Ranking excitement factor for Iowa's games, 12 through 1

Spoiler alert: This Saturday's game isn't No. 1

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There are reasons why the most-obscure act on the card opens rock or country music festivals.

You build to the good stuff. Iowa’s home game against Miami (Ohio) Saturday opens the season, but it isn’t the good stuff.

But the good stuff will come. Here’s my ranking of the Hawkeyes’ 12 games in order of how interesting I think they are, from bottom to top:

12. Miami (Ohio), Sept. 3.

This is part of your season ticket price, season-ticket holders. Every team has a dog like this. Some have a kennel-full. Unlike last year, Iowa’s home slate is appealing this year. No thanks to these designated victims from the Mid-American Conference who are ranked 118th by Sports on Earth’s Matt Brown in his ranking of all 128 FBS teams.

Worse news: North Texas comes to Kinnick Stadium next year, again.

11. At Purdue, Oct. 15:

The Boilermakers are 2-22 in the Big Ten in Darrell Hazell’s tenure as head coach.

One of those two wins was a 55-45 home victory over Nebraska last season. Weirdly, that was the Huskers’ most-decisive loss though they lost six other times.

10. North Dakota State, Sept. 17:

I know, I know. Five-time defending FCS champions. Winners at Kansas State and Iowa State and Minnesota and Colorado State in that time.

That’s not just good, it’s spectacular. But I watched the Bison beat Charleston Southern in overtime on ESPN last Saturday, and I’ll wager this is the least of their last six teams.

9. Iowa State, Sept. 10:

If the Hawkeyes are to give a thrashing to a Matt Campbell-coached Cyclones team, this may have to be the year. Methinks Jamie Pollard did well by hiring that guy.

But for now, however, ISU has a dubious offensive line. There isn’t a head coach of any skill set who can win with a dubious offensive line.

8. At Illinois, Nov. 19:

This may be too low given it’s Iowa’s 11th game and could have a lot of significance attached.

But like Iowa State, it’s too soon to get fired up about Illinois with a first-year head coach in Lovie Smith. He does have a talented quarterback in Wes Lunt, so don’t check this off as a sure Hawkeyes win.

7. Northwestern, Oct. 1:

The Wildcats had been a group of pains in Iowa’s neck until the last two years, when the Hawkeyes beat NU by a total of 88-17.

Northwestern won 10 games last year, folks. It won at Nebraska and Wisconsin. But this one doesn’t grip me.

6. At Rutgers, Sept. 24:

This is Iowa’s Big Ten opener, and it’s on the road in a totally new environment. That first visit to Maryland didn’t go so well two years ago, did it?

Rutgers will be fresh off home games against Howard and New Mexico. Just a wild guess, but the Scarlet Knights will draw a larger crowd for Iowa than Howard and New Mexico.

5. Wisconsin, Oct. 22:

What will be left of the Badgers by the time this game rolls around?

First, UW opens against LSU Saturday in Green Bay. After home wins over Akron and Georgia State, the Badgers play at Michigan State and Michigan, then face Ohio State at home before coming to Kinnick.

A recap: Wisconsin’s three games against East Division teams are in succession, they’re against the East’s three best outfits, and the first two are on the road.

Bye, Felicia.

4. At Minnesota, Oct. 8:

Conceivably, Iowa could be 5-0 when it goes to Minneapolis. If it wins at Penn State Oct. 1, Minnesota could be 4-0 when the Hawkeyes come to town.

That would make for an interesting clash, no?

But even if the Gophers lose in Happy Valley, they aren’t bad and they have a quarterback in Mitch Leidner who is tougher than a three-dollar steak. (That’s not an original line, but it’s a good one.)

Minnesota beat Iowa 51-14 the last time they met in TCF Bank Stadium, and lost at Iowa by just 40-35 last year. I may be putting this game too low.

3. At Penn State, Nov. 5:

Everyone of the Iowa ilk remembers the Hawkeyes’ win at Penn State in 2009. Adrian Clayborn, blocked punt, touchdown, and a 21-10 win over the then-No. 4 team in the nation.

But the Nittany Lions won 38-14 in Iowa City four years ago, the last time they met.

Whether Penn State is anything more than ordinary this year remains to be seen, but it’s always meaningful to get out of State College with a win. This is a big game for Iowa.

2. Nebraska, Nov. 29

If this game means as much to the Hawkeyes as last year’s in Lincoln did, oh mercy!

If this game means a lot more to the Huskers than last year’s in Lincoln did, oh mercy!

Will this be the year a Hawkeyes-Huskers game means a lot to both teams? If so ... oh mercy!

1. Michigan, Nov. 12

A night game, an ABC game, and the first Iowa-Michigan game since the Hawkeyes edged the Wolverines 24-21 three years ago.

If you really want to let your imaginations run wild, what if both teams are 9-0 coming into it? That would mean Michigan won at Michigan State and Iowa won at Minnesota and Penn State, and beat Northwestern and Wisconsin in Kinnick. That’s a lot.

But what if? It wouldn’t be as big as the No. 1-vs.-No. 2 Iowa-Michigan game of 1985. But it would sure feel like it.

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