By Pat Lynch
This season, the Iowa football team has a good chance to get the double-digit wins. As of today, ESPN.com has Iowa being the favorite to win 10 out of 12 games. The Hawkeyes have the third-highest Football Power Index compared with all 12 of opponents (the index measures a team’s true strength on net points scale, expected point margin vs. average opponent on neutral field).
The Big Ten West isn’t that strong this year, so the Hawkeyes, who return a solid chunk of their production from 2017, should have a shot at surpassing their eight victories last season.
The two toughest opponents on the schedule are Wisconsin at Kinnick and Penn State on the road. The Big Ten season-opener is Week 4, and that’s when the Hawkeyes host the Badgers.
The Badgers, coming off a Cotton Bowl victory last season, are a top-10 team to begin the season, and they will be a potential playoff team if they stay at the top. This game is huge for Iowa, because if it wins the nonconference games, then beats Wisconsin, it will provide momentum to win the Big Ten West.
Oct. 27 is another date to mark on the calendar, because the Hawkeyes will travel to Penn State to take on a team that they lost to on a nail-biter at the end of regulation last season. Iowa came so close to beating Heisman Trophy finalist Saquan Barkley last season. Just as with Wisconsin, the Nittany Lions should be a ranked team in the preseason, one competing for a playoff spot.
You can assume the Hawkeyes will use that as motivation to propel a road victory to help make their wins appealing to playoff committee members. As much as how easy this sounds, some people believe this could be the year to make it back to the Big Ten Championship, much like the 2015 season.
In 2015, the Hawkeyes went undefeated until the Big Ten title game, eventually losing to Michigan State. The journey the team took is similar to this season’s schedule, because tthe Hawkeyes will most likely play only two top-25 ranked teams, just as in 2015.
Iowa usually has one of the easier nonconference schedules, so expect it to win those early games. During the middle of the season, the Hawkeyes will take on Indiana, Purdue, Maryland, and Northwestern, which could end up playing in or out of their favor, but solidifying wins versus those conference teams will give them a boost to finish the season strong for a postseason run.