IOWA CITY, Iowa – I can’t remember when being so wrong felt so right.
Back in August, I predicted the Iowa football team would finish 7-5 overall in the regular season, with its losses coming against Iowa State, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Minnesota and Nebraska.
How I’m doing?
My record for picking Iowa this season is a not so impressive 6-4. But at least, I’m bowl eligible with two games remaining.
And I’m certainly not alone.
You find somebody who claims to have predicted that Iowa would start 10-0 for the first time ever and chances are that person is being less than truthful or they consider hindsight the same as the truth.
Optimism was in short supply when this season started, part of the fallout from last season when Iowa lost its final three games, including a 45-28 beat-down against Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl, to finish 7-6. Some fans wanted Kirk Ferentz to step down as head coach because they were convinced that he couldn’t lead another resurgence.
There wasn’t much reason for optimism when Iowa took the field against Illinois State in the season opener. I remember thinking that the Hawkeyes were in trouble that day, and that a loss to an FCS team in the season opener would be a public relations disaster coming off the TaxSlayer Bowl.
But then it started happening, one victory at a time, beginning with an impressive 31-14 victory over Illinois State in the season opener.
The 2015 season has since turned into a history-making journey and still has a chance to be a freak show, which is meant as a compliment.
By freak show, I mean something beyond our wildest imagination, something almost too incredible to be true and something that rarely occurs with the Iowa football team, which plays host to Purdue on Saturday.
“There are not a lot of 10-0 teams in the country,” said senior receiver Tevaun Smith. “So to have it be Iowa is very surreal for us.”
This season will be talked about for years and we don’t even know its conclusion. It’ll either be the greatest season in school history, a season that fell just short of being the greatest or a season that unraveled at the end.
Iowa could win the national championship or it could finish 10-3 and in second place behind Wisconsin in the Big Ten West Division. Sometimes, the line between being great and just being good is razor thin.
It’s hard to imagine Iowa losing to lowly Purdue on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, but stranger things have happened.
I know it’s a different sport, but the Iowa men’s basketball team defeated Michigan State 43-36 on Jan. 12, 2008 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. So if a team coached by Todd Lickliter could defeat a team coached by Tom Izzo, then anything is possible.
Ferentz wasn’t asked a question about Purdue during his weekly press conference on Tuesday until the very end when a reporter reminded Ferentz about that and about Purdue having played two top-25 teams – Michigan State and Northwestern – tough on the road this season.
“That has not escaped my attention, and when I get with our team, we’re talking about Purdue, all about that,” Ferentz said. “Just to your point, yeah, playing Michigan State, these guys are playing hard, and they played extremely hard last week.
“All you have to do is look back there. I’ll go one further on that. Nebraska had their way with them real easily for two games back-to-back, not so much this year. So again, that’s just how it is. Week to week, you just never know If you’re looking backwards instead of forwards. Pretty soon you’re going to be going down, and I don’t think we’re going to be guilty of that. But if we do, shame on us, that’s for sure.”
Ferentz was referring to Purdue’s 55-45 victory over Nebraska on Oct. 31 in West Lafayette, Ind. The Boilermakers shredded Nebraska for 457 yards, converted 8-of-17 on third-down and intercepted four passes.
Nebraska has been a major disappointment under first-year coach Mike Riley, but still has a considerable amount of talent and you can bet that the Cornhuskers will give Iowa everything it can handle in the regular-season finale next Friday in Lincoln, Neb.
Purdue isn’t very good, but still deserves respect because it’s a Big Ten team, which on a given day can lift its performance to another level.
Throw in the adverse weather that’s coming our way and you worry that turnovers might impact the game. Turnovers often are the root of upsets because of how dramatically they can shift field position and momentum. You worry about the law of averages because Iowa hasn’t committed a turnover since quarterback C.J. Beathard threw an interception against Northwestern over a month ago.
I don’t see this Iowa team losing its focus, though, not this far into the season, not with so much on the line and not with a 21-player senior class that is rich in leadership.
Purdue is also ranked last in the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing a whopping 209.6 yards per game, while Iowa is ranked second in the Big Ten in rushing offense, averaging 211.7 yards per game. The best thing Beathard might do on Saturday is hand the ball to his stable of running backs and let them do the dirty work on a cold day.
Beathard will be ready to do something spectacular if needed, but this game should be dictated by Iowa’s rushing attack more than anything.
This game should be another positive step on a spectacular journey whose conclusion is still uncertain.
I predicted before the season that Iowa would beat Purdue, and now I feel more confident about that pick for obvious reasons.
It’ll take a lot more than Mother Nature and a 2-8 Purdue squad to derail this Hawkeye express.