It isn’t a one-game season.
Iowa could beat Wisconsin 55-24 Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium and still turn around and lose enough of its final eight games to not qualify for the Big Ten championship contest.
“Whether we win this game or lose the game,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said, “still eight weeks of football left, no matter what happens.”
OK. But it is a one-game season.
Win, and Iowa fans will start checking the prices of hotel rooms in Indianapolis for the first weekend in December. Lose, and the holes in those Hawkeye hearts will be larger than the one in the Iowa team’s trophy case where the brass bull would be absent for another year.
If the Hawkeyes don’t beat the Badgers, they’ll probably need to be flawless the rest of the season and have two of their Big Ten brothers knock off Wisconsin.
That seems like a lot.
If Iowa wins? Wisconsin may — may — have to go 8-0 the rest of the way. That includes visits to Michigan and Penn State. And even if the Badgers did run the table, they would still need Iowa to fall twice.
This is why all the sound and fury you could want in a coliseum will be heard and felt in the latest starting game in Kinnick history. Stay hale and hearty, ye peace officers of Johnson County.
This is the game that has been circled on the Hawkeyes’ calendar in fire engine red since January. Can Iowa repeat 2015, when it outlasted the Badgers 10-6 in its Big Ten opener in Madison, then took the confidence and growth from that to power through the rest of the regular season without a scratch?
Or, will Wisconsin remain on its own football island in the West?
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Since the Big Ten got the wacky idea to divide its football teams geographically before the 2014 season, Wisconsin is the Rock of the Westies, 29-5 in league play. Iowa is 22-12, Northwestern 22-13, Nebraska 17-17.
Three of the four West titles have gone to Wisconsin, interrupted only by Iowa’s 2015 crown.
But the Hawkeyes were a dreary 4-5 to the Badgers’ 9-0 a year ago, and their meeting in Madison reflected it. It was a 66-yard Iowa performance, or lack of one.
However, last year is never this year. On Saturday, the Badgers and Hawkeyes start their game with a 0-0 score and 0-0 conference records.
“This is about the 2018 Hawkeyes against the 2018 Badgers,” said Iowa junior fullback Brady Ross. “They are a tough team. We’re a pretty tough team, too.”
Sometimes, it can be just that simple.
“They are who they are,” Iowa wide receiver Nick Easley said about Wisconsin. “They don’t try to fool you. They’re just good at what they do.”
Those are identical comments to what you’ve heard opposing coaches and players say about the Hawkeyes so many times over the years. Yet, the statistical differences between the two over the last three years have been striking.
The Badgers have outscored the Hawkeyes over those years, 61-33, winning two of those three games. Iowa has outscored its other five West foes since 2015 by a whopping total of 482-276, winning 12 of those 15 contests.
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Against Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue, the Hawkeyes had a combined 5,818 yards in that time and surrendered only 5,010.
But Iowa gained a measly 523 yards against the Badgers from 2015 to 2017 while allowing 1,125. That’s an average difference of 200 yards per game. Uff da!
Does Iowa inflict its will on Wisconsin for a change Saturday night? Did BYU’s stunning 24-21 upset in Madison last week throw a veneer of vulnerability over the Badgers?
“If we think that game is going to have anything to do with what happens this Saturday night, we’re out of our minds,” Ross said. “As far as I’m concerned, that didn’t even happen.”
It did, but it doesn’t matter. Everything is about Saturday.
Until the game is over, anyway.
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