If you, dear reader, are anything like yours truly, you’ve spent the last several days with an extra pep in your step. You’ve woken up with a slight smile on your face. That spilt milk is decidedly not worth crying over. That email from your boss rolled right off your back. The lamp your kid knocked over was one you were looking at getting rid of anyway. You stepped outside and the sun was shining and birds were singing.
That’s because Big Ten football is back. Iowa football is back. We have a start date. We have a schedule. It. Is. Happening. And all life’s little hiccups now seem less painful.
That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of road bumps and risks to the season moving forward. We saw several games postponed or cancelled this weekend due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Arkansas State, fresh off an upset of Kansas State, has their game postponed. Houston managed to have two games cancelled this week. After 16th ranked Memphis had more than 20 people test positive, the Tigers cancelled their matchup with Houston. The Cougars replaces the game with a matchup against Baylor. Then the Bears had an outbreak and were forced to postpone the game. Memphis has since cancelled their game for next week as well.
Florida State will be practicing this week with their head coach, Mike Norvell, coaching remotely. He tested positive this week. And the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, who walloped Iowa State in Ames week one to jump into the top-20, were able to play this week but needed overtime to defeat Georgia State after losing 9 players to the virus.
In an emailed statement, FSU head football coach Mike Norvell discloses he has tested positive for COVID in the most recent round of testing. Plans to be involved remotely as much as possible. Deputy head coach Chris Thomsen will handle in person coaching. pic.twitter.com/7mzbAIwFxz— Warchant.com (@Warchant) September 19, 2020
Put simply, this season is going to continue to be impacted by COVID-19, even after we get the return of Big Ten football.
BUT, we are getting a return of Big Ten and Iowa football and damnit that’s exciting news. There won’t be fans in the stands and there wont be tailgating, things will not be the same. But there will be Hawkeye football. It will give us something other than COVID-19 to talk about. It will give us something to preview, break down and look forward to. And based on what we saw Saturday, we have a lot of great Hawkeye football ahead of us.
Iowa’s schedule shapes up quite favorably. While it largely follows the original conference schedule for the season, it comes with some notable changes which are almost all positives. For starters, the one crossover game which fell off was a trip to preseason top-5 Ohio State. That seems good. Then, there’s the realignment of games which moves a Friday night trip to Minnesota from the week after Iowa State to the week after a home matchup with Michigan State. Oh, and it’s not on a short week anymore.
Less related to win/loss favorability, the delayed start provided another interesting twist for Iowa fans. After dropping the Black Friday matchup with Nebraska in favor of a final week showdown with Wisconsin this year, the Hawkeyes will get the best of both worlds. Iowa hosts Nebraska the week of Thanksgiving in what is likely to be a Black Friday game. But because the season starts later, that will actually be week six with the Hawkeyes hosting Wisconsin in the final game of the season.
After joking last week that the Big Ten would find a way to blast Iowa and favor Wisconsin in the revised schedule, the conference got out of its own way by largely reverting back to the original schedule for the season. That’s a relief for Iowa fans, but it does mean that Wisconsin’s schedule remains relatively soft with crossovers at Michigan and home against Indiana. It also means Nebraska still got shellacked and the timing of games adds insult to injury. It’s doubtful many Hawkeye fans will feel any semblance of sympathy for Husker fans who have claimed conspiracy.
Instead, Hawkeye fans should be feeling excitement and anticipation. Not only is Big Ten and Iowa football definitively back, but the Hawkeyes are in a position to have yet another strong season. Iowa is top-10 among Power 5 programs in terms of wins over the last 5 years and while 2020 won’t be a season to pad those stats with wins over an FCS or MAC opponent, the schedule and this team look like a recipe for a successful season.
Most Wins, last 5 years:— Pick Six Previews (@PickSixPreviews) December 12, 2019
61- Ohio State
53- App State
52- Boise State
48- Penn State
48- San Diego State
46- Notre Dame
45- Oklahoma State
Iowa is going to be breaking in a new quarterback for the first time since 2017, but he’ll be working with arguably the most talented group of skill position players Iowa has seen in a decade. He’ll have an opportunity to get his sea legs under him against a Purdue team in week one that could be undergoing to major changes and is much better known for its offensive than defensive prowess.
Speaking of defense, the Hawkeyes should again boast a solid one. They’ll be without an elite edge rusher like A.J. Epenesa or their rock in the back end with Geno Stone in the NFL (yes, pun FULLY intended), but they have solid returners in all position groups with some promising young talent waiting to step in. They’ll have their work cut out for them in week one, particularly if Purdue can get Rondale Moor back after originally opting out of the year.
At the end of the day, despite the headwinds to a season that still exist, it’s great as an Iowa football fan to simply be able to talk about a season again. There are question marks and concerns, but there is hope and opportunity as well. And barring more setbacks, we’ll be able to explore those angles for the next four weeks before we get into real, live Hawkeye football again.