Question for you to ponder: Is Northern Illinois a must-win for Iowa?
This is an idle June thought. This game is 80-something days (81 maybe?) days off. It's at Kinnick Stadium and, we know now, it kicks off at 2:30 p.m.
The Big Ten released two more kickoffs for the Hawkeyes this morning. Iowa will meet NIU, Mid-American Conference champion and Orange Bowl participant, at 2:30 at the Big Ten Network. Iowa's game the next week against Missouri State will be an 11 a.m. start also on BTN.
Iowa escaped NIU 18-17 last season at Soldier Field. Both teams took divergent paths thereafter, with the Hawkeyes losing six straight after a 4-2 start and finishing 4-8 and out of a bowl.
We've talked a few times about what Northern Illinois has coming back for 2013. QB Jordan Lynch was seventh in Heisman voting. The Huskies return all five starting O-linemen. There will be some newness on defense with just four returning starters, but NIU set a winning tone up front with six sacks against the Hawkeyes last season.
Iowa is 8-0 against Northern Illinois. At Kinnick Stadium, the Hawkeyes have met the Huskies six times since 1985. Iowa has swept all six with the average score being 44.16 to 10.66. In these six games, Iowa has scored more than 50 points three times. Coach Kirk Ferentz is 2-0 at Kinnick vs. NIU, earning his first victory as Iowa's head coach, and only in '99, and winning 24-14 in 2006.
NIU is a top pick in the MAC West this season. The Hawkeyes are picked near the bottom in the final season of the Big Ten's Legends Division.
An NIU win at Kinnick would set off alarms. The outside world (fans, media) would take a bite out of the team. One game into the season, Ferentz would be selling a message of hope to his team.
On paper, Iowa would have little to gain with a victory over a MAC school that it has never lost to at Kinnick, where Iowa lost five games last season, the most since 1999. But in reality, the Hawkeyes have a lot on the line in week 1. You've heard players talk of "defending Kinnick." This would be a good place to start.
Must-win? What do you think? (And I know, they're all "must-wins." Just think globally. It's week 1, yes, but it's a tone setter coming off a rough 4-8. And, yes, I'm probably arguing must-win, as crazy as that must sound. I'm trying better at trying not to be too extreme, but here we are.)
Iowa's 2013 schedule with the seven starts we know about:
Northern Illinois (at Kinnick) — 2:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.
Missouri State (at Kinnick) — 11 a.m., BTN
At Iowa State — 5 p.m. on the rebranded Speed Channel, which will be Fox Sports 1, Fox's answer to ESPN (at least I think it is).
At Minnesota — This one is set for 2:30 p.m. Network is TBA, but it will be in the ABC mix, with an ESPN or ESPN2 mirror. Iowa is Minnesota’s homecoming game. The Hawkeyes are 0-2 at TCF Bank Stadium.
Michigan State (at Kinnick) — 11 a.m. with all TV options open, BTN or an ESPN platform (ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU). Iowa has won its last four Homecoming contests and is 6-0-1 against the Spartans on homecoming.
At Ohio State — This is a 2:30 game in the ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 mirror mix. Iowa is OSU’s homecoming opponent. Iowa hasn’t won at Ohio Stadium since 1991, going 0-6 since.
Northwestern (at Kinnick) — Time and TV are TBA.
Wisconsin (at Kinnick) -- Time and TV are TBA.
At Purdue — Time and TV are TBA.
Michigan (at Kinnick) — Time and TV are TBA
At Nebraska (remember, it’s on Black Friday, Nov. 29) — 11 a.m. on ABC. This is the time slot you want. You’re featured on a national network, what more can you ask. Iowa could really use a win here. The Hawkeyes haven’t beaten Nebraska since it joined the Big Ten in 2011. Iowa also hasn’t beaten Nebraska since 1981.