OKEMOS, Mich. — We were having a late dinner at a sports bar here a few miles from Michigan State’s campus Saturday night, and a friendly Iowa fan approached our table with a question.
“So the Hawkeyes are in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten, right?” he asked immediately after approaching us. It was more a statement than a query.
Would you believe alcohol was served at this particular establishment? (That was made even clearer when the Detroit Tigers reliever Jose Valverde gave up four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning against the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the ALCS to send the game into extra innings. Angry Tigers fans hurled epithets, and I suspect chairs would have followed had I not resisted the impulse to break into a verse of “New York, New York.”)
But back to Iowa football. The driver’s seat? At 2-0 in the Legends Division, tied with Michigan for the lead?
Uh, sure. All the Hawkeyes have to do is pick off at least five of their six remaining regular-season games and beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Then it’s on to the Rose Bowl, and look out USC or Oregon.
And now, we return you to Planet Earth.
Iowa’s 19-16 double-overtime win over Michigan State Saturday was uplifting to the program and its fans, for sure. Even if its performance in the first 54 minutes of the game was something less than inspirational, any win at Michigan State is a good win. That was the best defense Iowa will see all season unless it bumps into an SEC team in a bowl.
I’m willing to go out on a short limb in a stiff breeze and say I could see the Hawkeyes winning their next four games and taking a 6-0 Big Ten mark to Michigan on Nov. 17. But that’s only because not much would surprise me when it came to this team and this cockamamie conference.
The Hawkeyes could knock off Penn State, Northwestern, Indiana and Purdue in succession. But that’s said only because I’m not confident any of those four teams are anything special.
However, MSU was almost a perfect opponent for the Hawkeye. Some of the next four foes won’t be.
The Spartans, especially with the graduations of quarterback Kirk Cousins and a cadre of terrific receivers from last year’s 11-win team, are grunt-and-groan on offense. Running back Le’Veon Bell is really, really good, but quarterback Andrew Maxwell is no Cousins.
Now, though, Iowa’s next three foes have offenses that have been lively in some way or another. Penn State, after dropping its first two games to Ohio and Virginia, has cobbled together a four-game winning streak behind the wonderful quarterbacking of Matt McGloin.
McGloin has thrown 12 touchdown passes and run for five more. His team is playing with a spirit and purpose that is defiant of a program that won’t be bowl-eligible until 2016.
Yet, is Penn State really anything better than ordinary? Is Northwestern, or Indiana, or Purdue? Then again, is Iowa?
But the important thing for the Hawkeyes is they have given themselves a chance to be part of Big Ten Legends Division championship chatter for a while. Maybe for just this week. Maybe for longer.