Howe: Ranking Excitement Level of 2020 Iowa Football Games
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa Football program continues preparing for a season scheduled to kick off on Sept. 5. While the COVID-19 pandemic cloud hovers over the sport, the plan remains in place for business as usual.
The NCAA allowed voluntary workouts from June 1-25. It set July 13 as the start date for weight training, conditioning and film review. July 24 has been targeted for the beginning of walkthroughs and team meetings for 20 hours per week, which is up from 8 hours. On Aug. 7, programs have been given a green light to open preseason camp.
The Hawkeyes will be facing a difficult schedule. Big Ten divisional crossover games against East contenders Ohio State and Penn State play a prominent role in that.
Here’s one person’s rankings of all 12 contests on the slate from an interest and excitement standpoint:
12. Northern Illinois, Sept. 26 – No offense to the Huskies, who have been one of the more consistently successful programs in the MAC, but this matchup looks the least appealing on the aforementioned challenging schedule. There’s the angle of former NIU defensive linemen Jack Heflin and Matt Lorbeck coming to Iowa this summer, but intrigue dries up after that.
11. Northern Iowa, Sept. 5 – The David vs. Goliath dynamic along with relationships between players and fans for this in-state tilt makes it more appealing than a season-opener against another FCS opponent. However, that it’s a game against an FCS program, even a really good one, fails to get the juices flowing.
10. At Illinois, Nov. 7 – The basketball rivalry between these two border-state schools is heating up again, but the football side lags significantly behind. The Hawkeyes are winners of six in a row, 11 of the last 12 and 14 of the last 17 in this series. The Illini and Lovie Smith have ground to make up if this is going to be interesting again.
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9. At Purdue, Nov. 21 – The Boilermakers will be better than a year ago, when star receiver Rondale Moore was sidelined by injury. And make no mistake, this is a scary spot for Iowa between home games against rivals Nebraska and Wisconsin. The ranking here reflects more on the tough schedule and rivalry games than a lack of ability on Purdue’s part.
8. Iowa State, Sept. 12 – I usually struggle with ranking this game. It’s difficult weighing the in-state commotion against the actual impact of this contest on the overall seasons for these two teams. It doesn’t affect either one’s ability to win a conference championship, so it loses some luster in the grand scheme of things. It’s not Oregon-Oregon State, Ole Miss-Mississippi State or Alabama-Auburn.
7. Michigan State, Oct. 3 – Gone is longtime Spartan coach Mark Dantonio and with him the animosity directed at him by Iowa fans. The history of the series with MSU under his guidance includes memorable games, accusations of fake injuries and assorted drama. We’ll be waiting to see how his exit affects it going forward. Let’s hope the fire remains lit.
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6. Northwestern, Oct. 24 – Wildcat coach Pat Fitzgerald is the longest tenured boss in the Big Ten after Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. The series usually provides us with entertaining games, last year’s snoozer in Evanston, when the Hawkeyes broke a three-year skid in the matchup, not withstanding. Northwestern looks to rebound from a season handicapped by poor quarterback play with Indiana graduate transfer Peyton Ramsey.
5. Nebraska, Nov. 14 – A series that Iowa is controlling loses some more luster with the shift away from the novelty of Black Friday. The dislike these programs and fan bases share for each other keeps this game relevant. It’s also a divisional matchup. However, until the Huskers challenge for a West title, the series will lag behind others.
4. At Penn State, Oct. 17 – History tells us there’s a good chance we’ll be entertained when these two programs line up. Iowa will be looking to flip the momentum in a series that’s seen the Nittany Lions win six in a row. The Hawkeye are seeking their first victory in State College since a 21-10 triumph there in 2009, which was four trips ago.
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3. At Ohio State, Oct. 10 – You’re going to hear a lot about Iowa’s 55-24 dismantling of the Buckeyes in ’17 at Kinnick Stadium leading up to this one. It’s a highlight Hawkeye fans won’t soon forget. While there are plenty of new faces on both sidelines, the Ohio State players likely will be presented this cautionary tail by their coaches. And they’ll have a bye week leading into this game to hear it.
2. At Minnesota, Sept. 18 – A Friday night meeting in Minneapolis for Floyd of Rosedale could be a doozy. The Big Ten opener pits a pair of West Division contenders against each other in an early-season statement game. Iowa will be on a short week following a rivalry contest with Iowa State. The Golden Gophers play host to Tennessee Tech before this one. They’ll be trying to break a five-year skid in the series with the Hawkeyes.
1. Wisconsin, Nov. 28 – The battle for the Heartland Trophy shifts to the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It’s reasonable to believe a division title could be on the line if both programs reach their potential. The Badgers are a hurdle the Hawkeyes struggled to clear during the last decade, having dropped four in a row and seven of the last eight meetings in the series dating back to ’10.