We continue with our look in to our crystal ball of the 2014 season within the Big Ten West division…and of course after previewing the Illinois Fighting Illini first, we’ll continue to go in alphabetical order for our second West division predictions piece.
Over the course of fall camp, the Hawkeyes have become a major dark horse contender according to many on-air pundits and writers. Given the pieces back on offense and the steady play of the defense it is easy to see why that’s the case. However, a look at the Hawkeyes schedule may be the best glimpse as to why many are quick to pick them as the team with the best chance to make it to Indy.
To say the schedule is soft may be putting it nicely. All of its toughest games (on paper) are at home, including rivalry games with Iowa State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. But, that’s just a sample of why this schedule has many thinking Iowa makes a run.
Let’s take a look at the 2014 Iowa Hawkeyes season and see how we predict things going down in Iowa City.
2014 Iowa Hawkeyes schedule:
Aug. 30 – vs. Northern Iowa: WIN
The Panthers are no strangers to playing FBS opponents, let alone the Hawkeyes. So, expecting this to be a cakewalk may be a bit much. However, this isn’t the caliber of Hawkeye team that had to fight and claw for a 26-17 victory at home. UNI also isn’t the same team that was on top of its FCS game during the 2012 season either. If Iowa is to be a dark horse division winner, it needs to win this game in dominating fashion. That’s exactly how I see this one going down.
Sept. 6 – vs. Ball State: WIN
This will be a major step up in competition for the Hawkeyes, and anyone that thinks this will be Western Michigan all over again hasn’t been paying attention to the quality of team Pete Lembo has built in Muncie, Ind. at all. Ball State should be a good challenge, and I expect this to possibly be an upset opportunity, but Iowa’s at home and they simply don’t lose non-conference games at Kinnick Stadium — especially against MAC opponents.
Sept. 13 – vs. Iowa State: WIN
This game annually is one of the most underrated and fun rivalry games to watch. For the purposes of full disclosure, I attended Iowa State — so this pick doesn’t come easy, but is 100 percent objective. Anything seems to go when these two teams get together, but Iowa State needs to solve its quarterback problem before I would ever pick them to win this game at Kinnick. Iowa has no such issues at QB heading in to the season, so I’ll take the team with more answers to win this matchup.
Sept. 20 – at Pittsburgh: LOSS
While people have started to forget about the Pitt Panthers on a national scale, former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst has quietly been building a solid foundation for ACC success. While Iowa will go in well prepared for this game, it’s a road contest and Iowa on the road for the first time just feels ripe for a mild upset. I see a huge amount of growth coming from Pitt QB Chad Voytik and WR Tyler Boyd — and they could be one of the better combos in the ACC if last season’s Little Caesars Pizza Bowl is any indication.
Sept. 27 – at Purdue: WIN
Could things get any easier for the Hawkeyes’ 2014 Big Ten opener? Well, if this game was at Kinnick and not on the road…I guess that would’ve been easier. Point being, Purdue isn’t on the same level as the Hawkeyes right now and last season it was a 38-14 win in West Lafayette for the Hawkeyes. I fully expect this to be a bit closer because I believe Purdue is in a good place to be better fast, but it won’t matter against Iowa. Look for a two or three touchdown margin of victory and that may not be indicative of how not-close this game really was.
Oct. 11 – vs. Indiana: WIN
One of the reasons the Hawkeyes are potential Big Ten West favorites according to some is the soft conference schedule, and getting back-to-back games against the state of Indiana certainly helps that school of thought. However, the Hoosiers have the offense to hang with anyone and pull of an upset or two. This will be a classic strength vs. strength matchup, but ultimately I see the Hawkeyes as the more balanced team and thus the one with the better potential to win it. Plus, home field advantage and all that.
Oct. 18 – at Maryland: WIN
Poor Maryland, its introduction to the Big Ten couldn’t be any more difficult if it tried. Iowa comes a calling as the sandwich game between Ohio State and Wisconsin — not exactly laying out the welcome mat if you ask me. While I think Maryland’s offense is intriguing, it’s defense isn’t ready to play smash mouth football. On the other hand, smash mouth football is what Iowa does best. I don’t see how this game ends in anything other than a butt kicking on the field and scoreboard in favor of Iowa.
Nov. 1 – vs. Northwestern: WIN
These two teams are old Legends division foes, and they have also played some brilliant football games in the past three years. Iowa won two out of the three matchups and I fully expect this to be a start of a new multi-game winning streak for the Hawkeyes over the Wildcats. However, I can also see this being a coin-flip type game, as both teams have some questions that need answering still. Iowa being at home gives them the advantage in this one though, so look for another narrow win for the Hawkeyes.
Nov. 8 – at Minnesota: LOSS
Iowa got lucky getting the Big Ten schedule to set up the way it did to start conference play. However, I’m not so sure it won’t lull a lot of pundits and Hawkeye fans in to a false sense of who this team is. This is the start of the hardest part of a very soft schedule, and Minnesota is looking to make a statement at this point of the season. Knowing Jerry Kill and the Gophers, they want some trophies for the trophy case and Floyd of Rosedale will be the second swing of the axe (pun intended). Look for Floyd to take up residency in Minneapolis in a memorable last second win for the Gophers.
Nov. 15 – at Illinois: WIN
By the time this game rolls around we could all be witnessing the end of the Tim Beckman era at Illinois, especially coming off back-to-back-to back games against Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio State. But, back to the reason for a win for Iowa — its just as simple as being the better team overall. I know the games are played on paper and anything can happen on any given Saturday, but this is as sure of a thing as it can get on the Hawkeyes schedule in the Big Ten if you ask me.
Nov. 22 – vs. Wisconsin: LOSS
The reality of Iowa’s season is that if it wants to win a Big Ten West division title in the first season of the 14-team Big Ten, it will need to end the season on a two game win streak at the very least. It means starting with a win over preseason favorite and long-time rival, Wisconsin. That may sound simple in writing, but the Badgers could be the best offensive team Iowa has seen all season long and it may also have the best defense its seen as well. That’s not a fun combo and it’s the reason why Wisconsin comes in after a three year layoff in the Heartland Trophy series and takes the trophy back to Madison, Wis. with it.
Nov. 28 – vs. Nebraska: LOSS
Getting the final two games of the season at home, against the top two favorites to win the division may be an advantage. The question is, will it even matter heading in to the final week? For Nebraska they likely will need to win to have hopes of a division title and Iowa is likely out of the picture already. That could be dangerous, combined with being at home…however, the Huskers just have too much and once again, the Hawkeyes just aren’t championship material in 2014.
Overall Record: 8-4
Big Ten Record: 5-3