Salvaging something from this trainwreck of a season is the thing this week. We knew going into the season that this was likely a five-win team with a nine-win schedule. That was before losses to 5-4 Iowa State, 4-5 Indiana, and 3-6 Central Michigan made five wins look unreachable. That was before Iowa went under .500 at the once-impenetrable Kinnick Stadium. That was before the blowout loss to Penn State so clearly sent this team off the rails.
Iowa has lost three consecutive games, falling from a 4-2 catbird seat to 4-5 and out of contention, with the most difficult stretch of the schedule to come. Iowa hasn't lost four consecutive games since 2007. The Hawkeyes haven't wrapped a season this poorly since 2006, when they went 2-7 after September 30, a number that could be matched if Iowa loses its last three. With a trip to Michigan and a home game against league-leading Nebraska left after this week's game, that record looks extremely likely. It would mean a seven-game losing streak to end the season, Iowa's first seven-game skid since 1999-2000.
When Iowa imploded in 2006, a near-miss bowl loss against the overwhelmingly favored Texas Longhorns was cause for some optimism. In 2007, there was no bowl, but there was three wins to close the Big Ten season. Even in 2000, there were two late conference wins that springboarded Iowa into its true comeback season.
This week is about salvage, because a loss here could set off a bomb within the program. A loss here, in front of a home crowd agitated with this year's performance -- especially at home -- and the exodus will begin. A loss here sets the stage for a loss at Michigan and an invasion of Nebraska fans the week after. A loss here, and what comes after it, could put everything in question. And if the fans don't come back, if they don't buy tickets for a 2013 season that doesn't look much more promising, we really mean everything.
There's not much more to say about this week, or this season, or this team. There's no internal mutiny like they had in 2006. There's no question of effort like there was in 2010. This team plays hard. It clearly still wants to win, wants to continue through to the end, wants to improbably attain bowl eligibility. But this team isn't good, certainly not good enough to win in the Big Ten without a boatload of help from its opponent.
On paper, Purdue is probably more talented, but they look spent. Whether Iowa's effort stays up, and whether that effort is enough to overcome the talent and coaching deficiencies that are so evident, will determine whether Iowa beats Purdue, whether Iowa can get itself back into bowl contention, whether anything will be salvaged.