College Football

Ranking Iowa's 2017 football games (Part 1 of 2)

Only this can't be argued: The worst game is the first

Iowa wide receiver Tevaun Smith hauls in a touchdown pass in front of North Texas defensive back Zac Whitfield during th
Iowa wide receiver Tevaun Smith hauls in a touchdown pass in front of North Texas defensive back Zac Whitfield during the Hawkeyes’ 62-16 win over the Mean Green at Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 26, 2015. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

As this is published, Iowa’s football season starts in a month and a day. Time flies, eh? Well, enjoy August.

The Internet is full of a lot of things, and lists are certainly among them. We’re suckers for them, even if it means clicking 50 arrows and wading through ad after ad.

But rest easy knowing what follows is most definitely not a list.

OK, it is. I’m ranking Iowa’s regular-season games from 12 to 1 in terms of how interesting they are entering the season. You won’t agree entirely. Two minutes after I hit “send,” I won’t, either. But I will remain steadfast about No. 12.

I’ll have Nos. 6 through 1 tomorrow. This is a lot of typing.


North Texas

Sept. 16

I didn't awaken from the Hawkeyes' 62-16 home win over North Texas two years ago until the Wednesday after the game. Here's what I do remember about it: I felt sorry for Dan McCarney, who coached the Mean Green that day. He was fired as the Mean Green's coach a month later.

It was the 66-7 home loss to FCS Portland State two games after Iowa that spelled the end for McCarney, just two seasons after he led North Texas to a 9-4 season and a 36-14 win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Well, the Mean Green were back in that bowl last year under Seth Littrell. I don't have the energy to look up such things, but I'm betting few other bowl teams ever ended a season with eight losses. North Texas was 5-8 after losing to Army in Dallas.


The Mean Green were in a bowl with a 5-7 record because there weren't enough 6-6 teams to fill the bowl slots and because North Texas' academic score was among the best of all the 5-7 teams.North Texas allowed 3,114 rushing yards last season. That's an average of 239.5 a game. Iowa's three nonconference foes — Wyoming, Iowa State and North Texas — ranked 92nd, 103rd and 117th, respectively, in FBS rushing defense last year. The Hawkeyes probably like that.



Oct. 7

Iowa hasn't lost at home to Illinois since 1999, Kirk Ferentz's first year as the Hawkeyes' head coach. We were all younger then.

Speaking of leaky rush defenses, the Illini were 105th in that category a year ago.

Illinois hasn't had a winning season since 2011 and hasn't won more than seven games since 2007. It is 27-86 in the Big Ten over the last 14 years. OMG!

Illinois-Iowa should be a great rivalry, but it takes two to, you know, tango. Instead, this is just one of those games on the schedule to get past on the way to something better, and that isn't the Hawkeyes' fault.

But the only reason this game ranks below the next one is because Iowa's home-finale is …



Nov. 18

Home-finales win tiebreakers against other similarly lackluster matchups.

Here's yet another bad rushing defense of 2016, by the way. Purdue was 115th nationally in that stat last year. Iowa rushed for 365 yards at West Lafayette in its 49-35 victory.

In the last four years, the Boilermakers were 3-30 in the Big Ten. OMG!


Enter Jeff Brohm as the new coach. The consensus inside and out of West Lafayette is Purdue did well to woo him from Western Kentucky. There, his teams were 23-5 over the last two years and scored beaucoup points. They weren't held under 44 in last season's final 10 games.

But this is a rebuilding year for Brohm. Or rather, the first year of rebuilding for Brohm. By mid-November when they reach Iowa City, the Boilermakers might be a gassed group.

In time, Purdue may find its way back to football prominence with Brohm in charge. But in the Big Ten, one-year quantum leaps in football are as rare as conference teams who win national-titles in men's basketball.


Michigan State

Sept. 30

We all remember the last time they met. It was an emotionally and physically bruising Big Ten championship game in December 2015, a 16-13 Spartans win in Indianapolis.

I forget a lot of what I see in covering sports because they are just games, after all. But I will long remember the Hawkeye fans I encountered at a gas station off an I-74 exit in Illinois the morning after that game, and how somber they were because of how close their team came to a spot in the national playoffs before it got away on an MSU touchdown drive that concluded with 27 seconds left.

That was a great game. And then …

The Spartans are 3-10 since, and have had off-field issues that were bad indeed. They lost whatever grip they had on their state when they won 11 or more games five times from 2010 through 2015.

Not much is expected of them this season. It's still Michigan State, but eight other games are more interesting.




Sept. 2

The temptation was to put this game a little higher, since Wyoming has a much-touted quarterback in Josh Allen.

But though the Cowboys went 8-6 last year, they did lose to Eastern Michigan, UNLV and New Mexico. So we're not talking upper-echelon. Or are we? Allen says he tells his team it's goal this season is to reach the Fiesta Bowl. That would probably mean going 12-1, maybe even 13-0. The Hawkeyes won't lack for their own motivation. If they lose their season-opener, it will linger and sting. As much as the mid-September home loss to North Dakota State last year? Maybe not. But if you're Iowa, you shouldn't lose to a Mountain West team at home. Even if it's Boise State.

But just saying it doesn't make it happen. Wyoming features a veteran who is an NFL quarterback-in-waiting, while Iowa will go with someone at that position who is making his first college start.

It's a much-better season-opener than we're used to around here.



Oct. 28

P.J. Fleck, Floyd of Rosedale, border battle, et cetera.

Yes, it's a rivalry game. And if you look at the Gophers' schedule, you don't have to squint to see a way for them to be 7-0 when they reach Iowa City.

Buffalo, at Oregon State, Middle Tennessee, Maryland, at Purdue, Michigan State, Illinois. Things get harder after that, starting with this game.


Iowa hasn't lost at home to the Gophers since 1999. It will be interesting to see how hard Minnesota swings in Fleck's first season as its coach. It could be a dark horse West title-threat or a team that bobs up and down while Fleck is rowing his boat as it transitions to its third head coach in three years.

While this is an interesting matchup, it isn't “elite,” to use another of Fleck's favorite terms.


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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.