After losing to Wisconsin by the slimmest of margins, the No. 18 Iowa Hawkeyes have assumed a quieter position in the Big Ten.
Iowa's loss to the Badgers crushed their hopes for a national championship run from the No. 15 spot in the BCS standings. The Hawkeyes no longer control their own destiny in the Big Ten championship race.
Now, Iowa is in on the outside looking in.
Luckily for the Hawkeyes, a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth are not out of the question as they prepare for No. 5 Michigan State, the team they must beat if they want to remain relevant.
The Spartans will not make the road to redemption easy for Iowa. The game in Iowa City is the toughest left on their schedule, and they won't pull any punches (for God's sake, expect the fake!).
But Iowa can't afford to get caught up in what's at stake. The Hawkeyes need to focus on the task at hand—which has been difficult up to this point in the season with all the national title talk (of which I am guilty).
But that's the past. The Spartans are now.
Nothing but beating Michigan State matters to the Hawkeyes. There are too many factors outside the Hawks' control for them to worry about making a comeback run. They'll have to notch as many wins as they can and hope something happens to the other top teams in the Big Ten.
As it stands, Iowa is tied with Purdue for fourth in the Big Ten at 2-1. The Boilermakers' record won't stand.
Ohio State and Wisconsin are both 3-1. Things will even out after bye weeks, but the Badgers have a leg up on Iowa, and OSU visits Iowa City on Nov. 20.
The Spartans, however, are in the catbird seat at 4-0. Michigan State has a target on its back and Iowa is probably the surest shooter left on its schedule. Bret Bielema and the Badgers are now among Iowa's biggest fans. Same goes for Ohio State.
The Hawkeyes can't get caught up in the Big Ten race or the BCS standings, though. They just need to come ready to take care of business against the Spartans.
Get that done, then we'll talk about what doors have been reopened.
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