By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Nobody takes it one game at a time better than Kirk Ferentz, but fans and the media are different.
Most fans probably already have fifth-ranked Iowa 4-0 heading into a Friday night game at Maryland on Oct. 2 because anything less would require a historic upset.
If Iowa truly is the fifth best team in the country, then it should have little trouble defeating Kent State and Colorado State in the next two games at home.
The players would never say that, nor would Kirk Ferentz, of course.
But it’s the truth.
This little two-game part of the schedule stands out because most fans probably looked at it and figured there’s two wins for Iowa, and the same with the media.
I know it’s how I felt when I first saw the 2021 schedule.
It isn’t being disrespectful to Kent State or Colorado State, but more a case of being realistic.
Kent State is probably a bigger threat than Colorado State, but again, the fifth-ranked team in the country has no business losing to a Mid-American Conference opponent at home, or anywhere for that matter.
Iowa already has defeated two ranked opponents with victories over then No. 17 Indiana 34-6 at Kinnick Stadium in the Sept. 4 season opener followed by last Saturday’s 27-17 victory at Iowa State.
Iowa is the only team in the country with two wins over ranked opponents.
The wins also have caused expectations to soar amongst the fans, some of whom probably didn’t have Iowa 2-0 at this point.
The Hawkeyes won both games convincingly, and did so without the offense playing very well in either game.
Imagine the possibilities should the offense ever start to click.
The Iowa offense has only scored four touchdowns in two games, which is just one more touchdown than the Iowa defense has scored in two games.
Kirk Ferentz was asked at his weekly press conference on Tuesday if he was concerned about his offense being stagnant.
“Concern’ is not the right word,” Kirk Ferentz said. “But certainly interest. As I mentioned, I think the biggest thing right now is consistency. We’ve done some good things at times, other times not so good. I can’t tell you it’s unpredicted or unexpected.”
Iowa has had some rock-solid defenses under Phil Parker, but the current defense could be one of the best.
In facing Kent State, the Iowa defense will be matched against one of the best offenses, and one of the best quarterbacks, in the MAC.
Crum led Kent State to its first bowl win ever in 2019, and then last season, the Golden Flashes led the nation in scoring at 49.8 points per game, although they only played four games due to COVID-19 issues.
“Certainly, the quarterback is an outstanding football player, a big part of what they do,” Kirk Ferentz said. “He really kind of makes them go.”
Head coach Sean Lewis has led Kent State to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1976-77, and a third consecutive winning season is a strong possibility.
Another winning season and the 34-year old Lewis would probably draw attention from bigger programs.
His approach to coaching offense is clever and creative, and he has an eye for talent.
“They do a good job of really making you defend the entire field,” Ferentz said. “They spread things out very well. They have good skill guys out there. The roster just overall, high school guys recruited, the quarterback was under-recruited from right there in Lorain County, not too far from Kent. Then they’ve got a lot of transfer guys. Picked up guys and benefited from that regard from all kinds of schools, Penn State, Syracuse, right down the list.
“They make you defend the entire field. Their backs do a good job. I mentioned their line is well-coached. The quarterback, he’ll keep it and take off. In the run game he’ll hand it off. They’re pretty fearless with their tempo. They played at Texas A&M, they went right after them. Took the ball right down the field, ended up with a field goal the first drive. They just make you defend everything. Everybody’s got to be on task. It’s not the same as the last few weeks, but similar.”
But even with all of Ferentz’s praise for Kent State, most Hawkeye fans still probably aren’t too concerned about losing Saturday’s game. Most fans probably are exhaling this week and think that Iowa improving to 3-0, and then 4-0, is pretty much a foregone conclusion.
Kent State already has had one chance to pull off a major upset, but lost at Texas A&M 41-10 in the Sept. 4 season opener. Crum and his cohorts hung tough for one half, trailing 10-3 at halftime, but that was mostly due to the defense, which had two interceptions in the first half.
Texas A&M eventually pulled away because it was the better team, with more depth and more talent.
Iowa is also better than Kent State on paper, and you’d be hard-pressed to find and Iowa fan, or a member of the Iowa media, that believes Kent State will win on Saturday.
There is one common thread with the four Iowa teams that have lost to MAC opponents under Kirk Ferentz, which is that all four Iowa teams weren’t very good.
Iowa lost to Western Michigan 27-21 in 2000 and would go on to finish 3-9.
Iowa lost to Western Michigan 28-19 in 2007 in the regular-season finale to finish 6-6.
Iowa lost to Central Michigan 32-31 in 2012 and would go on to finish 4-8.
Iowa lost to Northern Illinois 30-27 in the 2013 season opener and would go on to finish 8-5.
Should the current Iowa team finish 8-5, that wouldn’t sit well with most fans, especially after winning the first two games.
One of the narratives whenever a highly ranked team faces a big underdog is that the players for the highly ranked might take the underdog lightly, and then not play as well.
That theory is over-rated, though, because a college football schedule only has 12 games, and with the global pandemic still a threat, the players should cherish every game.
Prediction: Iowa 38, Kent State 17