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IOWA CITY — As Kirk Ferentz sees it, November football is “what defines you typically in college football.”
It’s also been the month where the 24th-year head coach’s recent Iowa teams have thrived.
The Hawkeyes have won 12 straight games in November — one of the longest streaks in college football — dating back to 2019.
“November is just Iowa football,” Iowa wide receiver Nico Ragaini said. “It’s when the toughest teams prevail, and I feel like we’ve got a tough team each and every year.”
The 12th win in Iowa’s streak came against a Purdue team that had beaten the Hawkeyes in four of the previous five games and was sportsbooks’ favorite for this year’s game.
Iowa’s win in West Lafayette, Ind., along with Illinois’ surprise loss to Michigan State, has elevated the Hawkeyes to long-shot status for the Big Ten West title.
It’s something that may have seemed nonsensical a couple weeks earlier for a team with a 2-3 conference record.
“No offense to anyone in here, but you guys had us dead two weeks ago,” quarterback Spencer Petras told reporters after the Purdue win.
The Hawkeyes are one game behind first-place Illinois in the Big Ten West standings although the Illini have the tiebreaker.
“None of us are completely unaware as to the situation in the Big Ten West, so hopefully we can pull it off,” Petras said Tuesday at Iowa’s practice facility.
A Purdue win over Illinois this weekend would be key for the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten West hopes. Under that scenario, Iowa could then win the division if it wins the last three games and if Illinois loses to No. 3 Michigan.
“I guess I’ll be more of a Purdue fan,” Petras said.
If Illinois bests Purdue — the game is at 11 a.m. and should wrap up around when Iowa kicks off against Wisconsin — the path would be much harder.
Iowa would then need to win out, and Illinois would need to lose to both No. 3 Michigan and a one-win Northwestern team.
The first step for Iowa, regardless of what happens in Champaign, Ill., is beating Wisconsin.
One does not need to look far to find the similarities between the seasons Iowa and Wisconsin are having.
Both won season openers against FCS opponents before losing at home to Power Five programs that are facing adversity in 2022. They then won their last nonconference games against lower-tier FBS programs and have gone 3-3 in Big Ten play.
Iowa has lost to Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State. Wisconsin has lost to Ohio State, Illinois and Michigan State.
Wisconsin has the same tantalizing-albeit-distant Big Ten West path Iowa has. If Wisconsin wins out and Illinois loses twice, the Badgers would go to Indianapolis.
The obvious split between border rivals is how the athletic directors handled early adversity. Iowa stuck with Ferentz. Wisconsin fired Paul Chryst and named defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard the interim head coach.
Ferentz sees plenty of similarities to how the Leonhard-coached and Chryst-coached Wisconsin teams look, though.
“To me, they look pretty much the same in all phases,” Ferentz said. “They're just playing at a really good level right now.”
Historically, Wisconsin has been the team to hold onto the Heartland Trophy. The Badgers have taken eight of the last 10 games against the Hawkeyes and are responsible for Iowa’s most recent November loss — a 24-22 game in 2019.
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” Ragaini said. “We know when we play Wisconsin, they’re not just going to hand us the game and leave people wide-open like other teams may. … They’re a very sound team, very smart team, very physical team.”