IOWA CITY, Iowa – As a member of the media, I don’t have to take it one game at a time.
While the Iowa football players are focused on nothing but trying to defeat Maryland on Saturday, I took the liberty of ranking Iowa’s remaining five games by how difficult winning each game should be.
It’s an unusual list for the sole fact that Indiana is ranked first. That says something about the Hoosiers, but also about Iowa’s remaining schedule. Indiana is dangerous on offense, but a sieve on defense most of the time.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz tried his best on Tuesday to temper the enthusiasm. He even used his calculator to figure that Iowa still has 62.5 percent of its Big Ten schedule remaining.
It makes no sense to Ferentz at this stage to speculate about Iowa’s chance of winning the Big Ten title or making the playoff.
“To worry about those things is really kind of silly, and really, you know, you get defined by what you do on the field,” Ferentz said. “The best thing we can do right now is just worry about this game. We’ve got a big game coming up with Maryland, a team that beat us last year. So we have our hands full worrying about that, and if we can win this game this Saturday, then we’ll figure out what we have to do next week and just kind of push ahead.
“And I think all that talk’s really premature. Like I said, my point about the 62.5 percent deal; it’s really premature to even think about that stuff at this point.
I agree with Ferentz, but that still didn’t stop me from looking beyond the next game on the schedule. Sorry coach.
1. Indiana 4-4, 0-4 – Iowa has won five of the last six games against the Hoosiers, but two of the games were decided by five points or less. Indiana also has scored at least 24 points in six of the last eight games against Iowa and at least 29 points in five games since Kirk Ferentz started coaching Iowa in 1999.
The problem for Indiana has been on defense, evidenced by Iowa having scored at least 31 points in eight of the 13 games that Ferentz has coached against the Hoosiers.
The current Indiana team is similar in that it also can light up the scoreboard, but allows opponents to do the same. It’ll probably take at least 24 points for Iowa to defeat Indiana on Nov. 7 in Bloomington, Ind.
The Hoosiers have one of the Big Ten’s most explosive and balanced offenses. If you focus too much on trying to stop quarterback Nate Sudfeld, then running back Jordan Howard will make you pay. The transfer from Alabama-Birmingham is the Big Ten’s second leading rusher, averaging 131.2 yards per game. Sudfeld is averaging a Big Ten-leading 292.7 passing yards per game and is ranked second in the conference in pass efficiency.
Throw in the fact that Indiana will be playing at home and this game has danger written all over it, at least more danger than the other four remaining games. Iowa has a 3-3 record in its last six games against Indiana in Bloomington.
2. Nebraska 3-5, 1-3 – Nebraska is one of the worst closers in college football, having surrendered fourth-quarter leads in four of eight games this season. And because of that, the Cornhuskers are in danger of not making a bowl game in their first season under head coach Mike Riley.
But there still is plenty of talent on the Nebraska roster, enough to where the Cornhuskers could rise up and defeat about anybody in the Big Ten with exception to Ohio State if they bring their A game, especially at home.
There is also the chance that Nebraska would need to defeat Iowa in order to meet the bowl requirement of six victories. Or it could be a case where Nebraska already would be eliminated from bowl contention when it faces Iowa. That would make facing the Hawkeyes in the regular-season finale sort of like a bowl game for Nebraska.
Either way, emotions will be high on Black Friday, especially if Iowa enters the game undefeated.
3. Minnesota 4-3, 1-2 – Any team that has Jerry Kill’s influence deserves respect. I thought about moving Minnesota to the second spot after Kill announced his retirement for health reasons on Wednesday, and would have if the Gophers were playing Iowa at home.
But instead, Minnesota will be part of a historical event on Nov. 14 at Kinnick Stadium. The Gophers will face Iowa just hours after the Iowa wrestling team competes against Oklahoma State in the first match ever held outside at Kinnick Stadium. The atmosphere should be electric by the start of the football game.
Iowa also has a score to settle after being humiliated by Minnesota 51-14 last season in Minneapolis.
So with or without Kill leading the way, defeating Iowa figures to be no easy task for the Gophers, who have sputtered all season on offense.
4. Maryland 2-5. 0-3 – Ferentz did all he could to promote the Terrapins on Tuesday, and much of what he said was correct. Maryland has a number of talented players on both offense and defense as Ferentz pointed out. Maryland also defeated Iowa 38-31 last season in College Park, Md., despite trailing 14-0 in the first quarter.
But as a team, Maryland has struggled this season to the point where Randy Edsall was fired as head coach midway through the season. Mike Locksley has since been promoted from offensive coordinator to interim head coach.
The Terrapins are ranked 13th in the Big Ten in passing offense, rushing defense and scoring defense, along with being ranked 10th in total offense. That’s a recipe for failure no matter who is coaching the Terrapins.
Maryland’s biggest strengths are its rushing offense and special teams where kicker Brad Craddock and return specialist William Likely rank among the best in the country. Likely surpassed Nile Kinnick’s 76-year-old single-game Big Ten record for punt return yardage with 233 yards against Richmond in the season opener.
“Both of them have done good jobs, and then we really feel like Likely is as good of a returner as there is in the country, not only in our conference but in the country,” Ferentz said. “He’s very dangerous, both in the punt and kick return game. So we’ve got a lot of challenges on our hands that way.”
Maryland never has played at Kinnick Stadium, so the players will have to adjust to the fans being so close to the field.
5. Purdue 1-6, 0-3 – Just when you thought the Boilermakers might have what it takes to be Spoilermakers by nearly winning at Michigan State on Oct. 3, they showed little fight in their next two games.
No Big Ten opponent ever should be taken lightly. But Purdue has done little to inspire confidence under third-year coach Darrell Hazell. The Boilermakers are ranked in the lower half of the Big Ten in almost every statistical category, including being ranked last in rushing defense (198.1), punt-return average, field goals and time of possession.
Iowa’s remaining schedule
Oct. 31 – vs. Maryland
Nov. 7 – at Indiana
Nov. 14 – vs. Minnesota
Nov. 21 – vs. Purdue
Nov. 27 – at Nebraska