You know how sometimes people say, "If you'd told me at the beginning of the [game, season, career] that [preferred athlete or team] would [hypothetical standard of performance], I'd have taken it in a heartbeat"? And how that notion --that somebody would come up to you and tell you how some aspect of sport is going to proceed in oddly specific detail before it happens and then you wouldn't punch them in the face for pretending to know the future -- wouldn't make a lick of sense in real life, but it's presented as a hypothetical all the time anyway? Well, friends, I'm here to be that man, and to tell you how Iowa's 2011 is going to go.
First things first: my All-Big Ten team here. I've got Marvin McNutt, Riley Reiff, and Shaun Prater on the list, and a host of other Hawkeyes in the "Also Watch For" column. My impression is that this is going to be a pretty high-scoring year of football in the conference, with the sheer number of talented players at QB and RB and a relative dearth of similar superstars on the defensive side of the ball. Then again, defensive success comes more from unit cohesion and discipline than, say, having an All-American at one key spot (see: Michigan 2009, Brandon Graham).
Now let's get to the predicted final standings, listed here. Yes, that's jNWU ahead of Iowa (sort of). Because I think those dirty awful scoundrels are going to beat Iowa again. I don't like it any more than you do.
Now, here's the thing. Logically, Iowa will be at least slightly favored to beat the Wildcats, or at least would be right now absent the data of each team's first five games. If Iowa is 2-3 and Northwestern is 5-0 and busting fools by 40 points a game, yes, Northwestern would be favored. I don't think that's going to happen, of course, but just sayin'. But anyway, Dan Persa's still under center for Northwestern, any rust he has is probably going to be pretty well gone by the sixth game of the year. Also some weird things are going to happen, because they always happen to Iowa when Northwestern's playing them. I'm not going to predict which of the Wildcats are going to "accidentally" injure somebody, but I am buying stock in whoever makes air casts... and short-selling Vandenberg's knee and ankle ligaments. It's gonna happen. We need to just deal with it.
Also, that's not the extent of the bad news, because I'm also predicting an Iowa loss at PSU. Now, this would seem to be logically inconsistent, since Northwestern:Iowa::Iowa:Penn State. Correct. It is logically inconsistent. But football is crazypants all the time. It was also logically inconsistent that Iowa lost to stupid Minnesota last year, but here we are. Anyway, Happy Valley is a pretty wretched place to play for visiting teams, and while Iowa won there in 2009, it got pretty well handled in 2007, and I think this iteration of the Hawkeyes is closer to 2007's level of strength than 2009's. Penn State's defense, if it's healthy, is going to put the clamps down on Iowa pretty regularly, and I don't trust the front seven's ability to keep Silas Redd and Stephfon Green down with that same regularity.
So that's a two-game losing streak to start Big Ten play, and that's no fun for anybody. Bench Vandenberg? Fire O'Keefe? Change back to the Crackhawk logo? No no, let's not lose our heads, because I've got Iowa winning the next five games. The two road games are Minnesota and OUR MOST HATED RIVAL, both teams that are clearly below Iowa in terms of talent this year. Indiana and Michigan are going to be tests for the defense, but they're playing at Kinnick and James Vandenberg and Marcus Coker ought to have big days. Iowa over MSU? Yep. A little Kinnick magic, some inspired rush defense and game scheming, and the benefit of facing an opponent that had conference title aspirations coming into the season, but had already eaten a couple conference losses. See Iowa-Minnesota 2010.
That leaves THE HEROES GAME, where Iowa and Nebraska remind us who the real heroes are (cops and soldiers and mothers is my guess), and I am terrified of Jared Crick and how comically unable Iowa linemen will be to get to the next level. Lots of 1-yard rushes for Mr. Coker await here, and if that sounds like a slight to Coker then you can call them 0-yard rushes or 1-yard losses for Adam Robinson if he were still around instead. Fact is, I'm okay with James Vandenberg, because any time you lose a quarterback and his backup takes the job and keeps it without any hint of a quarterback controversy, there's a good reason (especially if your coach is not a crazy person like Tim Brewster or Charles Manson). He's the man, he's getting all the practice reps with the first team, and he's giving Iowa the best chance to win. I also really like Coker, for obvious reasons, and the receiver situation looks fine enough, even without DJK around anymore. But that line has only two starters that I'm really high on -- Riley Reiff and Nolan MacMillan -- and the rest are guys that are probably going to struggle against elite competition at times, and Nebraska's going to bring a healthy dose of elite competition. So will Penn State, in all likelihood. This worries me.
I have no interest in predicting a bowl or opponent because that is a weird process even in December. If it's really Kansas State in the Meineke Car Care Bowl like Phil Steele thinks, though, I will predict that nobody will care about the game. Bowls that involve at least one fifth-choice team or give an invite to a non-BCS, non-Mountain West conference should not count for full wins and losses like regular season games. So if it comes to that, I predict that Iowa is going 9-3-1 (wins, losses, dumb bowl games). Sounds good, but honestly, this is an easy schedule. Put this set of teams up against the '08, '09, or even '10 squads, and we're probably looking at double-digit wins.
Week 1, Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles: Win even if Iowa plays the first half with just nine guys on the field.
Week 2, @ Iowa St. Cyclones: Win because Seneca Wallace is gone and never coming back thank god.
Week 3, Pittsburgh Panthers: Win but I am very happy this game is not in November because Todd Graham frightens me.
Week 4, ULM Warhawks: Win because James Monroe has been dead for years.
Week 5, Bye. Nobody wins when it's an October afternoon and Iowa is just sitting around and not playing football.
Week 6, @ Penn St. Nittany Lions: Loss in a stadium that is very very loud against a defense that is very very eager to not let Iowa do the point-scoring this time.
Week 7, Northwestern Wildcats: Loss and if Patrick Fitzgerald somehow ends up chop blocking Kirk Ferentz don't you dare act shocked.
Week 8, Indiana Hoosiers: Win because Indiana does not have a decent quarterback on the roster yet, but the 2012 game will not be a gimme by any stretch.
Week 9, @ Minnesota Golden Gophers: Win. That is our damn pig and I am assuming Iowa won't be in full pack-it-in mode this time around.
Week 10, Michigan Wolverines: Win because Denard Robinson trying to make accurate throws is still comedy.
Week 11, Michigan St. Spartans: Win because I know what I saw last year and what I saw was Norm Parker with a pretty decent idea how to beat that offense.
Week 12, @ Purdue Boilermakers: Win and Iowa will take Round 1 of the We Seriously Drove All The Way Across Illinois For This Rivalry.
Week 13, @ Nebraska Cornhuskers: Lose and holy god are their fans going to remind us about said loss. We will let all the heroes down. :-\
Bowl game: Please do not let this be a dumb bowl.
This is what I'm telling you before the season. Nine wins. Maybe eight. More likely to be eight than 10. But I say it shall be nine. What say you all?