A week can make a world of difference. Three weeks can flip a season on its head. At many programs, that flipping of fates has meant seasons lost and hopes crushed. In Iowa City, it’s meant new life and a resurgence for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Three weeks ago, Iowa was tied for Northwestern for last place in the Big Ten West. They were below .500 on the season and our poll question was asking about who to fire and which quarterback should be in the starting lineup as we all moved on to next season.
But the Hawkeyes throttled the Wildcats. A week later they did the same to the Purdue Boilermakers. And just when we thought the other shoe would drop, the Hawkeyes defeated the Wisconsin Badgers in Kinnick last week to bring home the Heartland Trophy.
Now, three weeks later, Iowa is in first place in the West and two wins away from winning the division. Granted, they need the Illini to lose to Michigan (or Northwestern next week), but that seems to be a formality at this point given the 18-point spread.
But questions remain about this team. The defense continues to be stellar, but the offense once again struggled against the Badgers a week ago. Despite looking competent in back-to-back weeks against Northwestern and Purdue, Iowa became the first team in more than two decades to record fewer than 150 total yards of offense and win a game.
In all four of Iowa’s matchups this season against top-10 defenses nationally, the Hawkeyes have come up short. They’ve scored a total of 37 points in those four games (just over 9 points per game). On Saturday, they will face their fifth top-10 defense of the season when they travel to Minneapolis. The forecast is for temperatures in the mid-teens with wind gusts taking the wind chill to near zero.
Can Iowa really bring home the bacon from the frigid north and finally overcome their offensive woes against a top defense? According to Hawkeye fans, yes. A full 72% of Iowa fans polled expect the Hawkeyes to beat the Gophers on Saturday.
That’s down slightly from the 80% of fans who predicted Iowa would beat Minnesota when asked before the season began, but given how things have trended this year it’s certainly higher than if the question was asked a few weeks ago.
Another thing that is trending in a positive direction is Iowa fans’ thoughts around the season win total. At the outset of the year, Hawkeye fans polled expected roughly 8.5 wins from Iowa on average. Throughout the season, that number has slumped and dipped to a point where well more than half of fans expected Iowa to finish with a losing record.
That trend has reversed thanks to the current winning streak. Now, a week after just 29% of fans expected Iowa to finish the year with 8 wins, 71% of fans polled this week think the Hawkeyes will win out. Interestingly, 97% expect Iowa to win at least one of their two remaining games.
That newfound optimism for Iowa on the field, combined with Purdue’s win over Illinois a week ago and the Illini’s difficult matchup in Ann Arbor on Saturday are driving a complete reversal in the polls on who will win the West.
A week ago, 74% of fans expected Illinois to emerge at the top and represent the division in Indianapolis. After their loss to the Boilermarkers, that number has dipped to just 5%. That’s because Illinois now needs Iowa and Purdue to drop games down the stretch if they happen to lose to Michigan on Saturday.
In line with the 72% of fans calling for an Iowa win in Minneapolis and 71% expecting the Hawkeyes to win out, 70% of fans now think Iowa will win the West. That’s up from just 18% a week ago.
The remaining 25% is split between Purdue (17%), meaning fans think Iowa will lose to Minnesota or Nebraska, Purdue will beat both Northwestern and Indiana and Minnesota will lose to either Iowa or Wisconsin. The 8% picking the Gophers to win the West have Iowa dropping a game (or more), Minnesota running the table and Purdue falling to the Wildcats or Hoosiers.
There are several scenarios still in play in the wild, wild, West. We’ll begin to gain clarity as Saturday wears on. Illinois and Michigan kick off at 11am CT on ABC. Purdue and Northwestern also kick at 11 and can be found on FS1. So Hawkeye and Gopher fans will both know if their path to a division title is open for the taking by the time the kick off at 3pm CT. That game, of course, will be broadcast on FOX.