Iowa football’s season of extremes can still deliver a remarkable finish

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IOWA CITY – Given this season’s unconventional run of football in Iowa – a three-month rollercoaster with a rapid rise and massive fall before those on board can finally catch their breath – the Hawkeyes enter this last stretch in familiar territory.

This was evident from Tuesday’s talking points inside the Iowa Indoor Training Center. Media questions about Saturday’s game against Illinois included talks of faltering division title hopes, double-digit wins, boules and more. A season of extremes can still be one of coach Kirk Ferentz’s most remarkable.

“We have a chance to be a memorable Iowa football team,” cornerback Riley Moss said Tuesday. “There have been some great soccer teams here in Iowa, and that motivates us too. Especially the kids in the state too, we would like to be remembered as one of the best teams in KF. It’s definitely on our minds. “

Achieving elite status in Iowa doesn’t require any damaging mistakes to begin with in the past two weeks. The No.14 Hawkeyes (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten Conference) must extend the program’s extended dominance over Illinois (4-6, 3-4) on Saturday by avoiding their first home loss to the Illini since 1999. A similar expectation exists for Black Friday in Nebraska.

Realize that and the Hawkeyes, at worst, enter the final regular season on Saturday with hopes they can get the help they need for a Big Ten West title. Currently tied for the top of the division with Wisconsin, Iowa needs a Badgers loss this Saturday to Nebraska or next week Saturday to Minnesota for their first trip to Indianapolis since 2015.

A few players who spoke on Tuesday said they took a look at the division’s standings this week. Others said they hadn’t looked at the rankings at all this year.

“I know we’re tied at the top, and Wisconsin obviously has the tiebreaker on us,” right guard Kyler Schott said. “I mean, obviously we need them to lose to someone. But first we have to win. That’s the most important.”

Several other responses mirrored the second part of Schott’s assessment, focusing on the feeling the Hawkeyes would have if they got the help they needed, but blew up a division title by dropping one of those next two games. .

“We control what we can control,” Moss said, “because if Wisconsin loses and we lose, then it doesn’t even matter. We’re just focused on ourselves. And if it can. to happen, which hopefully will, is good for us. ”

Iowa defensive back Riley Moss (33) returned last week after missing time with a knee injury.

After Iowa’s midseason free fall from No.2 in the two polls Oct. 10-22 in the first college football playoff standings on Nov. 2, the Hawkeyes have recovered with back-to-back wins. Wins don’t come glamorously, but Iowa has apparently put a productive distance between late October and now.

Thriving in November is a mainstay of the Ferentz era, as it shows both the growth of past adversity and the goal of ending with authority. It’s no coincidence that – the COVID year aside – Iowa’s undefeated last November won their final divisional championship.

“November football,” center Tyler Linderbaum said, “you like that kind of weather and that kind of atmosphere.”

Beyond where Linderbaum spoke on Tuesday, there is an entrance to the turf pitch in the football building. Underneath an image of “Swarm” from Iowa is the words “The road to Indianapolis goes through these gates.”

It’s clear that winning a division title carries a lot of weight when it comes to Iowa’s annual goals. We will see in the coming weeks if this message carries any truth.

Some will still see Iowa this season for its mighty No.2 drop and what unfolded in a painful two weeks after several happy weeks. The Purdue and Wisconsin losses will haunt fans if the Hawkeyes are home for the championship on Saturday.

But the order of events doesn’t have to shape this year’s final narrative. Just compare to last season, for example. The 2020 and 2021 campaigns saw six consecutive winning streaks and losing streaks. The 2020 team is unanimously congratulated for the resilience that Iowa has shown. This year’s group has a chance to be similarly revered if the Hawkeyes don’t stumble again.

Despite a wild road, Iowa landed in productive territory.

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preparations for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.

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