When big sporting events approach, there is no shortage of prop bets to keep fans interested in the games within the games. How long will a rendition of our national anthem last? What is the over/under on the number of completions "Quarterback X" will make?
With that idea in mind, Brian Bennett and Jesse Temple share their opinions all week on the Big Ten blog about various over/under marks they've set in anticipation of the 2016 season. In today's Take Two, they look at the number of regular-season wins for the defending West Division champion Iowa Hawkeyes. The over/under is 8.5.
Jesse Temple: Over
ESPN's Football Power Index projects Iowa as an eight-win team, which is why we set the over/under slightly higher. I can't envision the Hawkeyes taking a significant enough step backward from last season that they would lose four regular-season games. Iowa is the Big Ten West favorite because of all the returning talent on both sides of the ball. But the Hawkeyes also play -- at least on paper -- what appears to be the easiest league schedule in the Big Ten. The combined record of Iowa's conference opponents last season was 31-41.
With the unbalanced nine-game league schedule, Iowa must play five road games. Yet they come against Rutgers, Minnesota, Purdue, Penn State and Illinois. Of that group, only the Nittany Lions finished with a winning record in 2015, though they went 4-4 in league play. Rutgers, Minnesota, Purdue and Illinois combined to go 6-26 in conference games.
The FPI projects Iowa as an underdog at Penn State on Nov. 5 and at home against Michigan one week later on Nov. 12. The regular-season finale at home against Nebraska on Nov. 25 is listed as a virtual toss-up. Maybe there's a surprise or two to be had in the rest of the schedule. Can Wisconsin shake up the Big Ten West with a win at Kinnick Stadium? Can North Dakota State, the five-time defending FCS champion, shock Iowa like it has Iowa State, Kansas State, Colorado State, Minnesota and Kansas since 2010?
Iowa ranks as only the seventh-best Big Ten team, according to FPI projections, behind Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State. But the Hawkeyes deserve more credit. Then again, flying under the radar didn't hurt Iowa last year, when the Hawkeyes produced a magical undefeated regular season that fell just short of capturing the Big Ten championship. Don't be surprised to see a nine- or 10-win Iowa team back in the league title game.
Brian Bennett: Over
There is some reason to doubt Iowa. In recent history under Kirk Ferentz, the Hawkeyes have followed up apex-like seasons with disappointing ones. Take a gander:
But it's also fair to point out that the Hawkeyes were really good from 2002-04, winning 32 games, before the drop-off. And they went 20-6 in the two seasons prior to 2010. In other words, those high points were actually the crests of a wave. This year's team could continue the good tidings of 2015.
That's because Iowa returns starting quarterback C.J. Beathard, Thorpe Award winner Desmond King at cornerback, a solid running back group and linebacker Josey Jewell, among other veterans. That's a good nucleus for another run at a division title. The schedule is more difficult than it was a year ago, but still very manageable. I fully expect the Hawkeyes to go 3-0 in nonconference play. They will be substantial favorites over Rutgers, Illinois and Purdue, while Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska all have to come to Kinnick.
Another 12-0 regular season is not in the cards. But 9-3 seems like a reasonable expectation for this team, with the opportunity for a better showing.