I look at Iowa's 2010 football schedule. I see challenges. A lot of them. Just like every year.
09/04/10 vs. Eastern Illinois Iowa City, IA 11 a.m.
09/11/10 vs. Iowa State Iowa City, IA 2:35 PM
09/18/10 at Arizona Tucson, AZ 9:35 PM
09/25/10 vs. Ball State Iowa City, IA TBA
10/02/10 vs. Penn State (HC) Iowa City, IA 7:05 PM
10/16/10 at Michigan * Ann Arbor, MI 2:35 PM
10/23/10 vs. Wisconsin (FW) * Iowa City, IA TBA
10/30/10 vs. Michigan State * Iowa City, IA TBA
11/06/10 at Indiana * Bloomington, IN TBA
11/13/10 at Northwestern * Evanston, IL TBA
11/20/10 vs. Ohio State * Iowa City, IA TBA
11/27/10 at Minnesota * Minneapolis, MN TBA
My pick for the hardest game to win will surprise you, you'll mock me for it, and I'll have to leave the country for a long time just to escape your wrath.
I'm saying ... Michigan State.
Good golly, why? It's not because I think the Spartans will be all-world, though they could be pretty good. It's simply based on where the game is located on the schedule. It comes the week after a home game against Wisconsin that promises to be fever-pitched and physical. And that game is a week after a trip to Michigan.
That's a salty three-game stretch, and I think Iowa will have its lowest amount of emotional fuel for MSU in that run. If, however, the Spartans are toppled at Northwestern the week before they arrive in Iowa City, I reserve the right to switch my pick to the most- logical one, Ohio State.
2. Ohio State. Who knows if this game will have the same implications the Iowa-OSU game in Columbus had in 2009. Namely, the winner goes to the Rose Bowl.
But it sure could.
What we know is Ohio State has had far more success against Kirk Ferentz-coached Iowa teams than any other Big Ten squad. But Iowa obviously won't have any possible kind of emotional letdown coming into this contest.
3. at Michigan. No one is expecting great things from the Wolverines this year, and Iowa goes to the Big House after a bye week, which should increase its chances of success all the more. But it's still Michigan, a team that will be better than it's been in its first two years under Rich Rodriguez. It has to be. Doesn't it?
Working for Iowa in this game is the fact this game is the week after the Michigan State-Michigan game in Ann Arbor. If MSU wins that, negativity may fill Wolverine heads in the week leading up to the Iowa game. But if the Wolverines trip up the Spartans, whoa. Head of steam.
4. at Arizona. Everyone in Hawkdom knows the reasons. Iowa historically hasn't been too wonderful in those Western time zone night games against competent teams.
This will be a big game for Arizona, a team looking for atonement of its loss at Iowa City a season ago. The Hawkeyes' offensive line probably won't be up to full-operating potential by Game 3. So this is definitely tough duty. But the Arizona team I remember most vividly is the one that was absolutely dominated by Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl to end last season.
Playing at home, though, is meaningful. The game will start at 9:35 p.m., Iowa time. That won't help the Hawkeyes.
5. Wisconsin. The burly Badgers are the team most in the Big Ten title discussion when someone isn't pegging Ohio State to win its sixth-straight crown or Iowa to take it away from the Buckeyes. But the Hawkeyes are one of the not-too-many conference teams that line up and dish it out as well as they take it from Wisconsin.
Who knows, this could turn out to be the toughest game Iowa plays, or certainly one of the top two or three. But while Iowa will be coming off its game at Michigan, the Badgers will be fresh off a home game against Ohio State. How's that for a two-week run, Wisconsin fans?
That's one person's very changeable opinion. I changed it around a couple times just in writing it, and I'd like to change it some more. Michigan State at No. 1 is more for shock value than anything else, I admit. Let's face it. Ohio State is a hard team to beat.
But now, what do you think? Rank your hardest Hawkeye games, 1 through 5. You can't count on Iowa State being a picnic, that's for sure. And to think Penn State at home isn't in my top five gives me pause. Then there's the game at Northwestern, a team that hasn't exactly trembled in fear when the Hawkeyes were the opposition. How did that not make my top five?At Minnesota to end the season? That depends on what kind of season the Gophers are finishing. It's not likely to be a good one. But if Minny is playing for anything meaningful on that final Saturday, who knows?