Iowa Football: What’s Considered a Successful Season?

Oct 1, 2016; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz looks at a replay during the second half against the Northwestern Wildcats at Kinnick Stadium. Northwestern won 38-31. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 1, 2016; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz looks at a replay during the second half against the Northwestern Wildcats at Kinnick Stadium. Northwestern won 38-31. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports /

A lot has changed since Iowa was the Big Ten West favorite coming into the season

Iowa football entered the 2016 season as an uncharacteristic favorite to win the Big Ten West. A year removed from finishing the regular season and Big Ten play undefeated, the Iowa Hawkeyes seemed like the easy preseason choice in 2016.

While they lost a couple of key players, they returned their main core from 2015, including vital playmakers such as Desmond King, C.J. Beathard and Josey Jewell.

As a result, many viewed their matchup with the Michigan Wolverines as the only game they’d be underdogs in. Some people felt this experienced Hawkeyes team could even beat Michigan at the time. Although, that thinking has passed and everyone is wondering if Iowa will even be bowl eligible at the end of the year.

The Hawkeyes sit at 3-2 and are now without their leading receiver in Matt VandeBerg. With losses to North Dakota State and Northwestern, and a close win over Rutgers, in the past three weeks, it’s safe to say that Iowa is not the team we thought they were. Their stifling defense from a season ago has gone missing and the offense can’t consistently move the ball down the field.

There is a very slight chance that Iowa will participate in the Big Ten Championship Game for a second consecutive season, and they’re also likely underdogs in three of their remaining seven games — Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska. Simply put, the Hawkeyes season has turned into a mess.

With the Hawkeyes sitting at 3-2, the biggest thing for this team is to gain back their confidence and not lose anymore key players. Also, while reaching six wins is not a guarantee with the way they have played over the past couple of weeks, it still seems like an impossibility that the Hawkeyes aren’t in some sort of bowl game this year.

That being said, what does a successful season look like for a team who came in with so much hope?

As previously mentioned, a Big Ten West Championship seems far-fetched at this point. Of course, if Iowa drastically turned their season around this week then they’re technically far from out of the race for a division title. Although, realistically, goals for the Hawkeyes the rest of the way should be better suited for how they’ve played as of late.

Iowa still doesn’t have the toughest schedule in the nation, however, it’s a lot tougher than it seemed at the beginning of the year, especially with how Iowa is playing. That being said, Iowa has four very winnable games left on their schedule.

Minnesota, Purdue, Penn State and Illinois are all teams the Hawkeyes are better than on paper and should beat. Although, both Minnesota and Penn State are respectable teams and won’t be easy victories. The Hawkeyes struggled against a similarly talented Northwestern team this past week, which doesn’t instill confidence when they have to take the field against the Gophers and Nittany Lions.

The good news is that their road games against Purdue and Illinois should be cake walks. Purdue is a mess once again and Illinois has been very inconsistent this season. Sure, if Iowa catches the Illini on a day they’re playing their best football then Illinois could put up a fight. Although, a loss to either team should be considered a catastrophe.

Surprisingly, all four of their winnable games are on the road and their three toughest opponents left on the schedule are coming to Iowa City. Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska are all in the top-12 of this week’s AP Poll and will be big favorites, despite being on the road.

If Iowa takes care of their business on the road then they’d sit at 7-2. Most people aren’t expecting any more home victories in 2016, which would ideally put the Hawkeyes at 7-5 on the season. While it’s a far drop from last season, and not what many expected from this team in 2016, it does represent how good this team has been this year.

Despite Iowa being clearly outmatched up to this point of the season by the meat of their schedule, being blown out at home is the last thing that should happen. While their meetings with Wisconsin and Nebraska will likely be early 11 a.m. games because of Iowa’s struggles in 2016, the Hawkeyes and Michigan Wolverines are scheduled to kickoff at 7 p.m. on ABC.

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There is a chance that they bump the game for a more competitive matchup, however, either way, Iowa needs to protect their home field and at least put up a respectable fight. Losing by 20-plus to any of Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska would be embarrassing to watch considering the potential they had coming into the season.

Iowa might not be competing for a Big Ten title by the end of the year, however finishing the season strong and showing at least some quality play would be a good sign moving forward.

Don’t forget, this is basically the same team that cruised through the first two weeks of the season. It may have been against Miami (OH) and Iowa State, but Iowa has the potential to be a quality football team. They weren’t picked to win the Big Ten West for nothing.

Obviously, there’s a lot of season left to be played and a lot can happen. There’s no definitive answer of what a successful season for the Hawkeyes looks like. That being said, anything fewer than seven wins would be disappointing and an eight win regular season isn’t completely out of the picture.

Next: Iowa Football: Keys to Defeating Minnesota Golden Gophers

There is no reason not to expect Iowa to win on the road and play their ranked opponents tough at home. If they can pull off an upset, it’d be even better and be the positive showing Iowa City has waited for all season.