It’s better to be lucky than good, many claim. It’s best to be both.
Iowa’s football team has been both this season. The 5-2 Hawkeyes not only dug down deep and became a formidable team after an 0-2 start, but they have been fortunate. All their opponents were healthy and the games have gotten played, giving Iowa a chance to become somebody on the field.
The Hawkeyes played Purdue and Minnesota before those two teams had COVID-19 issues, and will play Wisconsin Saturday weeks after the Badgers’ season was paused by the coronavirus.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, has missed three games. Since Aug. 11, its season has been start-stop-start-stop-start-stop-start, and that’s not the kind of thing that lends itself to growth in a sport in which routine and repetition are vital.
When you’ve lost to someone four straight times and seven of the last eight as the Hawkeyes have to the Badgers, your tendency is take zero for granted. This being Wisconsin, the Big Ten West’s flagship program, you discount nothing about them and expect no less than a punishing game in which you better play good ball or you’ll get rocked.
But just as so much is unfair in people’s lives this year, much is unfair in our games. Iowa has gotten lucky with its schedule, and it’s stayed out of the virus’ way since the season began. Wisconsin has not, and you couldn’t blame Badgers players if they were less than 100 percent sure about the fairness and value of this season as they take a 2-2 record to a Dec. 12 game.
Of course, the Hawkeyes’ recent good play and the Badgers’ recent disappointing performances (a 17-7 loss at Northwestern and 14-6 home loss to Indiana) influence me in making this call. But I’m forecasting a solid Iowa victory because it isn’t looking at this as just one those years when things don’t go right, so let’s get it behind us and start over in the spring.
Hey, it’s very possible Wisconsin isn’t, either, and is as fired up to play the Hawkeyes as usual. It’s a proud program with good players and coaches. There’s no dog in that team.
However, this isn’t the Wisconsin that had Jonathan Taylor rush for 250 yards against Iowa last year and 520 yards over three wins against the Hawkeyes. This isn’t the Wisconsin of 2014 that won in Iowa City behind Melvin Gordon’s 264 total yards.
For a change, you can say Iowa’s defense should have the edge on Wisconsin’s offense. Granted, Wisconsin’s defense is pretty darn good, too. If the Hawkeyes are workmanlike on offense, however, they should win. No matter what the Vegas line-setters are telling the amateurs who bet on old reputations instead of new realities.
Who would Iowa play next week? Don’t know. What day will the Hawkeyes play? Don’t know that, either.
Could the Hoosiers come back in time after their pause because of COVID-19 to face the Hawkeyes, or would they play Purdue next week instead? No idea. Which bowl game will take Iowa? Stop asking me questions!
It’s almost a law-of-averages thing that Iowa’s season gets messed with at some point. It appears the Hawkeyes, Penn State and Rutgers will be the only Big Ten teams to play all eight scheduled games.
Wait a second. I need to focus on the here and now. If ever there were a live-for-the-moment season, this is it. It’s Wisconsin-Iowa right here, right now, and forget the murkiness in the distance.
Wisconsin has been substance over style, results over noise. Iowa knows it, relates to it, respects it. You better beat the Badgers when you get the chance, because your chances usually aren’t great.
This is one of those chances. Ohio State and Michigan aren’t playing each other Saturday. Neither are Indiana and Purdue. Be grateful you’ve got this, Hawkeyes, and then we’ll see if there is anyone left to battle next week.
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