Is this a lost season after the Iowa Hawkeyes fell to North Dakota State?
Disappointment flooded Iowa City following the Iowa Hawkeyes loss to North Dakota State on Saturday. The Bison snapped the Hawkeyes 14 game regular season win streak but, more importantly, seemingly ended any hope of the Hawkeyes making the College Football Playoff.
Despite the criticism that the Hawkeyes received in 2015, they came less than a minute away from making the Playoff. If Iowa stopped L.J. Scott on the one-yard line, the Hawkeyes postseason would have been much different. Instead they got stomped by Stanford in the Rose Bowl with the nation watching, waiting to see if Iowa was for real.
Even though a lot of people’s only glimpse of the Hawkeyes last season came in the Rose Bowl, a poor depiction of the season they had, no one was scared to call the Hawkeyes overrated . Now, with the loss to North Dakota State, no one is afraid to bash the Hawkeyes for giving Kirk Ferentz a hefty contract extension a week ago, or to say “I told you they couldn’t be even a decent opponent.”
While the notion that the Hawkeyes cruised by last season, beating only weak competition, is false, there’s still that thinking around the nation. It’s why the Hawkeyes dropped out of the AP Poll despite being 2-1 and Ole Miss stayed in at 1-2. Sure, Ole Miss lost to Florida State and Alabama, however it’s still two losses and they blew big leads in each game.
The Hawkeyes can’t worry about the AP Poll, though, because that’s what will get them beat again. As heartbreaking as it was to see Cam Pedersen‘s 37-yard field go through the uprights as time expired, Iowa has to be thankful their poor play didn’t come a week or two earlier.
Despite losing to an FCS school, North Dakota State was the hardest team on the non-conference schedule. The loss won’t look good on Iowa’s resume at the end of the year, however it would have looked a lot worse if they fell to Miami (OH) or Iowa State.
Because even though the Bison play maybe one FBS a team a year, they have built a strong resume and are a respected program. That’s evident as North Dakota State received the same amount of votes as California this week in the AP Poll. The Bison didn’t receive votes because they beat two top-10 FCS teams and then #13 Iowa. They received votes because of the fact that they’ve won five straight FCS championships and own a six game FBS win streak.
So as bad as losing to an FCS school sounds, it could be a lot worse. The Hawkeyes chances of making the College Football Playoff would have been shattered if they lost to Richmond or Sam Houston State this past weekend. They’re ranked #2 and #3, respectively, in the FCS, yet their name doesn’t carry as much weight as North Dakota State.
Even so, the Hawkeyes chances of making the College Football Playoff are slim to none. They have three top-20 teams left on their schedule, and a fourth if they make the Big Ten Championship Game. If the Hawkeyes are able to get by Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska, as well as a win in the Big Ten Championship Game over Ohio State or Michigan State, voters would have to think long and hard about the Hawkeyes.
Of course, that one-loss to an FCS school will continue to loom over their heads and seemingly takes them out of the running. With Houston being a dark horse this year, there may only be three spots in the Playoff for power five conferences. At that point, a one-loss SEC, Pac-12 or ACC team would easily make it in over Iowa.
It would take nothing short of a miracle for the Hawkeyes to get in. Winning out would arguably give them the best season in school history and is a task that even #2 Ohio State would struggle with.
No one expected the Hawkeyes to make the College Football Playoff, though. As sweet as it sounded, the more realistic goal for this team has always been to make it back to the Rose Bowl. It would be the first time the Hawkeyes made back-to-back Rose Bowls in school history, and it’s still not out of question.
The Hawkeyes aren’t going to run away with the Big Ten West like nearly everyone expected prior to the season. Wisconsin and Nebraska both look like teams who could finish inside the top-15 this year and win 10-plus games. The Hawkeyes will get the Badgers at the end of their brutal five game stretch, and will face the Cornhuskers at the end of the season.
As daunting of a task at it will be, Iowa will need to win both to safely win the Big Ten. Another upset could happen, however, assuming Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes are more focused the rest of the way, they have three season defining games left on their schedule — Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska.
Even though Nebraska and Wisconsin look like the two best teams in the Big Ten West, it’s still Iowa’s division to lose. As good as Wisconsin has looked, it’s unlikely they can escape a stretch of Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska without a couple of losses. Going 3-2 in that stretch would be impressive, however 2-3 or 1-4 is more reasonable.
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Nebraska also has three daunting games left on their schedule — Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa. The good news for the Hawkeyes is that Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska travel to Iowa City. It’s too early to speculate how each team’s season will finish, however, Iowa hopefully got their painful loss out of the way during non-conference play, and will continue to improve all year.
If Iowa is able to win the Big Ten West and make the Big Ten Championship game, again, it’s likely that they’d be Rose Bowl bound. If they won, as previously mentioned, they would likely miss the Playoff, moving them to the Rose Bowl as the Big Ten Champs.
Unless Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan all beat each other up and suffer multiple losses, a loss in the Championship game would send one of them to the Playoff. That would leave the runner-up, Iowa, to head to the Rose Bowl.
Coming off a loss, the postseason is all water under the bridge. The Hawkeyes goal this coming weekend is to get back on track against Rutgers during their first road game. It took voters a while to jump onto the Iowa Hawkeyes ship last season, therefore cracking the top-25 won’t happen in one week.
At the same time, the Hawkeyes are still in the driver seat. The loss to North Dakota State is disappointing but it didn’t happen in conference play, luckily. Besides, it’s better to lose early than late when games carry more meaning and there’s less time to make it up.
It’s never good to lose, but the Hawkeyes season is far from over. No team went undefeated in 2015, therefore one loss doesn’t mean the end for Iowa in 2016.