Is it Time to Take Iowa Seriously?
Yesterday, Athlon published a piece where two out of the three sportswriters asked picked Iowa to finish above Nebraska in the Big Ten West this season. The most compelling reason provided seemed to be the difference in schedules. The Hawkeyes' schedule could hardly be more favorable and the Huskers is decidedly tougher. Still, considering that NU has had a better win-loss record each of the past four seasons, is it time to start taking Iowa seriously?
Certainly, any team that beats you by three touchdowns in your building is going to get your full attention. But that depends somewhat on whether you consider it a game that Nebraska squandered rather than one where they were truly bested. Bo Pelini has a history of losing a game or two just about every year to an inferior opponent.
In 2009, he dropped back-to-back games at home where his team was a double digit favorite (Texas Tech and Iowa State). In 2010, he lost to unranked Texas, at a lower ranked Texas A&M team, and to an unranked Washington team he'd already clubbed in Seattle. In 2011, he dropped a home game to unranked Northwestern. In 2012, he lost to an unranked UCLA team and a rematch to a previously beaten and unranked Wisconsin team. This past season, the losses came to unranked Minnesota and Iowa teams. In that sense, every team should be taken seriously, but it also makes last year's win by Iowa seem more like a fluke than a true measure of the quality of each team.
One of the reasons Pelini has gotten away with losing so many games that he probably shouldn't have, is that he tends to bounce back well. He seldom loses to the same team two times in a row. Despite the lopsided final score, the Huskers actually outgained the Hawkeyes in 2013. The minus three turnover ratio seemed to be NU's undoing. Iowa also lost a fair amount to graduation this offseason including three standout linebackers who created all three turnovers and all seven tackles for losses along with tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz who gave the Hawkeyes their first lead. The Huskers should have more than a fighting chance in a rematch, even on the road.
The schedule remains the top concern when it comes to Iowa. Nebraska could beat the Hawkeyes and still fall behind them in the division standings, if the Huskers lose road trips to Michigan State and Wisconsin. Even if you factor in a loss by Iowa or a win in one of those other road games by NU, chances are that Nebraska won't have the luxury of losing in Iowa City and still claiming the division.
Iowa probably isn't a team to fear like you might if you had a road trip to Alabama or Florida State on the schedule. Still, expect a hard-fought four-quarter game at Iowa next November. One that just might have some pretty important stakes attached.