Iowa football has three big road hurdles to clear in conference play.
It will be difficult, but if Iowa football overcomes a tough road slate, the Hawkeyes can be special.
Iowa projects as a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big Ten West. Wisconsin and Minnesota are the two likeliest teams to represent the division in Indianapolis. Iowa and Nebraska comprise the middle tier of the division with Purdue and the Illinois schools chasing them. Iowa may only barely qualify for bowl eligibility, but they have a schedule that can impress the selection committee.
While Iowa has big home games against in-state rival Iowa State out of conference, as well as Nebraska and Wisconsin in divisional play, how the Hawkeyes perform away from Kinnick will go a long way in how their season shakes out. Do they have it in them to clear the three biggest road hurdles on their schedule: At Minnesota, at Ohio State and at Penn State, all before Halloween?
If Iowa football clears these three road hurdles, watch out, Big Ten.
If by some magical means the Hawkeyes run this gauntlet, it’ll be one of the best years in program history. It should be noted how much tougher the Big Ten West has become in recent seasons since Kirk Ferentz’s team made it to the championship game back in 2015. What are the chances they knock off any or all their big Big Ten foes on the road this season?
First up is Minnesota in Minneapolis on Sept. 18. This game will have come the week after CyHawk. Should the Hawkeyes upend the Cyclones in Kinnick, perhaps they can carry all the positive momentum they generated with them to TCF Bank Stadium. Of their three brutal road games, the one with the Golden Gophers is easily the most winnable.
After a pair of winnable home games vs. Northern Illinois and Michigan State, Iowa will have to play Ohio State in The Horseshoe on Oct. 10. Simply put, the Hawkeyes will need to be 5-0 heading into this cross-divisional game in Columbus to have enough upward trajectory to peel off a stunning road upset over the best team the Big Ten has to offer.
While Iowa football can celebrate all it wants after achieving bowl eligibility by way of stunning the Buckeyes in their house, the Hawkeyes have to get right back to it. That’s because they have to travel to Happy Valley to take on another College Football Playoff contending team in Penn State. Iowa would have to be a team of destiny to get to 7-0 with back-to-back road wins such a these.
In an absolute best-case scenario, the Hawkeyes could enter their bye on Halloween at 8-0 with a certain slaughtering of Northwestern at Kinnick. They would be the unquestioned favorite to win the Big Ten, as who survives that brutal stretch of early-season road games, honestly?
So what it the likelihood Iowa pulls this off? It’s pretty close to zero, but Ferentz does have the culture in place at Iowa to knock off one, maybe two great teams on the road in his best seasons. We would have to assume a road win at Minnesota because if the Hawkeyes don’t win in Minneapolis then they sure as hell aren’t winning in Columbus and in State College.
If Iowa can beat the Cyclones and Gophers first, then the Hawkeyes will have their shot to upset either the Buckeyes or the Nittany Lions, but probably not both. This is a team that will likely finish somewhere in the 8-4 to 6-6 range because the schedule is so tough. If this team goes 10-2, that would be incredible. Should it go 11-1 and make it to Indianapolis, we’ll write books about them.
Iowa football is up against one hell of a road gauntlet. Could you imagine them pulling this off?