It’s been a wild ride of a season for Iowa Hawkeye fans. After expecting this group of Hawkeyes to push for a West division title but fall just short, fan sentiment has drifted meaningfully throughout the year. That will happen when your team drops three straight in the month of October and dips below .500 on the season.
At that point, things seemed lost for this season and Iowa fans were more interested in deciding who was to blame (and who should be fired), than actually watching the country’s worst offense. Then came back-to-back wins against Northwestern and Purdue as the Iowa offense seemed to find its footing a bit.
And now the Hawkeyes find themselves in a 4-way tie for second place in the West with a real possibility at achieving all the goals set out for them at the beginning of the season. It would still take some luck, but three straight wins to close out the season, paired with two losses in Illinois’ matchups against Purdue, Michigan and Northwestern and Iowa would be your 8-4 Big Ten West champions.
But such a run would surely come with improvements from the offense and a lot of “I told you so”s from head coach Kirk Ferentz. It would likely not come with meaningful changes to Iowa’s offensive philosophy or staff this offseason. And that’s not what Hawkeye fans want to hear.
In this week’s Reacts poll, we asked if Iowa fans would rather see the Hawkeyes back in Indianapolis for a second straight year or see changes to the staff this offseason. Somewhat surprisingly, 60% of Hawkeye fans would rather see offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz fired this offseason than win a second straight Big Ten West crown.
It’s an interesting quagmire made more interesting by the potential rematches that exist in the title game. Ohio State took Iowa’s lunch money in the horseshoe, but admittedly did so because the Hawkeye offense looked as lost as they have in years with six turnovers. Michigan, meanwhile, was at least competitive in the fourth quarter despite an abysmal day of production through three quarters from the Iowa O. Neither matchup is particularly appealing after the Wolverines obliterated Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game last year.
But a West title is a West title and a second straight for the Hawkeyes would put Iowa in a short list of reigning division champions in the Big Ten while also ensuring former Hawkeye Bret Bielema doesn’t put another feather in his cap early in his tenure at Illinois.
However, Hawkeye fans are expecting just that as 74% of respondents are picking Illinois to win the West.
Interestingly, Hawkeye fans feel best about Iowa’s chances to win the West from among that group of teams sitting behind the Illini with Iowa getting 18% of the vote. That’s quite a bit more than either Wisconsin or Minnesota. The Illini beat all three teams to get to this point, but after stumbling at home to a not great Michigan State team a week ago, the door has been opened.
What’s not clear from the polls is whether Hawkeye fans have more faith in the Illini winning two of their final three or just less faith that anyone else can win the needed games to take the throne. We once again asked fans how many games they expect the Hawkeyes to win on the year and while the number is climbing, more than 70% of respondents expect Iowa to lose at least one more game, meaning the outcomes for Illinois are irrelevant.
Despite the pessimism about the overall outcome the rest of the way, Iowa fans seem relatively optimistic about this week’s matchup. Despite the Badgers winning four of the last five meetings inside Kinnick Stadium, nearly 60% of Iowa fans are calling for an Iowa win on Saturday.
Notably, both Iowa and Wisconsin will have a decent idea of their fate before they kick off at 2:30. The Illini host Purdue at 11am with a win meaning the winner of Iowa-Wisconsin would need Illinois to lose their season finale against Northwestern to keep the door open.
Regardless of the outcome, being in a position for another back door trip to Indianapolis in mid-November is much better than where Iowa fans expected to be a few short weeks ago.