The football schedule-makers cut Iowa some slack.
Based on last year’s records and winning percentages, the Hawkeyes enter 2014 with the second-most-favorable slate of games in the Big Ten’s newly formed West Division, behind only Wisconsin.
Perhaps, this is why Iowa was snubbed by ESPN/ABC and the Big Ten Network when it came to scheduling nationally televised night games this fall.
After all, the Hawkeyes are missing out on marquee matchups against Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.
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Then again, a favorable schedule is why some pundits are picking Iowa as a trendy pick to win the West and earn a spot in the conference title game.
If that happens, could strength of schedule become a factor in the Hawkeyes’ remote hopes to qualify for the first four-team playoff in college football?
Things could always change. You never know when a Big Ten doormat will start tripping up contenders.
But when it comes to forecasting Iowa’s season, consider the following breakdown of the Big Ten West schedules:
Opponents’ 2013 record: 74-78 (.487)
The skinny: A season-opening showdown with Louisiana State (10-3) could be a trial-by-fire moment for the Badgers, who graduated 24 seniors.
Of note: From Sept. 27 to Nov. 8, Wisconsin plays six opponents that combined for 25 wins. That’s the same number the Badgers’ last three opponents (Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota) totaled.
Potential trap game: A Sept. 20 date with Bowling Green State could be dicey. The Falcons averaged 459.4 yards and 34.8 points last season.
Opponents’ 2013 record: 75-75 (.500)
The skinny: If Iowa can establish itself as a title contender in October, the division race could come down to the final two weeks, against Wisconsin (Nov. 22) and Nebraska (Nov. 28). Both will take place at Kinnick Stadium.
Of note: Ball State (10-3) in the only Hawkeye opponent that finished 2013 with double-digit wins.
Potential trap game: Iowa has a history of struggling against Indiana, posting a modest 7-5 record against the perennial Big Ten basement dweller since Kirk Ferentz became coach in 1999. The Hoosiers feature a much-improved running game with tailback Tevin Coleman, who averaged 7.3 yards per rush last season.
Opponents’ 2013 record: 79-73 (.520)
The skinny: Wildcats could be facing a brutal seven game stretch, starting Sept. 27 at Penn State. A Nov. 15 visit to Notre Dame doesn’t help matters.
Of note: Northwestern’s only Big Ten win in 2013 came against Illinois, and the schedule again ends with a game against the Illini.
Potential trap game: After an offseason filled with talk of unionization, we’ll get an indication of the Wildcats’ cohesiveness when they host 1-11 California in the Aug. 30 opener.
Opponents’ 2013 record: 85-68 (.556)
The skinny: November is not nice to the Gophers. Their final four opponents (Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin) averaged 9.5 wins last season.
Of note: Minnesota started 4-0 the past two years, but the only 2014 non-conference foe coming off a losing season is Texas Christian.
Potential trap game: Speaking of the Horned Frogs, they went 4-8 but they’ll be hosting Minnesota on Sept. 13 in Fort Worth.
Opponents’ 2013 record: 84-67 (.556)
The skinny: With just one winning season since 2007, it’s imperative Purdue wins at least three of four nonconference games. The schedule gets tougher, starting with a Sept. 27 visit by Iowa.
Of note: The Boilermakers won’t play a true road game until Oct. 4 at Illinois, a 1-hour, 45-minute drive.
Potential trap game: Beating Southern Illinois on Sept. 20 is key, because Purdue may not be favored again the rest of the season.
Opponents’ 2013 record: 90-64 (.584)
The skinny: The Cornhuskers will face nine teams that were either bowl eligible, or earned a spot in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Of note: Nebraska opens October against Michigan State, which lost just once last year, then opens November against Purdue, which finished with just one win.
Potential trap game: The Cornhuskers needed a Hail Mary touchdown pass to beat Northwestern last November, so an Oct. 18 trip to Evanston, Ill., is bound to have a little drama.
Opponents’ 2013 record: 90-61 (.596)
The skinny: Third-year coach Tim Beckman faces a schedule that includes just two teams that finished with a losing record. So don’t expect an Illini revival.
Of note: Illinois will play neighboring rival Iowa for the first time in six years when the Hawkeyes visit Nov. 15.
Potential trap game: The Illini escaped West Lafayette last season with a 20-16 victory over Purdue. It was the closest the Boilermakers came to earning a Big Ten win. The Oct. 4 rematch should be tense.