Oh, the possibilities.
Before the 2018 football season kicked off, Iowa fans near and far looked at the schedule and circled Sept. 22.
What if Iowa got past a very good Northern Illinois team and the hype around Kirk Ferentz surpassing Hayden Fry as the Hawkeyes’ winningest coach?
What if Iowa was able to topple a solid, improving Iowa State team for the fourth year in a row in Week 2?
What if the Hawkeyes were able to dominate a solid FCS team in Northern Iowa, something that hasn’t always been as easy as many think it should be?
What if Wisconsin lived up to its preseason hype and came into Kinnick Stadium with a matching 3-0 record?
All the what-ifs went up in flames Saturday afternoon — and rather soundly.
Iowa held up its end of the bargain Saturday night, handling the Panthers, 38-14, before a sellout crowd at Kinnick Stadium. It was Iowa’s most complete effort, racing to a 21-0 halftime lead with Nate Stanley, Noah Fant, Toren Young and Mekhi Sargent moving the offense and A.J. Epenesa in a starring role on defense.
But Wisconsin, the Big Ten’s preseason golden child with national playoff hopes, stumbled and now will tumble. Brigham Young came to Madison on Saturday and took down the mighty Badgers, 24-21.
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A night game against a nationally-ranked opponent inside a sold-out stadium in Iowa City. Oh, the possibilities.
We’ve been down this road before, a deadline nightmare for us old newspaper types but an electric atmosphere that makes college football one of the most popular sports in the world.
The shine has been muddied, but this still is a big week and a big game, as big as they come in September before the Big Ten season has even worked up a sweat.
This is not a must-win for either team in their quest for a Big Ten West title, but the possibilities the winner will take into October and November are promising, especially on this side of the Mississippi if the Hawkeyes can snap their two-game losing streak to the Badgers.
There aren’t a lot of pitfalls on the Iowa schedule over the next two months, a road trip to Penn State on Oct. 27 the exception. Win next Saturday and games at Minnesota (Oct. 6, after bye week), Indiana (Oct. 13), Purdue (Nov. 3) and Illinois (Nov. 17) look at lot less daunting, as do home games against Maryland (Oct. 20), Northwestern (Nov. 10) and Nebraska (Nov. 23), which fell to 0-2 Saturday after a 24-19 loss to Troy.
Of course, if you follow college football in general — and Iowa football in particular — you know anything can, and usually does, happen.
Ask Wisconsin. Ask Nebraska.
There are no gimmes. And there’s a reason 12-0 doesn’t happen every year — anywhere.
An Iowa win on Saturday would push already high expectations through the roof.
For the Badgers, a win would heal some of the wounds from the head-scratching loss to BYU. A second straight 12-0 regular season no longer is in play, and a shot at the playoffs likely has vanished. But Wisconsin still can win the West Division, still play in the Big Ten Championship game.
So can Iowa.
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The Badgers don’t have any gimmes, of course, with games at Michigan (Oct. 13), Northwestern (Oct. 27) and Penn State (Nov. 10). But there’s also not a game the Badgers can’t win over the final two months.
Can the Hawkeyes handle Wisconsin? Of course they can. Will they? That’s the big question.
Iowa has looked pretty good these first three weeks, especially in the second halves of wins over NIU and ISU. Against the Panthers on Saturday, the Hawkeyes put in all together. But the competition only gets better.
From the world of meaningless, but fun, facts, Iowa is just 1-5 in games played on Sept. 22, including a 17-13 loss to the Badgers in 2007.
As it showed Saturday, Wisconsin hasn’t been the juggernaut many predicted. It took down Western Kentucky, 34-3, and New Mexico, 45-14, but it trailed the Lobos, 7-3, after the first quarter. And, the loss to BYU proved anything is possible.
This is the game Hawkeye fans have been looking forward to, even if the scenario isn’t quite what many hoped.
It’s still Wisconsin and, if history is a clue, it should be a fun, entertaining, hard-nosed game.
So sit back and enjoy the build-up.
It’s Big Ten season in Iowa City.
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