Dienhart: Iowa's 2014 schedule analysis

If you see Kirk Ferentz smiling a lot, you’ll know why after looking at the Iowa schedule. No Iowa coach would admit it, but this is a schedule to die for, a chance to get fat, happy and maybe win Iowa its first Big Ten championship since 2004. Heck, even master cupcake scheduler Bill Snyder of Kansas State has to be jealous of this low-calorie menu.

There’s a good chance Iowa will be favored in every game. Let me type that again: There’s a good chance Iowa will be favored in every game. Iowa opens with three home games, which is always nice. The cross-division games (Indiana; at Maryland) look like layups. And Big Ten West heavies Wisconsin and Nebraska come to Iowa City—albeit on consecutive Saturdays to end the season.

Still, a loaded Hawkeyes squad has a great shot at building a killer record and winning the division. In fact, a double-digit win total looks very plausible. Yep, it’s gonna be fun times along Melrose Avenue this fall. So, if you feel like making reservations for Indianapolis and the Big Ten championship game, it’s understandable. Oh, and I recommend staying at the Conrad on Washington Ave. Boffo accommodations and a great location.

[ MORE: Read all of Tom Dienhart’s 2014 schedule previews ]

Here’s a look at Iowa’s 2014 schedule.

Toughest non-conference game: Take your pick between Iowa State’s visit on Sept. 13 or the trip to Pitt the next week. Let’s just go with the rivalry game. The Cyclones have been a pain in Ferentz’s keister, going 8-7 vs. Captain Kirk. Iowa State gets jacked to play Iowa, which usually always has better talent. Still, Iowa State has found a way to pace this rivalry, going 9-7 in the last 16 meetings after Iowa ripped off 15 wins in a row in the Cy-Hawk Series from 1983-97.

Toughest conference game: It will come in the finale on Nov. 28, when Nebraska comes to Iowa City. This could end up being a de facto Big Ten West championship game on Black Friday. How cool would that be? Exactly. This is what the Big Ten had in mind when Nebraska came aboard. The Huskers won 13-7 the last time they visited Iowa City in 2012, but the Hawkeyes dominated last year in Lincoln, taking a 38-17 triumph.

Who they don’t play: Someone in the scheduling department likes Iowa. The Hawkeyes miss Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State. Rutgers also is absent, but that’s no big deal. Bottom line: The Hawkeyes miss all of the marquee Big Ten East foes. Lucky, Herky. Now go buy some lottery tickets.

Easiest game: Iowa should be able to dispatch FCS Northern Iowa in the opener with a few flicks of the wrist. If they don’t, the Hawkeyes have issues. Yes, the Panthers are a good program and have played Iowa tough at times over the years. Who can forget that harrowing 17-16 win in 2009? And the Hawkeyes won just 27-16 the last time they played in 2012. Still, Iowa is 15-1 all-time and has no business ever losing to a FCS team. Every Hawkeye dressed will play in this one.

IOWA’S 2014 SCHEDULE
Date Opponent Result / Time
8/30 vs. Northern Iowa TBA
9/6 vs. Ball State TBA
9/13 vs. Iowa State TBA
9/20 at Pittsburgh TBA
9/27 at Purdue 12:00 ET
10/11 vs. Indiana 12:00 ET
10/18 at Maryland 12:00 ET
11/1 vs. Northwestern TBA
11/8 at Minnesota TBA
11/15 at Illinois TBA
11/22 vs. 22 Wisconsin TBA
11/28 vs. Nebraska TBA

Rugged stretch: It’s difficult to find anything too daunting. But, let’s go with the final four-game stretch that begins Nov. 8 at Minnesota and includes a trip to Illinois and season-ending visits from Wisconsin and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes have won the last two battles for Floyd of Rosedale, but Minnesota is a rising program that’s hungry. Yes, Illinois is struggling, but the Illini are improving and playing on the road is always a challenge. Wisconsin has won the last two games with Iowa—both in Iowa City. In fact, the Badgers are 3-1 in their last four trips to Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes are 1-2 vs. Nebraska since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten, notching their lone triumph last season.

Factoid: In a bit of scheduling quirk, this will be Iowa’s fourth trip in five years to Minnesota. Iowa is 1-2 in its last three junkets to Minneapolis. Also, the Hawkeyes are playing Illinois for the first time since 2008. The Illini won the last meeting—in Champaign—but the Hawkeyes won five in a row before that.

Best chance to be upset: Iowa needs to be careful when Iowa State visits on Sept. 13. But let’s go with Indiana’s visit to Kinnick on Oct. 11. The Hawkeyes will have a bye the week before, allowing for extra prep time for the high-powered Hoosiers’ offense. Still, if Iowa gets into a shootout with IU, it may be in trouble. And the last time these teams met, the Hoosiers took a 24-21 decision in Bloomington in 2012. IU last won in Iowa City in 2007.

Best chance to pull an upset: It’s difficult to imagine Iowa being an underdog in many games this season. It could be when Nebraska visits to end the season. A key for the Hawkeyes will be having a balanced offense vs. what should be a good Cornhusker defense. How will the passing game look by late-November? Fascinating.

Must win: Iowa needs to take care of business when Wisconsin comes to Kinnick Stadium on Nov. 22. The Badgers have been a Big Ten bad boy in recent years. To be the best, you have to beat the program that has been the best. Gary Andersen’s second team may be vulnerable, with some big issues along the front seven on defense. And who will catch passes? Is Joel Stave really the answer at quarterback? Iowa needs to show Wisconsin who is boss if it wants to win the West.

Bye weeks: The first bye comes after five games, at which time the Hawkeyes have a good shot to be unbeaten. Iowa plays two more games before its second bye, allowing the Hawkeyes to catch their breath for a fateful final five games. Having two weeks to prep for Indiana coming out of their second bye will help the Hawkeyes.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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6 Comments

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TheFacts on 5/15/2014 @ 12:24pm EST Said:

Tom, you really think Nebraska’s defense is going to be good this year? And Wisconsin’s is going to have trouble? Based on what? Nebraska still doesn’t have a DLine, and Wisconsin is just reloading theirs. And Nebraska is going to be the toughest test? Iowa demolished them in Lincoln, but was hammered by Wisconsin in Kinnick last year. What are these program-shaking changes that are going to upheave the B1G West this year?

bigtengrad on 5/15/2014 @ 4:18pm EST Said:

I’m gonna go out on a limb here “TheFacts” and guess it’s because Wisconsin returns a whopping 3 starters on defense. It’s obvious you don’t like Nebraska, and are unfamiliar with Randy Gregory (little known fact: he had a much better stat line than Shilique Calhoun). Their third string walk on QB, all back-up O line, and injured 1 & 2 receivers didn’t help much on black Friday. They did get beat, but unless you follow this program, you have no clue what they are capable of this year. So keep riding your 9-4 or 8-5 glory year of 2013 depending on who you follow. There is finally stability in Lincoln on the defense, and you’ll have to get used to it.

nathan on 5/16/2014 @ 1:13pm EST Said:

Huskers will crush iowa.

Chaz on 5/18/2014 @ 1:32pm EST Said:

What if Pelini flips his lid………again?

James Barnhart (@wyojim01) on 5/20/2014 @ 9:24am EST Said:

bigtengrad, always the excuses always next year. Like following Cub fans. I predict you get off your 4 lose glory train and drop 5 this year.

TheFacts on 5/27/2014 @ 10:33am EST Said:

@bigtengrad I’m hardly discounting Gregory, but one player doesn’t make a defense and Nebraska doesn’t have depth and experience in the front seven like Wisconsin. Nebraska gets routinely trampled by power teams, and Wisconsin does not – it’s pretty much as simple as that.