Scientific games: home


A ranked victory or two to start the season could be the difference between a good season and a great one.

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Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras attempts a pass during a football game between Iowa and Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.

Well, Week 1 is here. And so much for easing into the season.

No, the Iowa football team isn’t scheduled to host a MAC team or Northern Iowa on Saturday to open the 2021 campaign. Instead, the Hawkeyes are partaking in a top-20 matchup at Kinnick Stadium against a Big Ten opponent. And as if opening against Indiana wasn’t enough, the week after that, Iowa goes to Ames to compete against a top-10 Iowa State team.

Starting the season 2-0 with two ranked victories isn’t necessarily Iowa’s goal. Winning the Big Ten West is what the team has its sights on. Losing to Indiana and Iowa State wouldn’t really impede that — particularly with one of those games being out of conference.

But unless Iowa wants to play catch-up as it did after starting 0-2 last season, it needs to play well right from the first game of the season.

That’s easier than it sounds.

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“The margin for error is always tight, and we traditionally have not always been sharp early, or at least where we need to be,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Last year is a good example of that. It’s a good reminder for all of us that we don’t have time to waste.”

Starting the season 1-1 or even 0-2 wouldn’t be catastrophic for Iowa’s season. We saw last year that the Hawkeyes can overcome a rough start. Losing to a bad Purdue team and then blowing a 17-point lead to Northwestern to start the season may go beyond rough, actually.

Iowa rattled off six consecutive victories to end the season after that 0-2 start. By season’s end, the Hawkeyes were one of the hottest teams in the country. It was a good season for Iowa. If the Hawkeyes hadn’t suffered those two blunders at the start, it could have been a great season. Maybe one of the best under Ferentz in terms of bowl game prestige.

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But coming up just short of great has been a theme for Iowa recently.

In 2018, a last-minute loss to Wisconsin at home and a frustrating defeat to Northwestern (Noah Fant is still waiting for the ball) led to the Wildcats clinching the West at Kinnick.

In 2019, a 24-22 loss to Wisconsin in Madison — where a Nate Stanley quarterback draw attempt came up inches short on a two-point conversion attempt — eventually made the Badgers division champions.

And last season, Northwestern’s comeback gave the Wildcats a one-game lead over the Hawkeyes in the final division standings — clinching them the West for the second time in three seasons.

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“We’re playing really tough teams, our schedule is really tough,” safety Jack Koerner said. “We started a little slow last season, so that’s something that is sticking a little bit in the backs of our minds, adding a little bit of motivation to come out of the gates strong.”

This is only the fourth time in program history that Iowa is opening its season against two teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, and the first time since 1974.

Iowa is the betting favorite to finish second in the Big Ten West behind Wisconsin. But the Hawkeyes are good enough to win the division. That’s the main goal for the Hawkeyes this year — something seemingly every Iowa player has talked about this offseason.

These first two weeks aren’t “must-win” games for Iowa. Winning the West would still be a realistic goal even if the Hawkeyes went 0-2. But starting the season off with one or two impressive victories would set the tone that this season isn’t just going to be good for Iowa. It could be great.

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“Both of those first two games are exciting, they’re going to be challenging,” quarterback Spencer Petras said. “We know we have an opportunity ahead of us to start the season strong.”

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.