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THE MORNING AFTER — NORTHERN IOWA

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History says that starting 3-0 is a very, very good thing for Iowa.

Northern Iowa v Iowa
Meep meep, coming through.
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

For the second year in a row and the eighth time in Kirk Ferentz’s career at Iowa, the Hawkeyes have started off the season 3-0 following a 38-14 win over Northern Iowa.

The other seasons? 2001, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2015, and 2017. If you add up all the wins from those years, you’ll get 63, an average of exactly nine victories per season. The last four times they’ve done it, Iowa’s gone a combined 40-13.

I don’t know if that means anything at all, but the Hawkeyes did go to a bowl each of those seven years and won five of them. History says that if Iowa wins its first three games, good things will happen.

And perhaps history is repeating itself.

I’m quite likely feeling irrationally (and somewhat uncharacteristically) optimistic about this team right now. I mean, okay, waxing an above-average FCS program doesn’t mean a whole lot.

But all the same... this team is starting to show signs of perhaps being legitimate. Iowa’s defense was once again an unstoppable force and through three quarters, the Hawkeyes allowed the Panthers to run 40 plays for 115 yards.

During that same span, UNI had negative four-yards rushing, which is pretty dang good, no matter who you’re playing. Iowa’s linebackers were again solid and the defensive line did what it needed to do.

This game was over in the second quarter and Northern Iowa never did anything remotely threatening.

Iowa’s allowed 24 points through three games, which is 34 less than they had allowed at this point last year. In all honesty, Iowa’s really given up just 10 with its starters — a field goal against Iowa State and UNI’s early fourth-quarter touchdown.

The Hawkeyes tacked another three sacks on to their season total (now at 12) as well as two more turnovers. So yes, that defense is still good. In fact they were rather annoyed they didn’t hold the shutout.

“We didn’t finish the game we wanted to,” linebacker Nick Niemann said after the game. “Gave up two significantly long drives, I guess, and they scored on both of them. Not too happy about that.”

Salty. Good, it’s exactly what I want to hear them to be saying. This unit might in fact end up one of Iowa’s best-ever defenses under Phil Parker. It’s looking like it, anyways.

Next week, against the Badgers, it will be tested. And tested again. I’m still not convinced the offense has figured out everything it needs to either. Yes, Stanley threw for over 300 yards and Iowa rushed for another 207.

That’s good and exactly what all of us needed to see in order to perhaps have a bit more confidence in this team.

But, as with many years, how Iowa goes will be the direction of its defense and, more often than not, special teams. The latter hasn’t been great this year, which could end up costing the Hawkeyes a game down the road.

It might even be Wisconsin, when an angry Badgers team comes down to Kinnick intent on keeping both its Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff hopes alive. If Iowa would happen to win that game, then that flips — suddenly a path to the conference title game and beyond opens up.

Get past Wisconsin, and suddenly it’s Minnesota, Indiana and Maryland. Then Penn State with an Iowa team that just might have already hit seven wins. The last time an unbeaten Hawkeyes team won in State College... well, I think you know.

The Big Ten West is down this year, I think that’s evident. Already I’ve seen national writers starting to talk shit about it, which is annoying — I get the criticism, but the mantra is annoying. I guess what I’m saying is that the perception is that it’s winnable for Iowa.

But it’s funny. The last time I remember these similar events all happening at the same time was a couple years ago. How To Talk To Your Kids About An Undefeated Iowa just might have been a video that popped into our world that year. Colin Cowherd was talking about IDs.

And, it’s funny. It began much the same way.

A team no one expected much out of, with an offense that was sometimes a little clunky. A defense that was meaner than an angry bull elk. A couple nice wins, along with one very close one to start the season. Then a date with a ranked Wisconsin team, which Iowa won 10-6. It’s the last time the Hawkeyes beat the Badgers.

No, perhaps this means nothing. It may be these minor similarities are non sequitur and that any sort of history will not be repeating itself.

But I think it’s fair to say one thing for certain: Iowa’s going to win some more games this year. Now it’s just a question of how many.

And, perhaps, a question of how far they can go.