Wisconsin was first. Then it was Maryland.
Now it’s Ohio State, Minnesota and maybe Michigan. The Wolverines didn’t practice Tuesday.
Only six teams in the Big Ten Conference have played their full complement of football games this COVID-19 season, a number that will shrink to at least five this week. Northwestern’s game against Minnesota is off, dropping the Wildcats from the list but perhaps clinching the West Division championship because of it.
That’s so 2020.
Yet while Wisconsin, Maryland, OSU, Minnesota and perhaps now Michigan have had to shut things down in their programs because of coronavirus outbreaks, Iowa has just kept on keeping on. The Hawkeyes (4-2) have gotten in all six of their games and, at least as of Tuesday night, were on schedule to play Saturday at Illinois (2:30 p.m., FS1).
“I don’t know that we are doing anything magical or anything like that,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t want to make it sound like we are doing something nobody else is doing, because I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think part of it is luck, I really believe that. As a human being and coach, I certainly believe there’s an element of luck involved. That’s just a non-scientist, non-scientific background looking at this whole thing.”
Iowa hasn’t had any of its most key personnel test positive during the season and miss games. Everyone is tested daily.
Starting guard Kyler Schott and middle linebacker Jack Campbell both missed three games each but that was because of mononucleosis.
Luck is probably playing a role with that, as Ferentz mentioned. But it also surely means players are doing the right things to protect themselves and their teammates.
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“I think it shows that us as a team, how committed we are and how we do things we’ve got to do to stay COVID free and to keep people from being at risk,” said wide receiver Brandon Smith. “Following the things we need to do, following the protocols.”
“We’re super fortunate,” said guard Cole Banwart. “I think that’s just a testament to our character. Just being cautious and being smart away from the building. Making sure you have your mask on, social distancing, using hand sanitizer, washing our hands, just being careful everywhere we go, so that we don’t get sick and bring it into the building and get everybody else sick.”
Iowa has had good timing when it comes to its opponents. The Hawkeyes played three weeks ago at Minnesota, with the Gophers being on pause now for a second straight week.
Wisconsin had to shut down for two weeks early in the season, but Iowa doesn’t play it until the regular-season finale next week. The Hawkeyes’ eight-game schedule doesn’t include Ohio State, Maryland or Michigan.
“Being able to avoid cancellations is definitely a great thing,” Smith said.
“The only thing everybody has been hearing since March, just try to do the obvious things,” Ferentz said. “Try to practice good hygiene, try to keep your distance from people. I don’t want to speak for all of our players, but I think most of them are probably doing what we do as coaches. We come to work and go home. I don’t think anybody has got much of a social life right now.”
Indiana, Rutgers, Penn State and Michigan are the other Big Ten schools to get in all of their games so far, with Michigan’s game Saturday against Maryland in doubt. Wisconsin has played just three games and Ohio State four, with its game Saturday against Michigan State also in doubt.
That would leave both the Badgers and Buckeyes without enough games to even qualify for the Big Ten championship game in two weeks in Indianapolis. Ferentz was asked if he felt a “true” league champion would be crowned considering the discrepancy in games the conference teams have had.
“No idea,” he replied. “Not to be smug, but I really don’t care, quite frankly. I just hope we get to keep playing games.
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“Coaches and players, this is what we like doing. So, selfishly, I’m looking at it kind of selfishly right now, but we have been given an opportunity to do that, and it is an opportunity we are appreciative of, knowing it could end tomorrow.”
— Defensive tackle Jack Heflin said Illinois was one of the schools that contacted him when he decided to be a graduate transfer from Northern Illinois in the offseason. But his heart also was with Iowa.
“I really respected the coaching staff and what they are doing down there,” Heflin said, of Illinois. “It just wasn’t the fit for me at the time. Growing up, I was an Iowa fan, and I was really excited when Iowa started pursuing me.”
— Wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette spoke publicly for the first time since his late October arrest for suspicion of drunken driving. Smith-Marsette was suspended for one game.
“After it all happened, I felt down. I felt like I let the whole team down: the coaching staff, my teammates, my family, myself,” Smith-Marsette said. “But I talked to Coach Ferentz about it, moved past it. That whole week, I was just coming back in and trying to work hard to get the trust of my teammates again. Let them know that mistakes happen, and I will do anything I can to show that I am with you all 100 percent. Then it was just move on past it. I’m fully focused, going out there each and every week putting my best foot forward and doing what I can to try and help us improve each week.”
— Campbell was asked about the increased playing time he has gotten since returning to play three weeks ago. Seth Benson has still been the starter at middle linebacker, but Campbell’s snap counts have gotten larger and larger.
“Seth is a great kid, and he’s doing a great job,” Campbell said. “At the end of the day, the rotation, that’s just going to come down to Coach Ferentz and the defensive staff. I’m more than willing to take one snap or 75 snaps. It’s just all up to them. Again, I just want you guys to know Seth is doing a great job, and I’m proud of him.”
— Ferentz said tackle Coy Cronk could see field time Saturday. A grad transfer from Indiana, Cronk started the first two games on the right side but has missed four games with an ankle problem.
He dressed for this past Saturday’s game against Nebraska but did not play.
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