The Hawkeyes' season could be defined by a critical four-game stretch in October
The track record of Iowa football suggests the Hawkeyes are about ready to make a run to a division title with a chance to play for the Big Ten championship. After three wins of eight- and nine-win seasons, the Hawkeyes finds themselves in a division that is looking to be more competitive than it has been from top to bottom in quite some time.
So why not Iowa?
The Hawkeyes draw two challenging games in cross-division play in back-to-back weeks with a road trip to Michigan and a home game against Penn State. Those games are played just before a run through the meat of the Big Ten West schedule with games against rising challengers, defending division champion Northwestern, and a road trip to Wisconsin from mid-October through mid-November. Will Iowa have enough gas in the tank to overcome the obstacles thrown at them by the schedule this fall?
Byes: Week 4, Week 10
Week 1 — Aug. 31 vs. Miami (Ohio) (Iowa City, Iowa)
Iowa kicks off the new season at home against the Miami RedHawks. Iowa has dominated the four-game series between the two schools (4-0), with double-digit victories in three of the previous matchups. This should be another comfortable win to start the year for the Hawkeyes.
Week 2 — Sept. 7 vs. Rutgers (Iowa City, Iowa)
Iowa jumps into Big Ten play in week 2 with a home game against woeful Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have struggled since joining the Big Ten, especially when on the road. Don't expect much different here as Iowa should get to 2-0 without much of a problem.
Week 3 — Sept. 14 at Iowa State (Ames, Iowa)
The annual rivalry game with Iowa State takes place in Week 3, with Iowa looking to extend their four-game winning streak with a fourth straight victory in Ames. This was a shootout two years ago in Big 12 country, but a defensive battle last year. Whatever happens, this one should be a good battle once again.
Week 5 — Sept. 28 vs. Middle Tennessee (Iowa City, Iowa)
After getting a week off after traveling to Iowa State, Iowa rounds out non-conference up play at home against Middle Tennessee. If the Blue Raiders catch Iowa napping, this could turn into a game that is closer than Iowa fans may feel comfortable with, but a win should be the likely outcome for Iowa. The defense should take care of business as Iowa picks up at least its third win.
Week 6 — Oct. 5 at Michigan (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Big Ten play resumes with a bit of a gauntlet for the Hawkeyes. It begins as the calendar flips to October with a road trip to Michigan. The Wolverines should once again be a top Big Ten contender and defense could still be the key here. This may be the most likely loss for Iowa up until this point.
Week 7 — Oct. 12 vs. Penn State (Iowa City, Iowa)
A week after what could be a physically demanding battle with Michigan, Iowa returns home to host Penn State. The Nittany Lions escaped Iowa City with a last-second win two years ago but are a bit more of a wild-card team to watch this upcoming season. Consider this one a bit of a toss-up until we see more of both teams on the field this fall.
Week 8 — Oct. 19 vs. Purdue (Iowa City, Iowa)
Iowa dives into division play in Week 8 with a home game against a rising Purdue program. The Boilermakers are still maturing and having some growing pains, but they are much more of a threat in the division than they have been in some time. This is a game Iowa may not be able to afford to lose depending on what happens the previous two weeks against Big Ten East competition.
Week 9 — Oct. 26 at Northwestern (Evanston, Il.)
October concludes with a road trip to Northwestern, the defending Big Ten West Division champion. The Wildcats have really caused some fits for Iowa the last few years with three consecutive wins in the series. Iowa’s offense has scored 20 points combined in the last two meetings.
Week 11 — Nov. 9 at Wisconsin (Madison, Wis.)
Iowa will get a bye week after the Northwestern game, giving them a little extra time to prepare for what could potentially be a major game in the Big Ten West Division race. Wisconsin has won three straight meetings in the series and the stakes could be high once again as the division race hits the home stretch. Wisconsin has used its defense to capitalize on Iowa mistakes, so playing a clean game will be essential for the Hawkeyes.
Week 12 — Nov. 16 vs. Minnesota (Iowa City, Iowa)
After about a month, Iowa football returns to Kinnick Stadium against another potential program on the rise. P.J. Fleck and the Gophers row their way to Iowa City in mid-November in yet another potentially key game in the Big Ten West. Iowa has taken four straight meetings in this series and Iowa has not lost to Minnesota at home since 1999.
Week 13 — Nov. 23 vs. Illinois (Iowa City, Iowa)
Having gone through the meat of the division already, Iowa gets a chance to close out the home schedule with a matchup against Illinois. Iowa has won five straight games in the series, including last year’s 63-0 domination of the Illini, and 10 of the last 11 meetings. By this point in the season, Illinois could once again be a dead team playing out its final few weeks.
Week 14 — Nov. 29 (Friday) at Nebraska (Lincoln, Neb.)
Iowa and Nebraska conclude the regular season the day after Thanksgiving once again, this time in Lincoln. Nebraska is another program that could be on the rise this fall and should give Iowa a good battle similar to last year's contest in Iowa City. Iowa has dominated the series since Nebraska joined the Big Ten though, with Kirk Ferentz and company winning five of the last six meetings.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.