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Week 10: at Indiana (4-8, 1-7 B1G)
November 7, TBA, Memorial Stadium
Last meeting: Iowa 45, Indiana 29 (2014)
The final month of the season opens with Iowa likely to still be in contention for a decent bowl, though things get perilous from here. A trip to Indiana looms between key home games, and Kevin Wilson's boys will be looking to finally take that step toward legitimacy for the first time in his tenure in Bloomington. This game probably won't have a four-minute stretch like the late first quarter of 2014, where the score went from 0-0 to 28-7 Iowa in the span of 12 plays from scrimmage, but there's really nothing you can rule out when #ChaosTeam is on the field.
Good News! Tevin Coleman has gone to the NFL, which is welcome news after the 219-yard, three-TD demolition he put on Iowa last season. Also, this game looked much more daunting before August departures for WR J-Shun Harris, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in camp, and S Antonio Allen, the 2014 leading tackler for the Hoosiers who made the ever-so-slight mistake of selling drugs to an undercover police officer. I mean you shouldn't sell drugs to anyone, kids, but especially not a cop. That's probably the best playmakers on offense and defense both gone, and for a team already starved for star power that's a brutal pair of losses.
Bad News! Indiana brings back a healthy Nate Sudfeld, who was injured for the season early in Iowa's victory last year, and Coleman's replacement at tailback is Jordan Howard, who was a First Team All-C-USA in 2013 before Very Bad Things happened to UAB. Howard's a big body and not the burner Coleman was, so Iowa's linebackers shouldn't be as taxed as last year, but with most of Indiana's offensive line back the Hawkeyes' front seven are going to have a daunting task in front of them.
Risk-Reward Ratio: Indiana's a hard team to peg. It can look 90% of great on some weeks and the wheels fall off and burst into flames on others. Certainly one shouldn't read too much into the Hoosiers' 1-7 Big Ten record, as the QB situation imploded 1 1/2 games into the conference season, and Phil Steele is pegging Indiana as the fifth most-improved team in the nation. Iowa might be fighting for that all-important sixth win at this point in the season, and really Indiana might too. So plenty of reward to go around, but don't underestimate what should be the strongest Indiana team Iowa's faced since 2007.
Win Confidence: 40%
Week 11: vs. Minnesota (8-5, 5-3 B1G)
November 14, 7 p.m., Kinnick Stadium
Last meeting: Minnesota 51, Iowa 14 (2014)
So, uh, Minnesota. The team that whooped that ass last year and left more than a couple Iowa fans wondering why we couldn't have a Jerry Kill. Just know that when Kirk Ferentz was in that 3-5 year range and handing out beatings left and right, a whole lot of programs around the Big Ten were wondering why they couldn't have a Kirk Ferentz. Sunrise, sunset.
Good News! Minnesota's vaunted offense loses several starters including a pair of NFL draft picks, and suffice it to say Iowa fans won't be missing David Cobb and Maxx Williams in 2015. The closest thing to an obvious star left on the Gopher roster is KJ Maye This game's under the lights and the Kinnick faithful will be at peak bloodthirst for 2015. The knock on Kirk Ferentz has always been that he doesn't gear up for trophy games as much as his rivals, but it would be sheer insanity if the entire team didn't have this game circled on its calendar the moment the 2015 season ended. It's hard to imagine Minnesota won't get Iowa's best shot.
Bad News! The Gophers are still awfully darned good, especially in the secondary, and the front four are likely to give Iowa's offensive line a 60-minute battle. If Mitch Leidner has developed some consistency in the passing game (a pretty big if with most of his 2014 targets departing) this could be a long night.
Risk-Reward Ratio: Make no mistake: this is a linchpin game for the Iowa season, and Minnesota's not going to be a pleasant guest. If Iowa pulls off the win, a top-three division finish is eminently plausible, and more importantly Floyd gets to come home. A loss here, though, and Iowa's in serious danger of finishing in the lower tier of the B1G West—and that trophy case sure might have another lonely-ish season.
Win Confidence: 35%
Week 12: vs. Purdue (3-9, 1-7 B1G)
November 21, TBA, Kinnick Stadium
Last meeting: Iowa 24, Purdue 10 (2014)
Iowa's home finale come against, quite appropriately, OUR MOST HATED RIVAL. Last season's game was another weird one, with Iowa clearly the better team (the defense basically broke Danny Etling, who went 11-26 for 61 yards and was never asked to throw another pass for Purdue again) but the Hawkeyes didn't take the lead until the last minute of the third quarter. It's weird to be in a Big Ten game that's tied halfway through the third quarter—and on the road with a backup QB in the game, no less—and still not have a single serious worry about losing the game, but there we were last year.
Good News! Purdue is still not very good! The Large Adult Drums return a boatload of starters from a routinely overmatched squad and Darrell Hazell simply hasn't recruited well enough to unseat most of the starters. Iowa might get another dose of Boiler QB controversy as there still isn't a starter named between Austin Appleby and redshirt freshman Danny Blough, and the skill position situation is a similar mess of young players. The defense continues to rebuild
Bad News! Iowa routinely victimized bad lines and quarterbacks last year, and while Purdue's line wasn't productive last season it brings back basically everybody (73 combined career starts)
Risk-Reward Ratio: Distressingly high. If Iowa drops this one it might not win a single game in November, and for some damn reason we don't play for a trophy, so there's nothing to show for a win here except bragging rights in the world's fiercest rivalry.
Please pretend that I didn't leave the template text here for 45 minutes.
Win Confidence: 65%
Week 5: at Nebraska (9-4, 5-3 B1G)
November 27 (Friday), TBA, Memorial Stadium
Last meeting: Nebraska 30, Iowa 27 (2014)
I maintain that Jake Rudock doomed his Iowa career when he refused to throw a post route to a wide-open Kevonte Martin-Manley in the second half of the 2014 Nebraska game, especially when Iowa was trying to hang onto a lead. Everyone in the stadium knew it was there. OK, I should probably get over it by now, but... I am not over it.
Good News! Nebraska is taking form under first-year head coach Mike Riley, and it still remains to be seen exactly what he's going to do given the returning personnel and the sort of offense he used at Oregon State. If things ride on Tommy Armstrong's strong arm, delightful; as ESPN's preview magazine noted, Armstrong was heavily pressured and unproductive in Nebraska's four losses, and Iowa's got the kind of personnel that can make life hell for him. On offense, Nebraska should lean on the one-two punch of Terrell Newby and Imani Cross at running back to significant effect—this should be the best running attack Iowa sees all year, including Wisconsin's.
Bad News! Nebraska's front seven loses the services of Randy Gregory, but it's still one of the most talented Iowa will see all year and the Hawkeye offensive line had really better have its act together by the season finale. De'Mornay Pierson-El should be back to 100% from his foot injury at this point, so not only will he be available to terrorize Iowa's special teams but Nebraska's receiving corps should be more well-rounded and able to function with or without him in the mix.
Risk-Reward Ratio: You'd really hope Iowa's not still trying to pick up its sixth win at this point, but if it is we're talking about a must-win game that's also a not-very-likely-win game, which is a bad, bad place to be. Essentially the more comfort Iowa's record leading up to this game has afforded it in terms of bowl eligibility, the less Iowa has to worry about anything but the game and the trophy. Speaking of, I wish Iowa and Nebraska played for a trophy that was just a blatant, 1:3 sized ripoff of the Stanley Cup, and then since neither school has an NCAA hockey team (I'm not looking that up to confirm but it's gotta be true) both sides claim total ignorance. We'll call it the Definitely Football And Not Anything Else Cup.
God, I'm not looking forward to this game.
Win Confidence: 25%
Four-Game Sweep Confidence: 2.3%
Expected Win Total: 6.45 (3.55 B1G)
12-0 Confidence: [Nope.]%
Up next: Iowa parlays this performance into a Pinstripe Bowl berth, where Drew Ott makes headlines for eating subway rats whole.