Iowa CITY, Iowa - I began seeing Iowa football predictions for upcoming season sometime around the final game of 2012. People really like to project these things early and often.
My thoughts on the Hawkeyes have been all over the place since we walked out of Kinnick Stadium last Black Friday having watched a dismal display against Nebraska complete a 4-8 campaign. I've had days where I think a repeat of that record seems logical. Then, I remember Kirk Ferentz's penchant for lifting his program up from the ashes.
In short, I don't firmly grasp what's coming this fall in Hawkeye Nation. I really do think anywhere from four to eight wins could be the outcome.
What I do know is that I can't wait any longer to complete this annual exercise of sharing my prognostication. I believe this is the longest I've held out in my 17 years of covering the program. I'm not sure if that says more about my indecisiveness or oncoming senility.
I'm sitting down to this without a set number in my head. I'm going to go game-by-game and see where I end up.
So, without further ado, here we go:
Date, Time, TV: Saturday, Aug. 31, 2.30 p.m., Big Ten Network (BTN)
Series, Last Meeting: Iowa leads 8-0 after last season's 18-17 win in the opener at Soldier Field.
Overview: A late touchdown helped the Hawkeyes pull out the win in 2013. The Hawkeyes found NIU QB Jordan Lynch tough to contain. They'll get another shot this year and it should be a good test to see how the defense stacks up against a dual-threat quarterback, which has it has given it trouble in the past. Lynch is viewed as a viable Heisman Trophy candidate. The Huskies have a new head coach in Rod Carey but much of the staff is intact from '12.
Notable NIU Students: Joan Allen (actress), Jimmy Chamberlin (musician), Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson).
My View: If Iowa had it to do over again, it likely would schedule an easier opponent for a quarterback making his first start. The offense will need to score because even if the Hawkeyes contain Lynch well, he's good enough to put points on the board. I predict a lot of national pundits will call for the upset here. I predict they'll be wrong.
Score: IOWA 27, NIU 17
Date, Time, TV: Saturday, Sept. 7, 11 a.m. , BTN
Series, Last Meeting: First ever meeting between schools.
Overview: Northern Iowa graduate and Iowa City native Terry Allen returns to his hometown as coach of the Bears. Allen has quided UNI and Kansas and some people felt he might get the Iowa job after Hayden Fry retired. Allen is 28-49 in seven seasons in Springfield.
Notable Missouri State Students: John Goodman (actor), Kathleen Turner (actress), Ryan Howard (baseball), David Glass (KC Royals owner).
My View: The Terry Allen story will be worked hard this week. It's a good one. It also will have to do with this not being much of a match-up. Let's hope the Big Ten sticks with the idea of keeping FCS opponents off of the schedule. With an occasional exception, it's a recipe for a yawner.
Score: IOWA 34, Mo St. 10
Date, Time, TV: Saturday, Sept. 14, 5 p.m. , FOX Sports 1
Series, Last Meeting: Iowa leads 39-21 after the Cyclones 9-6 win in Kinnick last season.
Overview: The 2012 meeting between these two teams set football back decades. Let's home this installment creates more excitement. Like Iowa, the Cyclones come into the season with a lot of question marks all over the field. Couple that fact with strange things historically happening in this series and it could be a wild Saturday night in Ames.
Notable Iowa State Students: Dan Gable (wrestler), George Washington Carver (scientist, inventor), Tom Knudson (journalist).
My View: If I were ranking the games on Iowa's schedule I feel least confident in the Hawkeyes winning, this contest might be second to the one at No. 2 Ohio State. Their new quarterback will be making his first road start in a hostile in a rivalry match-up boiling over with emotion with a hostile crowd breathing down his neck. I don't think Iowa State is one of the better teams on the docket in '13, but the Cyclones playing at home is a huge factor in this spot.
Score: Iowa State 20, IOWA 13
Date, Time, TV: Saturday, Sept. 21, time and channel TBA.
Series, Last Meeting: Western Michigan leads 2-0, which includes a 28-19 win at Kinnick to conclude the '07 season.
Overview: The Broncos dashed Iowa's post-season hopes the last time they were in town. Leading them into Iowa City this year will be a first-year coach in P.J. Fleck, who will turn 33 in November. He's the youngest coach in FBS. Western runs a spread offense.
Notable Western Michigan Students: Tim Allen (actor), Luther Vandross (musician), Jim Bouton (baseball, author).
My View: Fleck energizes a floundering program. It could pay dividends in the long run but it will take time. He does have the advantage of trotting out senior quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen, who can throw to an experienced group of receivers. He's not the most mobile guy in the world so Iowa will need to generate some pressure to keep him from sitting in the pocket and picking it apart. We could probably say that every week.
Score: IOWA 31, Western Michigan 17
Date, Time, TV: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2/ABC
Series, Last Meeting: Minnesota leads 61-43-2 after Iowa's 31-13 win last season at Kinnick.
Overview: I honestly don't think there is a more important game on the schedule. No matter what happens during the non-conference portion, this contest pits two Legend Division teams trying to fight their way up the ladder. A loss in this spot could be a crippler for either while a win could catapult one to a surprising campaign. History tells us that teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska are going to be strong most years. The other programs fight for positioning after that. If the Gophers are on the rise, that likely means that a team like Iowa is in decline.
Notable Minnesota Students: Loni Anderson (actress), Bob Dylan (musician), Peter Graves (actor), Jessica Lange (actress).
My View: Favored Iowa has dropped two games in a row at TCF Bank Stadium. Mistakes cost the Hawkeyes in both instances. A key to this game might be which team's quarterback situation is most settled at this point of the season. If it is Philip Nelson for Minnesota, he'll enjoy the advantage of home cooking. If Jake Rudock is in there for the Hawkeyes, it will be his first Big Ten road action. Both teams could be strong on the offensive line and on defense. With that, the coaches might elect to play the field position game and limit what they ask of their signal callers. That seems to be the most likely scenario.
Score: Minnesota 17, IOWA 16
Date, Time, TV: Saturday, Oct. 5, 11 a.m., TBD
Series, Last Meeting: Iowa leads 23-19-2 after its 19-16 double overtime win last season in East Lansing.
Overview: It's been an odd series since Mark Dantonio took the reigns at Michigan State. We've witnessed some nail-biters with dramatic finishes and also some one-sides blowouts. The teams play a similar brand of football, leaning to strong running attacks to set up the passing game and physical defense. Michigan State is a tough read coming off a 7-6 campaign that saw nine game (4 wins, 5 losses) decided by four points or fewer. This game, like Minnesota, could swing either team's season in a fairly open Legends Division. It means even more to Iowa because it's at Kinnick.
Notable Michigan State Students: James Caan (actor), Magic Johnson (athlete), Chris Hansen (reporter), Robert Urich (actor).
My View: As muddled as the quarterback situation seemed at Iowa heading into August, Dantonio said this week that he has four quarterback vying for the starting position. The Spartans come into Kinnick off of a bye and two weeks after a trip to South Bend and a match-up with rival Notre Dame. MSU will be tough again on defense and this is a game that could very well be decided in the fourth quarter - think field position, punts and things turning on one or two plays.
Score: IOWA 16, Michigan State 13
Date, Time, TV: Saturday, Oct. 19, 2:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN/ESPN2
Series, Last Meeting: Ohio State leads 46-14-3, which includes a 20-17 Buckeyes win in the last meeting on Nov. 20, 2010 in Iowa City.
Overview: No team in Big Ten history has dominated the Hawkeyes like Ohio State. There's no shame in that as the Buckeyes are one of the league's premier programs. This will be Iowa's first time facing an Urban Meyer Ohio State squad. The Hawkeyes did drop a 31-24 to his Florida outfit in the 2006 Outback Bowl. The Buckeyes were unbeaten last year despite being ineligible for a bowl after Tattoo-Gate. That says a lot about a coach's ability to motivate (and secure talent).
Notable Ohio State Students: Patricia Heaton (actress), Richard Lewis (comedian), Dwight Yoakam (musician), Jack Buck (announcer), Rutherford B. Hayes (president).
My View: This game is the most likely loss on the schedule. Plain and simply. Maybe things change in the months leading up to it, but the only scenario for a Hawkeye win would be a rash of food poisoning for Ohio State. That might not be enough. Braxton Miller is as good as it gets in the Big Ten and even an improved Iowa pass rush will be hard pressed to contain him. The Buckeyes are replacing eight starters on defense, but they reload in Columbus and the new guys will be broken in by the time this game rolls around.
Ohio State 34, IOWA 10
Date, Time, TV: Saturday, Oct. 26, TBD, TBD
Series, Last Meeting: Iowa leads 47-24-3 following last season's 28-17 loss in Evanston.
Overview: The days of the Wildcats serving as Big Ten punching bag have faded into history. Northwestern is a legitimate Legends Division contender as it returns 17 starters from a 10-3 team in '12. It led in the fourth quarter every game last season so that mark is not hollow. The 'Cats check in at No. 22 in both major polls. Northwestern will be battle tested coming into this game having already played at California and Wisconsin and home dates against Syracuse and Minnesota.
Notable Northwestern Students: Ann Margret (actress), Cindy Crawford (model), Warren Beatty (actor), Paul Lynde (actor), Paul Reubens (actor).
My View: Try as it might, Iowa's defense hasn't found a way to stop Northwestern's spread. The Wildcats two-headed quarterback monster of runner, Kain Colter, and thrower, Trevor Siemian make it a difficult preparation. Venric Mark is a home-run threat at running back. The defense in Evanston was much-improved last year but a repeat performance is not a given with it being hit hard by graduation. This game will come down to Iowa scoring enough points to win.
Northwestern 31, IOWA 27
Date, Time, TV: Saturday, Nov. 2, TBD, TBD
Series, Last Meeting: Tied 42-42-2. The Badgers won the last meeting, 31-30, on Oct. 23, 2010 in Iowa City.
Overview: Even though the Big Ten is moving towards a 50-team conference, let's hope the Wisconsin game stays on the schedule. There's just too much animosity built up between the schools not to feed it each year. Of course, maybe Iowa has benefitted from the Badgers absence the last two seasons. They've gone to the Rose Bowl while the Hawkeyes are a combined 6-10 in league play. The rivalry could lose some luster with Bret Bielema off to Arkansas but it shouldn't take long for Gary Andersen to become a worthy villain.
Notable Wisconsin Students: Don Ameche (actor), Joan Cusack (actress), Steve Miller (musician), Frank Lloyd Wright (architect), Dick Cheney (vice president).
My View: The Badgers will be battle tested on the road coming into Iowa City having already played at Arizona State, Ohio State and Illinois (night game). That said, Wisconsin is coming off a somewhat hollow Rose Bowl season in which they got to the B1G championship game courtesy of Ohio State and Penn State being ineligible for the postseason. They'll be strong on the lines and at running back and their quarterback will be average. I expecting a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair here.
IOWA 20, Wisconsin 17
Date, Time, TV: Saturday, Nov. 9, TBD, TBD
Series, Last Meeting: Purdue leads 46-34-3 after last season's 24-21 win in Iowa City.
Overview: Purdue won at Kinnick last year, went on to a bowl game and fired its coach. Darrell Hazell takes over for Danny Hope and tries to revive the Boilermakers. Hoke was brought in as the coach-in-waiting behind Joe Tiller and it failed. Cowboy Joe inherited a program that had two winning seasons in the previous 18 and built it into one that earned 10 bowl berths in 12 years. Perhaps pushing him out wasn't the brightest idea. Hazell has a good pedigree having been a successful assistant at Rutgers and Ohio State before leading a rebuild at Kent State. It seems like a good hire in West Lafayette but it could take a few years to get it going.
Notable Purdue Students: Neil Armstrong (astronaut), Orville Redenbacher (popcorn), George Peppard (actor), John Wooden (athlete/coach).
My View: Hazell looks like a good hire for the Boilermakers and strong seasons could be coming. It just won't be this season. One of Hope's downfalls was average, at best, recruiting. So, it will take some time. Senior Rob Henry gets the nod at quarterback after being beat out a year ago. Hope used him at receiver some in '12. Their top defensive player, tackle Kawann Short, is gone but standout corner Ricardo Allen returns. He'll lead a defense that this team will need to lean on. The offense returns only five starters.
IOWA 16, Purdue 13
Date, Time, TV: Saturday, Nov. 23, TBD, TBD
Series, Last Meeting: Michigan leads 41-14-4 after last season's 42-17 win in Ann Arbor.
Overview: Michigan's 8-5 '12 did not sit well in Wolverine Nation. It usually doesn't as the fans expect them to compete for national titles annually. They haven't enjoyed one since '97 and patience is wearing thing. Brady Hoke continues his conversion to a traditional Michigan system after the disaster with Rich Rodriguez. Recruiting has been stellar since Hoke arrived and it could start to pay dividends this fall. The Wolverines check in at No. 17 in both major polls but the talent is there to push them into the Top 5 by season's end. They need to avoid the turnover bug that crippled them a year ago.
My View: Quarterback Devin Gardner absolutely shredded Iowa last season. To make matters worse, he was just getting used to that role after being behind Denard Robinson. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint is a stud when healthy and the line should be stellar. Receiver Jeremy Gallon is as good as it gets in the Big Ten as is tight end Devin Funchess. The defense is a work in progress and will rely on some young players, but the potential is there. Michigan will score points in Kinnick and it will be up to the Hawkeyes to keep pace.
Michigan 34, IOWA 17
Date, Time, TV: Saturday, Nov. 29, 11 a.m., ABC
Series, Last Meeting: Nebraska leads 28-12-3 after last season's 13-7 win in Iowa City.
Overview: Nebraska's addition to the Big Ten created noise across the country but it hit home especially hard in Iowa. The schools are natural rivals based on geography and they immediately acted on it by scheduling a season-ending game the Friday after Thanksgiving on national TV. The thing about a rivalry is that it needs to be balanced to be good. This one hasn't been with the Huskers winning the first two meetings in relatively easy fashion, despite what the scores might indicate. Nebraska comes into the season as a favorite to win the Legends Division while the Hawkeyes are being picked to finish near the bottom. That won't help to build up anticipation for the Heroes Game. The Huskers embark on the season ranked No. 18 in both polls.
Notable Nebraska Students: Johnny Carson (TV host), Warren Buffett (business), Terry Hustead (Wall Drug).
My View: The first two games in this Heroes series provide a great example of the scoreboard not telling the whole story. Nebraska handled the Hawkeyes pretty easily in both contests despite enjoying only a 10-point average margin of victory. Quarterback Taylor Martinez has saved some of his best football for Iowa, which hasn't done anything to rattle him. The Huskers should be able to protect him behind a strong line. The defense isn't as good as it was during the glory years but the pieces are there to bounce back from an inconsistent '12. Big Red does have a road game at Penn State six days before playing host to Iowa. Hey, sometimes you have to dig for the silver lining.
Nebraska 24, IOWA 10
So, there you have it. I see the Hawkeyes at 6-6 and back in a bowl. While not ideal, It would be a step in the right direction for a program that saw a reduction in wins in each of the last three seasons.