116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
You could hear it on national sports television and radio late-night shows Saturday. You could read it on national sports websites Sunday morning.
You can see it in the new Associated Press Top 25, which came out Sunday afternoon. Iowa is No. 5, its highest ranking since it was No. 4 entering the 2015 Big Ten championship game.
People around the country are talking about Iowa’s football team differently now. They’re not just saying “good team, winning program.” They’re saying “may be the best team in the Big Ten.”
That’s the whole Big Ten, not just the West wilderness. That includes the East half, where Ohio State has won the conference’s last four championships and where its residents have claimed the league’s last eight titles.
Oregon helped contribute to the perception Iowa could be the biggest boys of the Big Ten by winning at Ohio State Saturday and making the Buckeyes’ defense look mundane. Mostly, though, the Hawkeyes have spoken pretty clearly for themselves.
They are the only team in the country to open the season by playing two ranked opponents, Indiana and Iowa State, and beat both by double-digits. Ohio State is the only other Big Ten team that has even played two teams from Power Five conferences.
It didn’t hurt Iowa that its 27-17 win at Iowa State Saturday was on ABC instead of BTN. From the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with foam, people saw the Hawkeyes and were impressed.
So it is that Iowa has leapt from 18th in AP’s preseason rankings to fifth in two polls. This is the Hawkeyes’ highest ranking since they were No. 6 going into the Rose Bowl six years ago.
Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News didn’t have Iowa in his preseason Top 25. He voted them No. 3 behind Alabama and Georgia on Sunday.
Here’s perhaps the oddest thing about all of it: The Hawkeyes have made this impact while averaging just 238 yards, 88th-best in the nation. They have converted only 29.6 percent of their third downs, also ranking low nationally. They’re averaging a mere 3.8 yards per play.
Their passing has been pedestrian. Their offensive line play hasn’t begun to near the program’s normal standards.
Part of that has to do with the competition. Indiana and Iowa State have some tremendous defenders. But if you had the 2015 Iowa offense with the rest of this 2021 team? To quote James Comey, “Lordy!”
And to quote Steven Wright, you can’t have everything. Where would you put it?
What happens when the Hawkeyes are playing good teams and aren’t intercepting three passes, which they did against both the Hoosiers and Cyclones?
Well, what if they don’t stop? Iowa didn’t just start intercepting passes eight days ago. It has 70 since the start of the 2017 season.
What happens if Tory Taylor’s punts aren’t all moonshots that die before reaching the end zone? Well, he did average 44.1 yards as a freshman last year and put 18 of his 40 kicks inside the 29-yard line.
The chances are way better that the Hawkeyes’ offense grows than their defense and special teams shrink.
Lest we forget, Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr., was second-team All-Big Ten last season behind Ohio State’s Justin Fields. Iowa State QB Brock Purdy was first-team All-Big 12 pick of the league’s coaches, and that league had Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler.
Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Penix and Purdy aren’t. In fact, name a better quarterback Iowa will face in its next 10 games. … It’s OK, I’ll wait … Still waiting.
It’s premature to say the Hawkeyes won’t step in one or more potholes from now until Black Friday. But it’s possible they have just finished their toughest two-game stretch of the 2021 schedule, and did so in convincing fashion.
There’s no hiding any lamps under a bushel this season. There’s no slow, steady climb up the rankings for Iowa like with the best teams Kirk Ferentz has had.
Here’s Iowa, ranked as high as No. 5 in September for the first time since 1985. Its offseason basically was hype-free. The pendulum is swinging wildly the other way.
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