116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Eight words lie above automatic sliding doors that connect Iowa’s indoor turf field to the rest of the Hansen Football Performance Center.
“The road to Indianapolis goes through these doors,” the message says in bold, gold lettering that pops out from the black background.
In the late morning on Tuesday, the doors were physically closed.
More importantly for the Hawkeyes, the metaphorical doors to the road to Indianapolis are closing, too.
Once something some fans may have taken for granted, the odds are now against an Iowa trip to the Big Ten championship game.
ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Hawkeyes a 21.7 percent chance of winning the Big Ten West.
After the Purdue loss, ESPN’s FPI gave Iowa a 62.3 percent chance. The loss to Wisconsin — now the second team to own a tiebreaker over Iowa — led to a precipitous drop in Iowa’s division title chances.
Quarterback Spencer Petras is taking a few lessons from one of his favorite TV shows as the Hawkeyes look to stanch their losing streak.
“As Ted Lasso said, what’s the happiest animal? A goldfish, right?” Petras said. “Ten-second memory, that’s kind of where we’re at.”
Compared to the six-letter word even children call Lasso — Petras wasn’t sure if the word would be rated “PG-13” — in the fictional TV show on Apple TV+, the quarterback who has been a common target of fans’ frustration “got nothing to complain about.”
The Hawkeyes, 3-2 in Big Ten play, will be using that short-term memory in a four-game stretch that leaves little margin for error. They essentially need to win all four regular-season tilts remaining to have a chance at the West crown.
Since the Big Ten rearranged its divisions geographically ahead of the 2014 season, no team has won the West with three losses.
The two-loss road to Indianapolis isn’t easy, either.
If the Hawkeyes win the last four games, they would still need Wisconsin and Purdue to each lose one game.
The Boilermakers have two top-10 foes in their last four games, so at least one loss is probable. The Badgers, on the other hand, do not have any ranked opponents.
When asked about how confident he is in Iowa’s ability to win the Big Ten West, Coach Kirk Ferentz said he and his players “need to be focused” on this week.
“All we’re trying to do is win this week,” Ferentz said.
Ferentz’s players echoed his single-game mindset.
“Indianapolis isn’t in the picture if you don’t win the Big Ten West, and the only way you’re going to win the Big Ten West is win each game, each week,” linebacker Jack Campbell said.
The Hawkeyes likely won’t make any significant changes, though, as they focus on each of the next four games.
Ferentz said Iowa needs to “play better and execute better,” but he didn’t list any tangible adjustments the offense will make.
“You can't change your system wholesale in season,” Ferentz said. “That would be really counterproductive, and you can't go out and get mercenary players, either. That's not part of the deal in college football.”
Modernizing the offense would be “so predictable,” Ferentz said.
It’s not the Hawkeyes’ first time having to move on from back-to-back disappointing losses.
In 2020, the rough two-game stretch came at the beginning of the season after suffering losses to Purdue and Northwestern, both of which were unranked.
“Last year, we started with two losses, and we were all down in the dumps,” wide receiver Nico Ragaini said. “But we had to push through that and stay focused and stay grinding and stay the course. And that’s what we’re going to have to do now.”
Campbell doesn’t necessarily mind the odds being against the Hawkeyes after the two losses.
“I love being the underdog,” Campbell said. “A lot of people will say, ‘We can’t do this.’ Even when we were on our winning streak, people were still doubting us with everything.”
After last year’s 0-2 start, the Hawkeyes won six straight to end the season.
Time will tell whether Iowa can win four straight in 2021 to end the regular season. The road to Indianapolis depends on it.
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