix of things in the Big Ten West. Wisconsin, a team that was once considered unstoppable and a frontrunner in the Big Ten, has lost two straight games. And we’re not talking about a couple of close losses to really good teams. We’re talking about losing on a game-winning field goal to a Fighting Illini team that has been in the ICU since Juice Williams graduated and a pummeling at the hands of Ohio State. We thought Wisconsin might be 5-0 in conference play heading into this game. Instead, they’re 3-2. Just like Iowa.
With that in mind, here’s your breakdown of Iowa’s complicated path to winning the Big Ten West: beat Wisconsin, beat Minnesota, and expect Goldy to lose a game. The Golden Gophers are 5-0 after beating mighty conference foes Purdue (3-6), Illinois (5-4), Nebraska (4-5), Rutgers (2-7), Maryland (3-6). And hey, Iowa ain’t really beaten anyone in conference, either, but at least they’ve played someone with a pulse (they also lost but why don’t you shut up?). Minnesota’s final four games include showdowns against Penn State, at Iowa, and against Wisconsin. November will not be as kind to the Golden Gophers as October was.
So, with their game against Minnesota at home, the Hawkeyes have the easiest schedule of the three after this weekend. If Iowa wins out, they’ll be 7-2 with wins over Minnesota and Wisconsin. Minnesota will need to lose another game and Wisconsin will be done because they already have two conference losses. Iowa would be the third.
See? Nothing to worry about here. Nothing new for the Hawkeyes who have yet to play in a November game that they needed to win to stay alive in Big Ten title contention. No, this has never happened before and Iowa certainly hasn’t lost a number of these games. It’s fine. It’s all fine.