Iowa has already exceeded many expectations this year by firing out of the gate with a 4-0 record. For many, the Illinois State game was a toss up due to the mystery around Iowa and the Redbirds' success at the FCS level. It was believable to think the Hawkeyes were better than Iowa State, but the Cyclones had won three of the previous four contests between the two programs. Multiple experts, even some local, thought Pittsburgh would defeat Iowa. The only unanimous predicted win out of the first four games was against North Texas in Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes not only beat North Texas, but came out with victories over Illinois State, Iowa State, and Pittsburgh, much to the surprise of most pundits.
But what do the four games tell us? It's difficult to know. Despite not being the overriding favorite in three of the first four games, none of the opponents were ranked. Iowa State has since lost to Toledo. Pittsburgh is under the direction of a new head coach and struggled to defeat Youngstown State and Akron. Illinois State has responded to the Iowa loss with two wins but they were against Morgan State and Eastern Illinois.
The first stiff challenge of the season comes on Saturday. Iowa takes on Wisconsin, a team that has been the powerhouse of the Big Ten West the last few years. It's also a test because the game will be in Madison. Camp Randall Stadium is one of the best venues in all of college football and one of the toughest places to walk away with a win as the visitor.
"Nobody on the team has played in Madison before so taht will be a challenge as well," offensive lineman Jordan Walsh said. "It is weird but it's definitely a new challenge for us. I think everyone is excited for this game."
One of the blueprints to Iowa's success early on in the season is their play in the trenches. Both the offensive and defensive lines have won the battles in each of the four games, and that must continue for them in order to reach the goals they have set for themselves. Wisconsin operates the same way. The battle of wills will let us know just how true of a contender the Hawkeyes are and it will be a sure-fire indicator of just how good their lines are.
"Absolutely (they're the same style of team we are)," Walsh shared. "Their offense is a downhill running style, they always have historically good running backs, good tight ends, good receivers, and a very good offensive line."
"I bet it's one of the most physical games we play," linebacker Josey Jewell stated. "They just run 'power O' so we have to be ready."
"We've talked about it all week," gameday captain Austin Blythe revealed. "It's going to be a physical game. Guys will be banged up at the end of it. (I think) it's the most physical game, usually. Every game in the Big Ten is physical."
"Yeah, they're always physical," explained senior running back Jordan Canzeri. "Every single Big Ten game we play is physical. We expect it every week and that's why we practice the same way every week."
This game will be a test. It will let the world just how good Iowa may be this year. The result of this game will either wake people up nationwide about the play of the Hawkeyes or it will re-enforce the opinions of the last few years that they're not championship caliber.
That is not lost on Iowa. They know the importance. It's a trophy game. There's hardware on the line, a run at a Big Ten West title on the line, but also pride.
"It means a lot," Josey Jewell commented about Saturday's contest. "This game is going to be big. It's the first one in Big Ten play."
"Our focus and tempo needs to ramp up a little bit becasue we're playing for something very important," Austin Blythe remarked. "We're playing for that Big Ten championship. We want to represent the University of Iowa in the championship."
"I think (it's a different mentality)," quarterback C.J. Beathard pointed out. "It's the first Big Ten game of the season. We want to win the Big Ten championship. That's one of our goals."