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Free-For-All-Friday: Iowa vs. Illinois, Hawkeye Football Expectations and Facial Hair in November

It’s almost the weekend and our minds wander to Lovie Smith’s beard, our own beards and Iowa vs. Illinois.

Rutgers v Illinois
Lovie has won No-Shave-November.
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

It’s Friday afternoon and all week, JP and Jerry have been going back and forth on whether Iowa fans should be nervous about Saturday’s matchup with Illinois, how fantastic Lovie Smith’s beard game is and what emotions we should feel about this season in general.

It’s Friday and it’s a free-for-all, baby! Look out weekend, here we come!

Jerry: JP, JP, JP... I’m worried buddy. I’m worried about the ol’ Lovie Smith trap game. I’m worried that the emotional high of taking out Minnesota (something Penn State couldn’t do) and the quick turn around/look ahead at Nebraska leaves the “just keep swimming” Fighting Illini prime to create the most chaos amongst the fanbase we’ve seen to date (and boy has there been some chaos). Now, as Captain Optimism at The Pants, I won’t dare pick Illinois over Iowa, but am I wrong for thinking that this is going to be way trickier than we all imagined? Am I wrong for thinking that this is the toughest game Iowa has left on their schedule? Am I missing something? Do I need to just chill and believe in the power of No. 8 (aka the Kirk Ferentz bonus game)? Will I be able to watch the Ohio State/Penn State game in peace without checking my phone every 2.7 seconds in hopes of a score?


JP: Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, why am I always the one talking people off the ledge? I’m not an overly optimistic guy by nature and if you’ve ever watched an Iowa athletics event with me, you know I’m highly critical of the coaching staff in the micro. And yet, I find myself dumbfounded by the pessimism and lack of objectivity in the macro for Hawkeye fans.

Iowa isn’t losing this game and it’s really pretty simple. The Hawkeyes are a vastly better team than Illinois. The key for the Fighting Illini is they have been incredibly lucky on defense. They lead the nation in turnovers and defensive touchdowns. This despite giving up ~26 points per game and more than 400 yards per game. This isn’t a good defense, it’s one that’s gotten lucky. Do you think that’s something that continues against a team whose identity is predicated on minimizing mistakes and out-executing opponents? I don’t.

The one caveat I would add is Lovie Smith has a beard. Not just a beard, but a great beard. Am I the only one disappointed none of the Iowa staff is participating in no-shave-November? And as an aside, please tell me you are.

Jerry: You mean to tell me that as a general pessimist and coach challenger that Iowa fans as a whole some how take it to a level that makes you an apologist/optimist? If that is the case, why not just venture over to the light and join me? Throw those rose colored glasses on baby and drink the Kool-Aid! You’re doing it the minute you see people take your thoughts to an extreme level anyways. Make it happen, captain.

Anyways, back to Illinois. You said that Iowa is a “vastly better team than Illinois” and I genuinely agree with you on that point. BUT, Wisconsin and Michigan State are “vastly better teams than Illinois” as well, but they have both fallen to them on this 4-game winning streak they are on. As you said, there’s luck in them there waters (or should I say, that there beard) JP and I don’t like it.

Think about how lucky (or, some would argue, timely) Iowa’s defense was during their perfect run to the Big Ten Championship. As the saying goes, sometimes it’s better to be hot/lucky/timely than good. Especially for a defense. Do you know how much swagger those dudes are playing with right now? Give up yards all you want. But capitalizing on the two or three opportunities per game to turn the ball over is the Lovie Smith mantra. This is what he’s always done in the NFL and NOW he has that same type of thing going in the Big Ten.

This will resonate with a good chunk of our readers, but in my eyes, the Illini are built just like his Bears teams were. I know you might not remember those times as you are a Rams fan (What if the Rams are good?!), but take a look back at his tenure as the Bears coach. When they were good and rolling, it wasn’t because of Rex Grosman or Kyle Orton or amazing wideouts that MPOD’ed all over the field. No sir. Rather, they had a sustained running game that would help them flip the field, a once in a lifetime kick returner, and when all of that failed, Charles Tillman would Peanut Punch the Bears to a victory.

”THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE” only happened because Mike Brown and Peanut forced two fumbles and recovered them. Do you know how many fumbles the Illini have forced this year? 17. Do you know how many they have recovered? 16 of them!!!! And that’s saying nothing of their 10 interceptions on the year.


I’m having dejavu over here. I might vomit.

Sure, Illinois might give up tons of yards and measly 26 points per game, but as I’ve pointed out on this beloved website, Iowa doesn’t really like scoring more than 26 points anyways.

Do you understand why I’m freaking out man?

Also, I have a tremendous beard game right now... just went to the barber today to get it all done for the weekend. Lemme know if you want a selfie ;)

JP: YES! A million times yes! I’m not an optimist by nature, but in contrast to the broader fan sentiment, I certainly come across as an eternal optimist and major Ferentz apologist. I wouldn’t say I dislike Ferentz or that I’m anywhere near calling for his head, but I am pretty critical of in-game decisions and recruiting decisions and a whole host of other things.

Where I really differ from the fanbase is how I handle the ups and downs. I’m a realist. When I look at this season, even being out of the Big Ten West race, I see a major success. This is a team that was supposed to win 7-8 games. They are going to win 9 in the regular season. They’re going to be a borderline top-10 season. If that isn’t enough for you as an Iowa fan, who the f do you think you are? What right do you have to demand more than that? We ain’t Bama buddy!

It’s the equivalent of working your job and expecting your typical 3% raise each year with some shabby bonus, then getting double your usual bonus and a 6% raise and all of a sudden you’re upset because you see your buddy’s bonus was bigger than yours. You ain’t your buddy! You don’t even work the same job!

BUT, I’m not joining you in optimist land because I don’t want to be the guy expecting that fat bonus and 6% raise every year only to be disappointed. I’d rather set my expectations based on the individual circumstances and evaluate how good or bad things are each year based on those expectations.

End rant.

On to Illinois. I just don’t see it man. I don’t think this is a blowout, but Iowa isn’t a team that turns the ball over a ton. I don’t care that Illinois is creating them at an absurd rate. Iowa’s attention to detail isn’t allowing the Fighting Illini to create 2, 3, 4 fumbles. This just seems like a game where their luck finally runs out. Their offense isn’t putting up points on Iowa’s defense and if Iowa can bottle up just a little bit of what we saw in the first half last week, this Illinois defense is ripe to give up points. I don’t expect Iowa to top 26, but they shouldn’t need to come close to that.

And yes, I wanna see the beard, baby! Mine is currently being prepped for a trim down to the horseshoe stash for Thanksgiving. I have never been more excited.

Jerry: Here’s the thing about your rant... Who is saying that Iowa was only “supposed to win 7-8 games”? Is there some sort of president of NCAA Football predictions I’m not aware of that tells us all what the ceiling is for each and every team and when they shoot past it, we are expected to eat our vegetables and shut the freak up? Is there finally a sports czar that I’m just blatantly disrespecting by telling everyone that there is no reason Iowa should be behind Wisconsin with their developmental program with Chris Doyle, consistency on the defensive side of the football and NFL pipeline that they developed?

I don’t buy that and I never, ever will. I don’t give two rips what “everyone” thinks about the Iowa Hawkeyes under Kirk Ferentz because half the time they’re only saying Iowa is going to win “7-8 games” because that’s what Iowa does under Kirk Ferentz.

While I understand your reference about the bonus structure, predicting Iowa as a 7-8 win team is the equivalent of punching in and punching out every day. Maybe this is the new East Coaster in me, but you know what? I do deserve the 6% raise and a fat bonus because I’m actually holding myself and this entire organization to a higher standard. Just because Brian is in Marketing and I’m in sales means literally nothing to me. A rising tide lifts all boats and while I’m over here working 60-hours a week and bringing constant energy to this work environment (i.e. optimism that Iowa can be and should be more of a 9-10 win team with expectations of contending in the West going into Week 11 and 12) all of you Brian’s are just ho-humming your way through the work day because the middle of the road is acceptable enough. Why try harder? Why be better? Everything is good enough as it is.


On top of that, I much rather hold myself to the accountability of a big fat bonus check each and every year and if I fall short evaluate why, but I guarantee you this... I’m hitting that somb**** more times than I’m missing it.

End of rant to your rant.

With all of that said, horseshoe mustache is a Thanksgiving Power move that I fully support. Happy Friday buddy.

JP: Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, you’re a gambling man. I know this because you write a gambling column on this here site. So let me ask you, how many games did Vegas set the over/under at to start the year? 7.5? That’s right! See, I knew you knew your stuff! Now, I get it, that doesn’t mean Vegas thought Iowa was going to win 7.5 games this year. What it does mean is they expected half the betting public to place money on each side of 7.5.

WTF am I getting at? I’m getting at the fact that Vegas told us on average, the betting public expected Iowa to win 7.5 games this year. All the betting public. Not just Iowa fans, everyone. It’s no different than the stock market. You might think Google stock is worth $5,000 a share and I’m sure Google employees think it’s worth substantially more in the long term, but the market price is closer to $1,300. Half the market thinks it’s worth less and half more, but the price is $1,300 because that’s the average expectation. Same thing here.

In the most comprehensive way possible, Iowa was expected to win 7-8 games this year. Maybe you expected more, but you’re the optimist. For my part, I had called for 9-3 the whole time. I also thought that might be good enough to win the West. So it’s disappointing to have that virtually impossible before kickoff in the 2nd to last regular season game. But this was one year. This is a team that is going to outperform broad-based expectations and they’re going to finish the season ranked in the top-15. If they get a bowl win, possibly the top-10.


I mean, really, you’re getting a nice 5% raise and complaining you didn’t get 6, while everyone else is taking less than their 3?!? And you honestly think you deserve that 6% every year? I got bad news, buddy, you don’t! Nobody does, even if CFO Nick gets 10% every year, he isn’t entitled to it. This is why people have issues with millennials!

JP the millennial…. Who aspires to be this guy from Office Space

Happy Friday to you, too buddy. Hope you don’t have a case of the Mondays next week.