The freshly minted 2014 Big Ten football schedule plays right into Iowa’s rebuilding wheelhouse.
No Ohio State. No Michigan. No Penn State. No Michigan State. Instead, the Hawkeyes drew crossover games with Indiana and Maryland on the schedule released Thursday.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz couldn’t have diagrammed it any better on the chalkboard.
The Hawkeyes are coming off a disappointing 4-8 season in 2012, which included losses in the final six games. There is plenty of work to be done.
“When you’re 4-8, it’s really hard to sugarcoat it,” Ferentz said Wednesday at the Nile Kinnick I-Club in Council Bluffs.
The 2014 Big Ten schedule offers a spoonful of sugar. So does the depth chart.
Of the 55 players listed on Iowa’s 2013 spring depth chart, 44 of them will be back in 2014. And 33 of those 55 players are freshmen or sophomores. Also gone will be the lingering effects of the 2008 and 2009 recruiting classes that had numerous defections and affected the depth and player development that have been a staple of the Ferentz regime.
Ferentz has talked at length this spring about the progress his team is making, and draws comparisons with 2007. Iowa was 6-6 and didn’t go to a bowl game in 2007 and got no prime time television dates in 2008. The Hawkeyes bounced back by going 9-4 in 2008 and 11-2 in 2009 after beating Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
“It didn’t just happen,” Ferentz said, pointing to a concerted effort by returning members of that 2007 team to right a wrong. The 2012 season, Iowa’s worst since 2000, has also translated into no prime time television dates in 2013. Time will tell if history repeats itself on the field of play in 2013.
“The past is the past, and we’re going to learn from it,” Ferentz said. “A lot of our guys have improved, some very visibly.”
Ferentz has circled three areas to watch in 2013: quarterback, defensive end and receivers.
Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard head into fall drills competing for the quarterback position. None have taken a snap in a Division I game. Dominic Alvis is the Hawkeyes’ only experienced defensive end. And the receiving corps didn’t distinguish themselves last season, often leaving quarterback James Vanderberg on an island.
Looking to 2014, the quarterback position should be clearer, and lack of experience won’t be an issue. Same goes for defensive end, and the receiver position. All three linebackers – James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey – will have to be replaced, the biggest void heading into 2014.
The 2014 schedule has plenty of quirks.
– Iowa will play just one home game between Iowa State on Sept. 13 and Northwestern on Nov. 1.
– The Hawkeyes have bye weeks on Oct. 4 and Oct. 25. As a result, they have just one home game in the first five weeks of the Big Ten grind.
– Iowa will play two games in October and five in November. Three of the November games will be at home.
– And four of Iowa’s eight league games will be played at the same stadium in 2013 and 2014 – at Purdue, Northwestern, at Minnesota and Wisconsin.
That means the Gophers will host Iowa four times in a five-game stretch going back to 2010. That could send the cost of bronze bacon soaring, right Floyd?
All those quirks are the result of expansion, and the addition of Maryland and Rutgers starting in 2014. The league will scrap the Legends and Leaders divisions in 2014 for the West Division and East Division, based on geography. Purdue is the only team in the West not in the Central Time Zone.
Chances are, Iowa’s 2015 Big Ten schedule will be more challenging in the crossover department. And then comes a nine-game league schedule in 2016.
But the 2014 schedule provides the Hawkeyes a golden opportunity to regain traction and become a Big Ten contender again.
Rick Brown, a 10-time Iowa sportswriter of the year, covers Hawkeye football for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @RickBrownDMR
2014 Iowa Football Schedule
Aug. 30 Northern Iowa
Sept. 6 Ball State
Sept. 13 Iowa State
Sept. 20 at Pittsburgh
Big Ten Conference Schedule
Sept. 27 – at Purdue. Hawkeyes won on last visit to Ross-Ade Stadium, 31-21, for seventh win of 2011 season.
Oct. 11 – Indiana. Iowa has won four of the last five meetings in Kinnick Stadium against the Hoosiers.
Oct. 18 – at Maryland. First meeting ever. Terps play home games at Byrd Stadium.
Nov. 1 – Northwestern. Iowa snapped a three-game losing streak to the Wildcats in Kinnick Stadium in 2011, 41-31. Wildcats also play at Iowa in 2013.
Nov. 8 – at Minnesota. This will be Iowa’s second straight visit to Minneapolis. The Gophers have won the last two meetings in the Twin Cities: 27-24 in 2010 and 22-21 in 2011.
Nov. 15 – at Illinois. Iowa will be playing this border state rival for the first time since 2008.
Nov. 22 – Wisconsin. The Badgers will be making their second straight trip to Kinnick, where they won on their last visit in 2010, 31-30.
Nov. 28 – Nebraska. Game remains a fixture on Black Friday against the Black Blackshirts of Bo Pelini.
What do you think of the Hawkeyes’ 2014 schedule? Did they catch a break? Post your thoughts in the comment section below.