Everyone always says you can't look ahead. Everyone says not to get ahead of ourselves. Well, we're not on the field. We don't play the games so we can always consider the hypotheticals and glance into the future. When doing that for the Iowa Hawkeyes this year, a lot boils down to what happens in Evanston, Illinois next Saturday when Kirk Ferentz and company take on the Wildcats of Northwestern at Ryan Field.
The Big Ten implications for this game are enormous. It's not only the third head-to-head meeting for Iowa with a fellow Big Ten West program but a win gives them an enormous inside track at the title.
Northwestern was thumped on Saturday by Michigan to a tune of 38-0 after beginning the season 5-0. What does that mean? If the Hawkeyes are able to knock off the Wildcats in Evanston and enter the bye week at 7-0, they would have to lose three of their final five games to be passed up by the Wildcats in the standings because of the head-to-head tiebreaker they hold. The Wildcats also still have to play Nebraska and Wisconsin on the road, and host Penn State.
Iowa has already defeated Wisconsin. It is the lone loss in the Big Ten for the Badgers, but if the Hawkeyes were to win next Saturday, they'd have to go no better than 3-2 to finish and Paul Chryst and company would have to win out while doing so in order for Wisconsin to catapult Iowa in the Big Ten West. However, like Iowa, Wisconsin's remaining schedule is extremely favorable. The only obvious challenge remaining is a home tilt against Northwestern on November 21.
Then, there's always Nebraska. They've lost each of their first two Big Ten contests to Illinois and Wisconsin. They'd have to win out and Iowa go 2-3 in the final five games if the Hawkeyes were able to win this upcoming Saturday.
Purdue is Purdue. That isn't a program to keep on the radar. Iowa holds the same edge on Illinois as they do Wisconsin.
Should Iowa drive forward to 7-0 after this upcoming Saturday, the only team in the Big Ten West that they wouldn't hold at least a virtual two-game lead over would be Minnesota. And suffice it to say, the Gophers aren't impressing anyone at this juncture. Despite yesterday's decisive win over the Boilermakers in West Lafayette, they were destroyed by Northwestern on the road and narrowly won against Ohio and Kent State at home. Minnesota also still has a tough schedule remaining. They host Nebraska, Michigan, and Wisconsin and have to travel to Ohio State in addition to Iowa. There's multiple losses in there.
What do the Hawkeyes have left after Northwestern? Three home games against Purdue, Maryland, and Minnesota. I'm not saying they're going to walk through that trio of contests like it's a cakewalk, but come on, the chances are very favorable they advance through those three unscathed. The two road games in Bloomington and Lincoln against the Indiana Hoosiers and Nebraska Cornhuskers respectively offer more of a challenge and those aren't matchups anyone can comfortably assume a win for the Hawkeyes.
So, think about it. A win on the road Saturday against Northwestern, and winning out at home against Purdue, Maryland, and Minnesota would give the Hawkeyes the Big Ten West crown. That's the bare minimum. It will likely take less. That's why the win in Madison was so important. That's why the game in Evanston on Saturday is as important, if not more.
We all know college football is unpredictable week to week. It doesn't take a genius to know that. Just look at the carnage in the Top 25 each week. But it also doesn't take a genius to know how good of position Iowa is in. Other teams know it, too. The Hawkeyes will get everyone's best shot the further they can ride all this momentum.
And another plus, Iowa gets a bye week after the Northwestern contest to heal up and recover to make their last final run. Saturday in Evanston is HUGE.