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Hansen: Hawkeyes can beat spread, beating Sooners another matter

[ 4 ] December 29, 2011 |

Iowa is such a huge underdog to Oklahoma in the Insight Bowl  – no other team is favored by two touchdowns — it’s tempting to play the mad contrarian and pick them to win.

I’m not talking about Kirk Ferentz’s much-discussed flatulence when I say somebody has to stun the world during the bowl season. Since Arizona State couldn’t get the job done, failing miserably against Boise State, why not the Hawkeyes?

Ferentz usually has his teams ready to go this time of year. The Hawkeyes have much to play for. Victory No. 8, still considered by many the benchmark for success in Iowa City, is within arm’s length.

The Hawkeyes don’t mind being on the Valley of the Sun undercard. They couldn’t be happier returning to the Insight Bowl. It’s as if they married up.

The Sooners, meanwhile, keep glancing enviously up the block at the far more prestigious Fiesta Bowl. It must be especially galling to see Oklahoma State taking Oklahoma’s rightful place among the BCS elite.

The Sooners weren’t even playing up to their own high standards before coming down with all those injuries we hear about. Now they’re coming off a lopsided loss to the arch-rival Cowboys, their second setback in the final three games.

Why not the Hawkeyes, indeed? At the risk of breaking the mood, there are a few good reasons, beginning with the great running-back shortage. This isn’t the same situation as last year. It’s much worse.

While losing Adam Robinson was big, Marcus Coker didn’t just materialize at the Insight Bowl and rush for 219 yards. When Robinson was out with concussion issues, Coker gained 129 at Indiana, and 90 at Minnesota. When “academic indigestion” set in and kept Robinson from starting against Ohio State, Coker gained 70 yards.

Where’s this year’s surrogate Coker? The closest thing is probably Mika’il McCall, but he’s home in Chicago resting (Ferentz can only hope) his itchy Twitter finger.

If you don’t need a few more reasons to worry, stop here:

* Iowa can’t throw it to Marvin McNutt every time. (But it wouldn’t be the worst idea.)

* The hurry-up offense might not be the answer against the Sooners. Pitt didn’t know it was coming when the Hawkeyes broke it out in Week 3. Penn State had more than an inkling it was coming two weeks later, and the proof was on the scoreboard. Oklahoma, a rare no-huddle power team, faced some of the best hurry-up attacks in the country. If anyone should be ready for Iowa’s No Huddle 101, it’s the Sooners.

* The Hawkeyes haven’t been stellar away from Kinnick Stadium, having won only one of four road games. (Then again, Oklahoma wasn’t so great, either, at least in the second half of the season, losing at Baylor before falling hard in Stillwater.)

* Many professional gamblers claim to love double-digit bowl-game underdogs, who allegedly beat the spread more often than not and even pull off the upset more than you’d think. When the spread moves into the two-touchdown range, however, the magic apparently wears off. That’s what they say anyway.

Ironic bowl twist: Undefeated Oklahoma won the 2001 Orange Bowl despite being an 11-point underdog to Florida State and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Chris Weinke.

This is not science. If it were, how would you explain the fact that Oklahoma was a 16-point favorite before Coker’s suspension?

Iowa, by the way, isn’t the only Big Ten team not getting much respect with the oddsmakers. Northwestern is a 10-point underdog to Texas A&M, which has been such a disappointment this year that Mike Sherman, the Aggies freshly deposed coach, didn’t even make it to December.

Northwestern and A&M are both 6-6, but here’s the Wildcats’ upside: The Purple won four of their last five. They average almost 30 points. They have Dan Persa at quarterback.

It isn’t easy counting the Hawkeyes out this time of year, but Northwestern seems the better upset special.

Oklahoma 35, Iowa 20.


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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Marc Hansen: Marc Hansen is a sports columnist for The Des Moines Register. View author profile.

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