Iowa hasn't excited many of the pundits around the country all season despite its 9-1 record. And that hasn't changed this week coming off its upset loss against Northwestern last weekend that dropped it from fourth to 10th in the BCS Standings.
Lou Holtz will make fun of the Hawkeyes and laugh at his own jokes. Kirk Herbstreit will extol the virtues of Oregon and praise his alma mater, Ohio State. Jesse Palmer will be back off the Iowa bandwagon and into the hair gel. Pat Forde? I really have nothing to say about him even in a joking manner.
Despite Iowa being 9-1 to Ohio State's 8-2, the Hawkeyes clearly are David to OSU's Goliath. Script Ohio in the Horseshoe will be a prelude to a script that calls for the Buckeyes to spank the visitors on their way to their fourth Big Ten title in a row, according to most people in the college football world.
The thing is, that was Iowa going into Michigan in 2002, and up against Florida in the ‘04 Outback Bowl, defending national champion LSU in the ‘05 Cap One Bowl, and No.3-ranked Penn State last year, and….Nobody remembers those contests. They recall Iowa needing two blocked kicks to beat UNI and a three-point win against Arkansas State earlier this season instead of road wins at Iowa State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Those are all lucky wins my foot. Iowa is a good football team and this isn't Ohio State's best team in the Jim Tressel Era.
Hawkeye fans should possess at least a modicum of faith here. The pressure is on Ohio State. Let's see how the Buckeyes handle that.
Hang in there with your team, Hawkeye fans, and let's proceed with our Final Take:
Poking the Bear: If you haven't heard, the people at Ohio Stadium provided a little extra motivation for the Hawkeyes during their walk-through here on Friday. The Iowa contingent was greeted by Ohio State's National Championship game victory in 2002 and a single rose at midfield.
If you're on Twitter, you can see the rose on the field here.
Injury Update: As we reported yesterday, Adam Robinson, Colin Sandeman and Brett Greenwood will be making the trip here and will play. We're still not sure to what extent each will be able to contribute.
Those three Hawkeyes have been out since the Michigan State game on Oct. 24, a 15-13 Iowa victory. Robinson suffered a high ankle sprain, Greenwood sustained a stinger and Sandeman was concussed.
Starting quarterback Rick Stanzi will be out for the last two regular season games with a high ankle sprain and will be replaced by redshirt freshman James Vandenberg. Offensive lineman Dace Richardson also is hoping for a return to the postseason after breaking his leg at Michigan State.
Return Game: Word has it that Sandeman will return to his duties as the main punt returner. The true junior is averaging 10.6 yards per return, which would rank third in the Big Ten if he had enough returns to qualify for the leader board.
Sandeman clearly has been Iowa's most effective punt return man this season. Tyler Sash and Derrell Johnson Koulianos lined up at the spot last week and did well. Amari Spievey and Keenan Davis also have tried their luck there without much success. Paul Chaney was averaging 5.1 YPR before suffering a season-ending knee injury Oct. 10 against Michigan.
Iowa still may hold out Brandon Wegher from kick returns. It probably won't want to gamble with Robinson coming back from injury. Look for Johnson-Koulianos and Davis dropping back on kickoffs.
Early Exit?:Rumors and speculation about Hawkeyes leaving for the NFL with eligibility remaining has swirled around all season. It actually began last January, when ESPN Draft Analyst Mel Kiper Jr. pegged left tackle Bryan Bulaga as a Top 10 pick for 2010.
Bulaga suffered through a preseason injury and then a bout with a thyroid issue that cost him a few games. Those setbacks might have spelled a return in ‘10 for his true senior year.
The names of a pair of redshirt juniors have entered the picture as possible early defections as of late. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn and cornerback Amari Spievey, two likely all-Big Ten performers, were expected to look into their options after the season.
I don't think it's clear cut that they're gone, but they will explore their options. I feel a bit more encouraged that Spievey might return. I think Clayborn is more likely to go.
Clayborn has been in college for four years and a move to the NFL could help he and his family. Spievey is in a similar situation.
I'm not sure that either guy will be able to improve his stock that much by coming back next year. Both are pros, in my opinion. Even if the they're not first day picks, which is only the first two rounds nowadays, they'll perform well in postseason workouts and be drafted.
The good news is that they will receive sound advice from Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz and Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris Doyle, who are very well connected to the NFL. I could see the coaches saying that these guys could improve their positions by coming back for another year, but it might not be enough to keep them in Iowa City.
QB Depth: If something were to happen to Vandenberg, I would not be shocked to see Marvin McNutt come in at quarterback. McNutt is a dangerous receiver now that he's settled in after making the switch from signal caller late last season.
I'm hearing that the gap between Vandenberg and John Wienke, the No. 2 man on the depth chart, is cavernous. If you think the drop-off from Stanzi to Vandenberg is big, you probably don't want to see the greenness of Wienke.
The Prediction: You can read our game preview here
You can watch the video preview here
I feel a whole lot better about this game today than I did earlier in the week. The more I think about it, the more I come back to this team finding ways to win this season and never being intimidated by the situation in front of it.
The obvious wildcard in this scenario is Vandenberg, who will make his first college start in one of the most hostile college football environments - Ohio Stadium. But much like the veterans on this team, I don't get the sense that Stanzi's replacement will succeed or fail based on emotions. It will come down to execution.
The hardest thing to picture heading into the contest is how Iowa will score. The Hawkeyes are going against the conference's best defense statistically with the red shirt freshman Vandenberg and true freshman Wegher starting at running back. It will be the greatest challenge either one has faced in his football career.
I like the fact that Robinson will return to help Wegher. Even if A-Rob is only playing a supporting role, he's the type of guy that gives the offense a boost merely with his presence. I also like that Stanzi is making the trip. For all those who have been screaming for a quarterback coach, Vandenberg will have one.
Iowa MUST limit mistakes all phases of the game, and that's something we really haven't see to this point of the season. They don't have to be perfect, but the Hawkeyes have to be close to that.
As I stated, I feel better about Iowa's chances today than I did Monday. And I think the point spread of 17.5 points is way out of whack, I just have trouble seeing everything that needs to come together, coming together for the Black and Gold. I hope I'm dead wrong, but I think this one is going to be a close loss that breaks hearts.
But then again, what do I know?:
Ohio State 19, Iowa 16.