The Iowa football team has been on national television a lot in its history.
Certainly not as much as “The Big Bang Theory,” but a lot more than “Young Sheldon.”
So it isn’t new that the Hawkeyes will be going nationwide Tuesday when they play Mississippi State at 11 a.m. in the Outback Bowl on ESPN2. Nonetheless, it’s a rare thing when they have their very own time slot.
That’s what Iowa has Tuesday. For an hour, anyway, until the Fiesta and Citrus bowls kick off and people start flipping around to see UCF-LSU and Penn State-Kentucky.
So there isn’t much time to make a good impression on Football America, and that’s unfortunate for the Hawkeyes. Because their track record in the first halves of bowls this decade has been awful.
Over Iowa’s last six bowls, it has been outscored in the first half by a total of 125-20. That is not a typo. Even in last year’s Pinstripe Bowl — the one of the six the Hawkeyes won — they trailed 17-10 at halftime before beating Boston College on the Yankee Stadium skating rink.
Against Oklahoma in the Insight and LSU in the Outback, it was Opponent 14, Hawkeyes 0 at the half. Against Tennessee in the TaxSlayer, it was Volunteers 35, Hawkeyes 7. Against Stanford in the Rose? Cardinal 35, Hawkeyes 0.
Of the five bowls Iowa has lost since December 2011, it outscored the opponent three times in the second half. And it just didn’t matter. The holes it dug were too deep. Each time, it raised two questions.
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1. Is the talent difference between the Hawkeyes and good opponents from other power conferences really that great?
2. What was Iowa doing with the three or four weeks it had to prepare for the game?
You can’t call the Pinstripe a script flipper, since it was just one game and Boston College didn’t quite measure up to the Oklahomas and LSUs and Stanfords the Hawkeyes met in previous years.
However, Iowa did win, and under adverse conditions. Now Tuesday, provided it can perform in the first half resembling a team that belongs on big-screen TVs from sea to shining sea, the Hawkeyes can take it further. They can beat a nationally-ranked team from the big, bad SEC.
If you’re judging games by drama and importance, it would take something really out of the ordinary for this game to crash Iowa’s all-time list. But would a win — any kind of win — feel like something significant Tuesday and afterward? You betcha.
The nation might not jump off its collective couch to salute a win over Mississippi State, but a triumph would represent two really good things in Hawkeyeland.
One, it would be the best win of the season, remembered through the long offseason. There was no upset of a Michigan or Ohio State this season like in 2016 and 2017, no signature moment in an otherwise-OK year. A win Tuesday would be the cherry atop a nine-win season.
Two, it would be knocking down an SEC team after three straight losses to that conference, the last two of them embarrassments. The 45-28 TaxSlayer Bowl defeat to Tennessee four years ago (42-7 after three quarters) and the 30-3 Outback beatdown by Florida two years back made the Hawkeyes look like plodders.
Within the Big Ten West, Northwestern got the division title. Purdue had the big moment, a 49-20 curb-stomping of Ohio State. Minnesota and Wisconsin grabbed themselves lower-level bowl victories to go out feeling good about themselves. Winning Tuesday would give a boost to Iowa’s program, no question.
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The Hawkeyes need a victory Tuesday to avoid having their season be remembered as nothing particularly special. If they do win, they’ll have beaten a better team in the postseason than any their division rivals played.
And should they jump to a first-half lead and keep rolling? It would feel like a corner has been turned. Bring on the 2019 season ASAP.
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