After an early-season upset by Arizona in the desert, the No. 15 Iowa Hawkeyes have been focused on securing the Big Ten title outright for the first time since 1985—a seemingly realistic and possible goal that could land them a berth in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.
This year, the Hawkeyes have one of the best schedules they have had in quite some time, with three of their remaining six games to be played at the friendly confines of Kinnick Stadium against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State.
All are key matchups that will determine Iowa's fate and the Big Ten title picture.
This Saturday, Iowa's beloved cardiac kids are set to face a tough Wisconsin team that is fresh off an upset win over No. 1 Ohio State last Saturday night. Leading up to the 2010 season, Wisconsin was praised as a championship dark horse and has lived up to the hype by winning all of its games except Michigan State—which is currently holding down the top spot in the Big Ten standings.
One would think that coming off a huge win against arguably the top team in the conference, the Badgers would have everything in place to secure another upset over Iowa and their stingy defense, but coming to Kinnick is another battle all in itself. Regardless, Saturday afternoon's game will be tough, and whoever claims the victory will have earned it.
The Hawkeyes won't have much time to dwell on the outcome of their game against Wisconsin, as a tough Michigan State squad will travel to Iowa City to face the Hawkeyes the following Saturday.
The Spartans are undefeated on the season and have beaten Big Ten foes Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois, as well as the stunning overtime victory over Notre Dame that landed their head coach in the hospital after suffering a heart attack. The Spartans have emerged as the top dog in the conference and will give the Hawkeyes a handful with their strong offensive attack.
Rewind to last season, where during a back and forth prime time game against the Spartans, the Hawkeyes required a last minute pass for a touchdown to receiver Marvin McNutt to take the win and keep their undefeated season alive. More of the same is expected for this season's matchup to say the least.
After two weeks at home, the Hawkeyes will hit the road for two weeks and face Indiana and Northwestern, allowing Iowa to have a bit of a breather before heading back home to face Ohio State—the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten title for the second year in a row.
Similar to last year, the Hawkeyes will face Ohio State for their second-to-last game of the season and Iowa's final challenge of the season. Luckily enough, Ohio State already has a loss to its credit, which places the Buckeyes behind the Hawkeyes and gives Iowa a little breathing room if necessary.
After taking a peek at Iowa's remaining games, one might cringe seeing what lies ahead, but knowing that their toughest games will be played at home may give the Hawkeyes the little extra they need to secure these key wins and continue to contend for the Big Ten title.
Kinnick Stadium is known for its loud environment where its student section can be heard loud and clear every home game, throwing off its opponent and proving to be a true weapon for their beloved Hawkeyes.
To make matters worse, Iowa's defense has only allowed a total of 17 points to be scored while at home this season, and on offense the Hawkeyes have scored an average of 35 points. Meanwhile, on the road this season, Iowa's defense has allowed a total of 62 points, and on offense the Hawkeyes have scored an average of 32 points.
By doing the math, it's easy to see that the Hawkeyes strive at home in front of their hometown crowd with the student section roaring, and it may be the extra boost they need to emerge victorious during their crucial conference matches that remain on the schedule.