So this is what it’s come to.
With the 2013 college football season just seven weeks away, Iowa fans are finding hope in a more distant future — where the schedules are less foreboding.
The Big Ten Conference released its schedules for 2016 and ’17 Thursday, and here’s the positive takeaway for the Hawkeyes: They’ve been given a three-year window of opportunity, starting in 2014.
“For a program that’s really sort of in the doldrums, so to speak, you need any boost you can get,” said Tom Dienhart, senior writer for the Big Ten Network’s website. “And there’s no doubt these future schedules look like they could be positive assets.”
Who can blame Iowa followers for taking a long-term approach?
This upcoming season, the Hawkeyes will face 10 opponents that earned a bowl berth last fall and won 64.4 percent of their games.
That’s daunting for any team, let alone an Iowa squad coming off a 4-8 record in 2012.
The slate for 2014 appears more appealing, with dates against Maryland, Purdue, Indiana, Minnesota and Illinois. Not to mention manageable non-conference matchups with Pittsburgh and Ball State.
In 2015, the Big Ten flips the sites and shuffles the order, but Iowa still plays the Terrapins, Boilermakers, Hoosiers, Gophers and Illini.
Thursday’s announcement was significant because 2016 is the Big Ten’s first run through a nine-game schedule, after years of playing eight.
Of course, there will be an imbalance when it comes to home and road games.
The Hawkeyes will host just four Big Ten rivals at Kinnick Stadium in 2016 (Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska), but any of those visitors could be vulnerable, especially in front of 70,000 black-and-gold-clad antagonists.
As far as Iowa’s road dates, 2016 looks downright promising: Minnesota, Purdue, Rutgers, Penn State and Illinois.
The Scarlet Knights are newcomers to the Big Ten and only became relevant beyond the East Coast when former coach Greg Schiano started taking them to bowl games eight years ago. Schiano moved on to the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it’s difficult to tell where Rutgers will fit in the Big Ten landscape.
The Nittany Lions, meanwhile, will be coming off four years of NCAA sanctions, including a postseason ban and reduction in scholarships. Penn State will recover fairly quickly, but a return to national prominence could take time.
The Gophers, Boilermakers and Illini traditionally lack consistency.
If Iowa is going to rejoin the Big Ten elite, these are the teams it wants to play — and must beat.
“From where we stand right now,” Dienhart said, “it definitely looks like it’s a positive for Iowa.”
Starting in 2017, however, things get tougher.
Michigan State and Ohio State come on the schedule; Penn State stays, Rutgers and Michigan are off.
The Hawkeye faithful hope Iowa is back on the upswing by then, and in today’s world of realignment rumors and conference shuffling, five years is an eternity. The incoming freshmen of 2017 are just beginning their high school careers. We’ll elect a new President in 2016.
“Nobody knows the future,” Dienhart said. “Just judging off what we know about teams today, yeah, the schedule does look like it plays in Iowa’s favor.
“But as we all know, the worm can turn. Programs rise and fall.”
The Hawkeyes are in the midst of a program dip. If the schedule doesn’t help lift their fortunes in 2014, ’15 and ’16, they’ll only have themselves to blame.
Andrew Logue, in his 18th year at the Register, covers Hawkeye football. Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLogue.
IOWA’S BIG TEN SCHEDULES THE NEXT FIVE YEARS
Sept. 28 — at Minnesota*
Oct. 5 — Michigan State*
Oct. 19 — at Ohio State
Oct. 26 — Northwestern*
Nov. 2 — Wisconsin
Nov. 9 — at Purdue
Nov. 23 — vs. Michigan*
Nov. 29 — at Nebraska
Sept. 27 — at Purdue *
Oct. 11 — Indiana
Oct. 18 — at Maryland
Nov. 1 — Northwestern *
Nov. 8 — at Minnesota *
Nov. 15 — at Illinois *
Nov. 22 — Wisconsin *
Nov. 28 — Nebraska *
Oct. 3 — at Wisconsin*
Oct. 10 — Illinois*
Oct. 17 — at Northwestern*
Oct. 31 — Maryland
Nov. 7 — at Indiana
Nov. 14 — Minnesota*
Nov. 21 — Purdue*
Nov. 27 — at Nebraska*
Oct. 1 — Northwestern*
Oct. 8 — at Minnesota*
Oct. 15 — at Purdue*
Oct. 22 — Wisconsin*
Oct. 29 — at Rutgers
Nov. 5 — at Penn State
Nov. 12 — Michigan
Nov. 19 — at Illinois*
Nov. 25 — Nebraska*
Sept. 30 — at Michigan State
Oct. 7 — Illinois*
Oct. 14 — Penn State
Oct. 21 — at Northwestern*
Oct. 28 — Minnesota*
Nov. 4 — Ohio State
Nov. 11 — at Wisconsin*
Nov. 18 — Purdue*
Nov. 24 — at Nebraska*