Iowa Football: Of Night Games & Nittany Lions

We learned through an ESPN blog entry that Iowa will be playing at least three night games this year; at Penn State and Michigan State and home against Michigan. Penn State will be a top 15 preseason team this year in most magazines. Will they be by year's end? Jon Miller takes a look at these topics.

We learned through an ESPN blog entry that Iowa will be playing at least three night games this year; at Penn State and Michigan State and home against Michigan. Since these are all league games, it most likely means that those games are going to be on the Big Ten Network. I think we can safely say that will be the case for the two teams from Michigan, with Penn State perhaps being a wildcard ABC game. ESPN and ABC have selected a few night games already, but they typically don't go that far out into the future with regards to their regional and national assignments, or the majority of them.

Perhaps ABC/ESPN and the Big Ten Network have an agreement in place that lets the schools know that the game will be at night, but the television assignment has not been handed down yet. As far as the coaches go, just knowing the when matters most. For the fans who won't be in attendance, it's fun to get an early glimpse at what the schedule is going to look like.

As far as Iowa playing night games, I don't get into superstition and what has happened the last several times Iowa has played at night. Typically when you get a Saturday night game, you are either real good or you are playing someone that is real good. Or you are decent and your opponent is real good, or vice versa. The new Big Ten Network has changed that a bit, so the former statement is more aimed at when games are on ABC Saturday nights.

Iowa had success at Minnesota last year, which was a night game. They fell at home to Ohio State in 2006 and on the road at Arizona State in 2004, which were night games. The Orange Bowl was a night game, the 2002 Iowa-ISU game began in the gloaming, but so did the 2003 Arizona State game in Kinnick.

The thought of Michigan in Kinnick Stadium under the lights is very exciting, even if Michigan won't be Michigan this year, or at least I don't think they will. Kinnick should be awash in gold the way that it was back on September 30th, 2006 against the Buckeyes, although there probably won't be as much ‘juice' in the stadium, as the Buckeyes were ranked #1 in the nation for that game.

Then again, if the Hawks start out strong and could knock off Penn State on the road, the Michigan game on October 10th could have Iowa in the national spotlight for its own performance.

Beating Penn State on the road in a night game, one that will probably be a ‘white out', will be a daunting task. When I have asked former Hawks about the toughest places to play in the Big Ten, the Horseshoe in Columbus always comes up first, but that is followed by a trip to Happy Valley. It just gets real, real loud in there, with over 100,000 fans packed into the stands. Iowa won there in 2002, 2004 and 2006 before losing in 2008.

I have been saying and writing this for months now, and I feel strongly about it still today; I believe that Penn State will be among the most overrated teams in the nation once next football season comes to a close. They happen to have a very favorable non-conference schedule and they get Iowa and Ohio State at home and they don't have to play Wisconsin. Iowa is their first true test of the year on 9/26, but this is a team that, according to the Big Ten's Spring Prospectus, returns just five starters on offense and four on defense. I would add a fifth starter on defense with an asterisk, as Sean Lee should be back in the stating lineup after tearing his ACL last year. Still, you are looking at just ten returning starters combined for both sides of the ball.

They lose their top three pass catchers who combined for over 130 receptions, with each of them getting at least 41. Evan Royster, their running back, is the leading returning pass catcher this year. That is good news because its means he is back carrying the ball in the backfield, as is Stephon Green, and QB Darryl Clark returns as well. But their three first team All Big Ten offensive linemen are gone, as are both defensive ends and all four members of the secondary. Placekicker Kevin Kelly, who was 20 of 24 last year, is also done.

That's a ton of talent for a program whose recruiting rankings have always been overinflated, in my opinion. That's not to say that they don't have talent, but they are just four years removed from a five year span where they had just 25 wins. They have racked up 40 wins the past four years, however, but most of that talent, if not all of it, is gone.

Iowa has a shot to win at Penn State, and I am not talking about a lottery here. Being that it will be under the lights and in a raucous environment, as Penn State will be 3-0 and ranked inside the Top Ten gets my heart pumping on this rainy day in April. But the Hawks have a good shot of being 3-0 at this point in the season, too, and that should be good enough for a Top 20 or maybe Top 15 ranking.

Hey, we are only 145 days away from the start of football season. There's never a bad time to look ahead.

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