Back as summer filler for this blog, I ranked Iowa’s 12 football games in terms of how interesting they appeared going into the season.
Even more than most typical sportswriting, it was guesswork. But as it turns out, I was right to pick the Michigan-Iowa Nov. 9 game in Iowa City as No. 1.
After this week’s “bye,” the Hawkeyes settle in for what will be a season-defining game. Lose it to the Wolverines and you’ve had a fourth flameout at Kinnick Stadium, and you’re in danger of a 6-6 regular-season that would be followed by a trip to a third-tier bowl game.
But beat Michigan, and you assure yourself of a winning season and honest-to-goodness progress after last season’s 4-8 debacle. The final homefield image of the season burned in your fans’ brains is a happy one. More importantly, you wouldn’t rule out clipping Nebraska in Lincoln to go 8-4 and get invited to a bowl that people actually recognize.
The way the Michigan game turns out may be the way the 2013 Hawkeyes are remembered.
“We talk big-picture very briefly on Sundays,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said after his team beat Purdue Saturday, 38-14. “The big picture (last Sunday) is we had three games that we felt like we had a chance to win if we played better. We’ve got to play our best football. That’s the only chance we’ll have.”
In its last two games, against Michigan State and Nebraska, Michigan has been a team that could not establish a rushing game. At all. The Wolverines had minus-48 rushing yards against MSU, minus-21 Saturday in their 17-13 loss at home against the Cornhuskers.
There are a number of unkind words to describe that, but “soft” leaps to mind as quick as any. “Soft” isn’t a good opponent for Iowa. Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin weren’t soft. Michigan isn’t one of those three, not this year.
Plus, the Wolverines will be playing their second road game in two weeks. While Iowa is off this Saturday, Michigan is at Northwestern.
So there’s reason for optimism from the Iowa camp. But — and this is probably a good thing for the Hawkeyes — the world won’t be telling them they should win.
Iowa’s record is 6-4, but its mark against teams with teams that currently own winning records is 1-4. The win was against Minnesota. Everyone who saw the Gophers winning four of their next five games after getting chewed up by the Hawkeyes in Minneapolis, stand on your heads.
Everyone who says they saw Minnesota moving all the way into the coaches’ Top 25, get some help. You have a problem telling the truth.
Anyhow, enter Michigan. It’s the pedigreed program, the old money of college football’s elite, the self-described Champions of the West. Beat those guys any year, and it’s meaningful. Defeat them this season, though, and you have made 2012 a slip instead the start of a landslide. Because you have a winning season and you have beaten a name team.
Lose to the Wolverines, and you don’t roll into Nebraska six days later with the prairie wind at your back. Nothing about 6-6 would feel good. Going to the Texas Bowl to play either Flotsam or Jetsam wouldn’t put any salve on it.
Yeah, the Michigan thing is Iowa’s game of the year. For now, anyway.