Earlier this week, we kicked off a series looking at the most important game on each Big Ten team's schedule in 2012. As a reminder, these are games that will have the biggest impact on the league race or hold special meaning for one of the teams involved.
Next up, the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Most important game: Oct. 13 at Michigan State
Why it's important: Iowa's early season schedule sets up favorably for a strong start. The Hawkeyes open with a neutral-site game against Northern Illinois at Chicago's Soldier Field, which should be filled with gold and black Sept. 1. They then play four consecutive home games, culminating with the Big Ten opener against recent nemesis Minnesota. Although there are some potential stumbling blocks, few would be surprised if Iowa started the season at 5-0. But a reality check arrives after an open week with a trip to East Lansing to face defending Legends division champion Michigan State. The Spartans dominated Iowa for much of last year's contest at Kinnick Stadium, surging to a 31-7 lead behind quarterback Kirk Cousins and running back Le'Veon Bell. Michigan State's formidable defense provides a good test for Iowa's new-look offense under Greg Davis. The Hawkeyes' young defensive line will need a stout effort against the bruising Bell and a Michigan State offensive front that should be much improved from 2011. Few peg Iowa as a legitimate contender for the Legends division title, but a Hawkeyes victory in East Lansing -- especially one that improves them to 6-0 -- will change that perception in a hurry. Though a loss doesn't doom Iowa by any means, another poor performance against MSU will indicate the Hawkeyes are a few notches below the division's elite.