If you’re a Hawkeye fan, you clearly know the stakes by now: win on Black Friday and win the Big Ten West. Take care of business in a game where the DraftKings Sportsbook has Iowa favored by 10.5 points and the Hawkeyes are headed to Indianapolis for a second straight time.
It’s a wild turnaround from where this team was a month ago. Nearly as wild has been the turn in fan sentiment over that span. A month ago, the general consensus among Hawkeye fans was that this Iowa team was poised to finish the year under .500 for the first time since 2014.
Coincidentally, that was the last time the Nebraska Cornhuskers defeated the Hawkeyes. Now, those same Cornhuskers, with a 3-8 record and on their second head coach of the season and fourth since that last win over Iowa, are headed to Iowa City as the only thing between the Hawkeyes and a division title.
Iowa fans are feeling good about their chances headed into Friday, despite those feelings of despair a few short weeks ago. Of respondents to this week’s SB Nation Reacts poll, 93% expect Iowa to defeat the Huskers on Friday.
That’s an increase from the 86% of fans who predicted Iowa would beat Nebraska when asked before the season began.
Some uptick is perhaps to be expected given the large spread for this matchup and the different directions the two teams are headed at this point in the year. Nebraska was expected to be in the 8-win area at the outset of the season, similar to where Vegas had projected the Hawkeyes. Now at 3-8 and 7-4 respectively, the math is a bit different.
Still, it is somewhat surprising fans are so confident even with the strong month of November. Despite the recent success, the vast majority of Iowa fans polled this week say they’re still not happy with this season.
This despite Iowa being largely expected to win more games than Vegas predicted (7.5) and right in line with preseason fan expectations (roughly half the fan base predicted Iowa to finish 8-4). More importantly, Iowa fans did not expect the Hawkeyes to win the West when asked in the preseason. Now with just one regular season game left, nearly all Hawekeye fans are saying they do expect to finish atop the division.
Notably, Iowa enters the week with only one truly bad loss on their resume. Nobody in the college football world was surprised the Hawkeyes fell to #3 Michigan or on the road at #2 Ohio State. Even the loss to Illinois is nothing to be terribly frustrated by given how well the Illini played this season, jumping into the top-20 down the stretch.
But we’ve been trained to expect wins over our neighbors to the east over the last eight years. Similarly, we’ve grown accustomed to heading to our Thanksgiving gatherings without the dread of listening to our Cyclone family members gloating over a Cy-Hawk win. And given their abysmal season, that loss really does sting.
It’s also the likely culprit for the result of our question on rankings. Just over half the fanbase believes Iowa should be ranked if they win on Friday, while the other half sees those losses to Iowa State and/or Illinois as deal-breakers (well, those and the offense if we’re being honest).
Still, it’s not an unreasonable expectation. At 7-4 currently, there are five teams between Iowa and a ranking. It’s not unthinkable a few of them will go down this weekend and even some of the 3-loss teams hanging around the 20-25 range could fall in the final regular season poll.
Regardless, Hawkeye fans seem to run out of optimism when it comes to a return to Indianapolis. After being blown out a year ago by a Michigan team playing for College Football Playoff seeding, Iowa fans seem to have some PTSD thinking about a visit to Lucas Oil Stadium for a rematch with either Michigan or Ohio State.
The vast majority of those polled said they will NOT be headed to Indianapolis under any circumstances this season.
However, that’s an easier statement to make in theory than if the Hawkeyes indeed win on Friday. Things would get very interesting if it’s the Michigan Wolverines who win The Game on Saturday.
While Michigan beat Iowa in Iowa City already this season, the game was much closer than the matchup in Columbus (albeit without the six Hawkeye turnovers). And that was without any semblance of an offense. Granted, the Hawkeyes are far from a juggernaut now, but it’s hard to argue things haven’t been slightly improved over the last month.
It would all be moot if the Hawkeyes can’t extend their streak over the Huskers to eight straight wins. Iowa and Nebraska are set to kick off at 3pm CT on Black Friday. The game will be televised on BTN.
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