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Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Best case/Worst case: Iowa

By Mitch Sherman

Our best- and worst-case scenarios for every Big Ten team continue with a look at Iowa. As always, take this with a grain of salt. It's meant to inject humor into an examination of the potential highs and lows of 2014.

Best case

It’s 1985 all over again. First, the Kansas City Royals win the World Series. And five weeks later, in a "Back to the Future" moment, Iowa hoists the Big Ten championship trophy, its first outright league title in 29 years.

And so the Hawkeyes -- yes, the Hawkeyes -- are headed to Pasadena, California, to play a national-semifinal game in the first College Football Playoff.

Iowa punches its ticket with a 13th win in as many games, 24-21 over Michigan State in Indianapolis.

Less than a month prior, the Hawkeyes hardly register on the national radar despite a 7-0 start. In the first release of the playoff committee’s ranking, Iowa checks in at No. 20.

No respect for coach Kirk Ferentz’s team, which started the season outside of the Top 25 in the AP poll.

But Iowa handles perennial Hawk-spoiler Northwestern handily on Nov. 1 in Iowa City as Jake Rudock and Mark Weisman lead the way with three touchdowns apiece.

Still, pundits point to 2009, when the Hawkeyes started 9-0 before two straight losses.

The committee bumps Iowa to No. 12 on Nov. 11 after a convincing win at Minnesota. Cornerback Desmond King continues on an All-America track with two pick-six interceptions of Mitch Leidner.

Two weeks later, Iowa, at 10-0, still sits eighth in the playoff poll as Wisconsin visits Kinnick Stadium. In the third quarter, with the Badgers leading 17-13, left tackle Brandon Scherff lines up at tight end and takes a toss from Jordan Canzeri, delivering a strike to Kevonte Martin-Manley for a 62-yard touchdown. Iowa wins 27-17.

It vaults two spots to sixth in the ratings before Nebraska visits for a post-Thanksgiving clash to settle the West Division. The Huskers, 10-1 with their only blemish at Michigan State, commit nine turnovers in an otherwise impressive performance. Iowa defensive end Drew Ott, from Trumbull, Nebraska, intercepts backup QB Ryker Fyfe midway through the fourth quarter. Iowa runs out the clock for a 31-20 win.

Scherff carries Rudock and Weisman off the field on his shoulders at the same time. The lineman is named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. He wins the Outland and Lombardi trophies and finishes third in the Heisman balloting en route to the No. 1 spot in the NFL draft.

Iowa jumps to third in the playoff poll before the meeting with MSU. Canzeri scores early on a screen play. Scherff wins the battle against Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Shilique Calhoun. Rudock connects with freshman receiver Derrick Willies to put Iowa up for good early in the fourth quarter.

Three weeks later, Iowa stages a gigantic party at Carver-Hawkeye Arena to serve as a sendoff before the Hawks, as the No. 2 team nationally, board two charter jets to Pasadena to face No. 3 Oklahoma in a rematch of the 2011 Insight Bowl.

Tom Brokaw and Ashton Kutcher meet the planes in California, where the party continues.

Worst case

Remember what they said about this Iowa schedule before the season? A gift from the Big Ten.

Well, someone forgot to tell Northern Iowa. The Panthers block a 40-yard field goal attempt by Marshall Koehn in the final seconds, gaining a measure of revenge from five years ago when Iowa snuffed two UNI kicks at the end. This one ends with the same score, 17-16, as Northern Iowa grounds the Hawkeyes’ dreams of a magical season before it could take flight.

Two weeks later, Iowa State upsets Iowa at Kinnick. The Hawks’ new group of linebackers falters early and often. Rudock takes a step back from his sophomore season. Backs Weisman and Canzeri fight injuries.

Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld exposes holes in the Iowa secondary a couple of weeks later as the Hoosiers beat Iowa in a second straight meeting.

Maryland, Northwestern and Minnesota pile on. Iowa plays well in a win against Illinois but finishes flat with losses to Wisconsin and Nebraska. The Huskers’ Randy Gregory schools Scherff in the finale, recording 3.5 sacks as the Huskers clinch the West Division.

Iowa finishes with four wins for the second time in three years. AD Gary Barta extends Ferentz’s deal through 2030, a move denounced by Kutcher on Twitter to his 16 million followers. Iowa State wins nine games and steals QB recruit Ryan Boyle of West Des Moines. Scherff slips to the second round of the NFL draft.