116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Saturday’s game against Penn State could be a program-changer for Iowa, an immediate lift into a higher level of college football.
Yeah, yeah, go ahead and ask. Hyperbolize much? OK, but consider the following:
If the No. 3 Hawkeyes defeat the No. 4 Nittany Lions, they not only will stay in the top three, they’ll probably be solidly planted there for at least three more weeks.
We assume Iowa would knock off Purdue next Saturday in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes have the week after that off before resuming play at Wisconsin. So that would be three more calendar weeks in the top three leading into Madison, three more weeks for the nation to get used to seeing Iowa’s name in the heavens.
Then, if the Hawkeyes were to prevail in Madison? Oh mercy my. You could see a pretty visible path to 12-0.
Beyond rankings, though, is perception. And in this case, perception would be reality. The perception would be something big is going on in Iowa City.
Iowa’s 51-14 decimation of Maryland last week was seen by a Friday night national-television audience. It wowed a lot of people, including the AP voters who jumped the Hawkeyes over Penn State Sunday.
This Penn State-Iowa thing is the Game of the Week. Not Oklahoma-Texas, not anything else, anywhere else. And, it has an old-money opponent for Iowa.
Maryland was Maryland, a face in the crowd. Penn State is Penn State, a face of football.
“Penn State plays a lot more of these than we do probably, right? I haven’t done the research,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz posed this week, knowing investigation wasn’t needed.
“If you talk about programs that you really don’t need much explanation,” he said, “Penn State is in that handful of national teams.”
You can beat the bejabbers out of No. 3 Ohio State, as Iowa did in 2017. You can take out No. 3 Michigan when the Wolverines were 9-0, as the Hawkeyes did in 2016.
You can beat four top-five teams since 2008, which Iowa has done, including Penn State in Happy Valley in 2009.
But do it when you’re also in the top five. Do it in a showdown, when you aren’t a commoner, when you have already leased space in the penthouse.
This isn’t about upsetting an opponent and the national apple cart. This is about solidifying your own place in that cart. This is about reaching for and grabbing the higher fruit.
This is about showing everyone you aren’t just passing through this time, that you have staying power. Iowa is 5-0 with a nice body of work, but none of the vanquished are in today’s Top 25. Penn State will remain there Sunday even if it loses the day before, and will still be in the top 10.
Saturday is about trying to put the Full Kinnick on display, trying to play the kind of ball the Hawkeyes have played in winning their last 11 games. It’s playing with a sea of support behind them, making the kind of noise that storms through television speakers and into living rooms in New York and New Mexico and says “Something is going on in Iowa.”
Now, there’s this not-so-little matter of Penn State being Penn State. Any program that has won nine straight games of its own is to be taken seriously. Any defense like the Nittany Lions’ excellent one, any offense with a receiver as talented as Jahan Dotson, is a definite obstacle.
Would you really want it any other way if you’re an Iowa fan? You want the postgame story to be “Iowa beat Penn State, and that requires no qualifier.”
The Hawkeyes sneak up on no one this week. They have that “3” in front of their name, and a “3” is quite a thing to live up to against a foe like Penn State.
Iowa has long had a good program, a program taken seriously across high school, college and pro football circles. This game, however, is the chance to be more.
The Hawkeyes either will slip back into the anonymity of the anonymous Big Ten West or declare their intentions of being a national team themselves. Despite what they insist to us, not all games have equal importance.
“It's not a five-week season or six-week season,” Ferentz said this week.
Of course not. But opportunities like this one on Week 6 are few and far between at Iowa. A corner is here, waiting to be turned.
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