If you’re wondering if the nation has written off the Iowa Hawkeyes’ football team, the answer is a pretty clear yes.
If you’re wondering if that matters, well, maybe a smidgen. Maybe it slows ticket sales just a tad. Maybe there are recruits somewhere who latch on to scraps of paper in the wind, see something that makes Hawkeyes football look like a ship on the rocks after a 4-8 season last year, and find Iowa a tough buy.
But you can take this stuff too seriously. For instance, on Tuesday Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated gave his projections for the Big Ten season. There, alone at the bottom of the Legends Division with records of 1-7 in the conference and 4-8 overall, was Iowa.
I’m not playing Hawkeye shill here or leading yet another round of Iowans raging against the Mandel machine. The man is an excellent college football writer and reporter, and writes what he believes.
That doesn’t make him an Iowa-hating troll. It also doesn’t make him right about everything. The ball takes funny bounces across an autumn.
Everyone who does this sort of thing has Iowa pegged no higher than fifth in the six-team Legends. Since the Hawkeyes tied for fifth with Minnesota last season and were 4-8 overall, why would someone in midtown Manhattan or Anytown USA assume the Hawkeyes would revert to their 7-5 regular-seasons of 2010 and 2011?
But it’s obviously possible. Iowa has what you would consider four very challenging games among its first six. Those are Northern Illinois at home, Iowa State at Ames, Minnesota at Minneapolis, and Michigan State at home.
The Hawkeyes could lose them all. They could also win them all. “Very challenging” is a lot different from “unwinnable.”
Back to the predictions game. Last year, Andy Staples handled the Big Ten projections for Sports Illustrated. He picked Iowa to go 8-4, and I don’t recall hearing anyone around here screaming that he was nuts. But he was way off.
Just like he was way off in picking Wisconsin and Michigan State to go 11-1 in the regular-season (they were 7-5 and 6-6, respectively), Illinois to go 9-3 (2-10), and Northwestern to finish 6-6 (9-3).
Not to ridicule Staples. You make a large-enough set of predictions, you’ll make some clunkers. And he did pick Wisconsin to win the Big Ten title, which it did.
The point is to not take this stuff seriously. Contradictions are everywhere. Nine panelists on Associated Press’ football Top 25 voting bloc included Northern Illinois in their preseason ballots, while Iowa didn’t get a single vote. Yet, the Hawkeyes are 3-point favorites over the Huskies next Saturday.
No one told you in August 2009 that Iowa would go 10-2 in the regular-season. No one told you in August 2012 that it would go 4-8.
The best football prediction I ever heard was when Tom Arnold was Jim Zabel’s radio halftime guest at Kinnick Stadium many moons ago.
“Tom, how far do you think the Hawkeyes will go?” Zabel asked.
“All the way to the end,” Arnold said.