Hawkeye Insider's Two for Tuesday returns this week with a look at the two toughest games of the 2016 football regular season. A year ago, the Hawkeyes dodged Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan making the toughest games road contests at Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Nebraska.
And the rest is history. Iowa traveled to Evanston, Madison and Lincoln and came away victorious. They clocked Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats despite injuries, used a goal line stand to escape Madison with a win and rode their defense to top the Huskers in the final game of the year.
What are the challenges this year? Two opponents they didn't have to meet in 2015.
MICHIGAN AT IOWA
Not only do the Wolverines return the schedule but they bring a very talented roster and most of last year's squad that lead to the resurgence of the program under new head coach Jim Harbaugh. They'll be breaking in a new quarterback but the running backs and wide receivers have experience and talent, along with a revamped offensive line. Their defense should be stingy as well lead by Jabrill Peppers, Jourdan Lewis, Bryan Mone, Dymonte Thomas, Chris Wormley, and Maurice Hurst.
Fair or not, and I think it's fair, Michigan will be the likely favorite to win the Big Ten this upcoming season. They bring back the combination of the most talent and experience in the Big Ten East while Michigan State and Ohio State look to fill their vacancies with young players across the board.
It is safe to say that one of the toughest tickets in the Big Ten season this year will be when the Wolverines travel to Kinnick Stadium to take on the Hawkeyes under the lights. It could also be a preview of the Big Ten Title Game in Indianapolis.
IOWA AT PENN STATE
Now, I'll preface this by saying I do not believe Penn State is one of the two toughest teams on Iowa's schedule in 2016. Northwestern and Nebraska may have something to say about that. The Nittany Lions are still picking up the pieces and trying to put them back together after the program was dismantled by the scandal involving assistant Jerry Sandusky. They've also been searching for continuity as they've had a lot of turnover in coaching staffs as well. Paterno's exit caused massive upheaval, and then Bill O'Brien left after just a couple years to take the head coaching job with the Houston Texans.
It's time for James Franklin to leave his stamp on the program. He did have Christian Hackenberg under center the last couple seasons but it never seemed that he could become comfortable or click with Franklin's offensive style and philosophy. Enter Trace McSorley, as he takes the reins at quarterback in 2016.
So why is Penn State being listed? It is solely for the fact of venue and time of the game. Happy Valley at night is a tough atmosphere to leave with a win regardless of the type of team the Nittany Lions have. Beaver Stadium at night may be the best home field advantage in college football still to this day.
It was a good time for Iowa the last time they made that trip but that was some time ago. They'll attempt to do the same in 2016 but this will be one of the games Penn State has circled on their schedule for the year. Iowa won't be sneaking up on anyone this year. They'll be the targets, just as Ohio State and Michigan usually are and like Michigan State now is.