Iowa’s not a player in this year’s Big Ten football title derby. Which leads to this moment of clarity:
So this is what it’s like to be Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan.
The Wolverines scored a mere 10 points against Michigan State and 13 at Penn State within the last three games. Iowa has Groundhog Day-ed itself out of Big Ten West title-discussion with 17-10 losses at Michigan State and Northwestern within the last three games.
Michigan is fifth in the nation in total defense, but that statistic is as hollow as how it felt after getting stampeded 42-13 Saturday night at Penn State. Iowa is 20th in the nation in scoring defense, which normally would feel satisfying. But none of the 19 teams above it in that category have lost three times.
The Hawkeyes are 103rd in total offense and Minnesota 105th. They have each won one Big Ten game, both against the league’s worst team, Illinois. They meet Saturday at Kinnick Stadium at 5:30 p.m.
Penn State plays Ohio State at 2:30 that day, which means you can say Penn State-Ohio State is the opening act for Minnesota-Iowa. You can say that, but it doesn’t make it true. it’s like calling a great Broadway show the warm-up for a street musician you passed on the walk from the theater back to your hotel.
Hey, the Minnesota game might be a good salve around here. Rather than coming home to face a Maryland or something equally uninspiring, Iowa goes up against an old rival and tries to keep the pig trophy here. Which puts local meaning into a game that will too easily be ignored in 48 other states. And if that Penn State-Ohio State game is close at 5:30 many football-viewers in Iowa and Minnesota won’t change channels until it’s resolved.
Oh, but there’s another 2:30 game Saturday to be eyeballed in these parts. TCU, 7-0 and ranked No. 4, is at Iowa State. Were it not for Penn State-Ohio State, you have to think ESPN’s College GameDay would have come to Ames this week. In late October.
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Here’s where I’ll use the tedious disclaimer every coach and curmudgeon sports writer will say in late October. There’s a lot of season left. Meaning, don’t get too giddy just yet.
Well, phooey on that. If fans are allowed to be morose when their team seems stuck in a midseason rut, they should be able to savor good times while they’re happening. These are good times in Ames.
How good? Iowa State has allowed a total of 17 points after halftime over its last five games. That includes games against Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
ISU held the Texas Tech offense that had been averaging seven yards per play to 4.1. The Red Raiders had 42 plays of 20-plus yards over their first six games. They had one against the Cyclones, for exactly 20 yards.
Texas Tech has been a defensive train wreck under Kliff Kingsbury. But not offensively. Only twice in the last 13 games has Tech failed to score 27 points. Both times were against Iowa State.
The Cyclones are 3-1 in the Big 12 for the first time since 2002, and have won four straight road games for the first time in 56 years.
The marquee game in the state on Saturday will be in Ames. In late October.
TCU is really good. It won at Oklahoma State by two touchdowns, the Cowboys’ only scratch. Iowa State put on its best statistical defensive performance in a conference game since 1963 when it held Kansas to 105 yards on Oct. 14. Saturday, TCU held Kansas to 21 yards.
The Horned Frogs are 26-2 under Gary Patterson when they have gone into a game ranked in the top five. That’s kind of great.
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But in the dare-to-dream department, if the Cyclones win they will have beaten two top four teams, they’ll be tied for the Big 12 lead with tiebreakers over Oklahoma and TCU, they’ll be in the coaches’ poll Top 25 (they’re 27th this week), and they’ll be bowl eligible.
In late October.