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Friday, May 6, 2011
2011 schedule analysis: Iowa

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Let's continue the breakdown of each Big Ten team's 2011 schedule with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records)

Sept. 3: Tennessee Tech (5-6)
Sept. 10: at Iowa State (5-7)
Sept. 17: Pittsburgh (8-5)
Sept. 24: Louisiana-Monroe (5-7)

Legends division games

Oct. 15: Northwestern
Oct. 29: at Minnesota
Nov. 5: Michigan
Nov. 12: Michigan State
Nov. 25: at Nebraska

Crossover games

Oct. 8: at Penn State
Oct. 22: Indiana
Nov. 19: at Purdue (protected)

No plays

Illinois
Ohio State
Wisconsin

Gut-check game: At Penn State. Two years ago, Iowa went into State College and stunned then-No. 5 Penn State, kicking off a historic run to open the season. The Hawkeyes have to be confident, given their recent success against the Nittany Lions, but this is a new Iowa team that must prove itself in a tough road environment. Penn State will have a better squad than the one that came to Iowa City this past season. If Iowa wins, it faces another gut-check game the next week against Northwestern, which has won three straight at Kinnick Stadium.

Trap game: At Purdue. This cross-division game falls after two huge divisional home games against the Michigan schools and before the much-anticipated reunion with Nebraska in Lincoln. Neither fan base sounds too excited about this as a protected rivalry, but Iowa shouldn't look past the Boilers, especially on the road. Purdue has some weapons that will test Iowa's defense.

Snoozer: Louisiana-Monroe. Iowa's last clash against a Sun Belt school brought more tension than expected, but I'd be surprised if the Hawkeyes struggle with Louisiana-Monroe. Iowa will have to guard against looking ahead to the bye week.

Non-con challenge: At Iowa State. Tough call between Iowa State and Pitt, but this marks the first road game for a team that will feature more new starters than any Big Ten squad. Plus, Iowa has had its struggles in Ames, where it dropped back-to-back games before pounding the Cyclones in 2009. Pitt, meanwhile, will be facing its first major test and its first road game under new coach Todd Graham.

Key stretch: Iowa should have the kinks worked out by late October, and it needs to as it finishes with division games in four of the final five weeks. The Hawkeyes head to Minnesota looking to avenge last year's shocking defeat. They then return home for challenging contests against both Michigan and Michigan State. After the aforementioned trap game at Purdue, Iowa wraps up with quite possibly its toughest game of the season against Nebraska in Lincoln.

Analysis: If you're looking for a reason to buy into Iowa in 2011, the schedule has to be at the top of the list. Things set up very well for the Hawkeyes, who skips both Ohio State and Wisconsin and get three of their tougher Legends division opponents (Michigan State, Northwestern and Michigan) at home. The road schedule provides some challenges, as Iowa has struggled in Ames and will enter an inferno in Lincoln. But the Hawkeyes should visit State College at 4-0 and will have a chance for a very strong start before November hits.

More B1G schedule analysis