If you ask Iowa coaches and players, Saturday’s game at Kinnick Stadium against Michigan is all about getting another Big 10 victory. If you ask Iowa administrators and fans, a victory is the difference between going to the Texas Bowl or the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
But if you ask me it’s all about 2014.
The Hawkeyes (6-4, 3-3) have two games left this season, Michigan and Nebraska. Iowa already is bowl eligible as a result of its 38-14 victory over Purdue. The Hawkeyes trail Michigan State by three games in the Legends division of the Big 10. They can’t get to 10 wins, a BCS bowl or a top-10 ranking. There isn’t a lot left for them too accomplish this season, except to win their final two games and get the best bowl invite they can.
That’s why it’s time to look at the big picture.
Iowa has a relatively young team, with underclassmen and juniors at most positions except linebacker, secondary and kicker. Most of the promising players on the team are freshman or sophomores. Jake Rudock, C.J. Beathard, Tevaun Smith, LeShun Daniels, Jordan Canzeri, Desmond King, Jake Duzey and Jacob Hillyer have all received playing time this season. They are the future of the Iowa program.
And the future is now.
A look at the Iowa schedule next season is like trying to decide between creampuffs, éclairs or jelly donuts at the local bakery. Iowa State and Pittsburgh, two mediocre teams at best, highlight an extremely winnable non-conference schedule. After that, the Hawkeyes play all of the worst teams in the Big 10: Purdue, Illinois, Indiana and Northwestern. Only Nebraska, Wisconsin and newcomer Maryland likely will be projected as over .500 or division contenders. Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan all drop off the schedule. A conservative projection would put the Hawkeyes at eight wins next season, but fans are more likely to expect nine or more from Kirk Ferentz and his highly-paid coaching staff.
Part of Ferentz’s job is to balance present victories with the long-term success of the program. Too often, coaches say they are just focused on the next game, the next opponent. But Iowa has an opportunity to do both. They need to find Big 10 quality starters at linebacker, safety and kicker now. By getting more playing time for their young promising players against Big 10 competition the final two games this season, the Hawkeyes can start to develop the athletes they need to compete next year and beyond.
Rest assured, whatever the scheduling gods giveth one year, they taketh away the next.