- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Kirk Ferentz has coached long enough not to make bold predictions on how his Iowa Hawkeyes will perform in the season's defining month.
"We'll see," Ferentz said. "We came up short last year, and '08 was the opposite, so we'll see."
If Iowa can replicate what it did in 2008, when the team won its final three games and five of its final six, the Hawkeyes could make a once-unthinkable trip to the Big Ten championship game. Iowa's path to Indy is as clear cut as it can get right now: win out and head to Naptown. Any type of stumble likely would eliminate Iowa from the Legends division race.
November began on a high note with a mini-upset win against Michigan last Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. An Iowa defense that has struggled for stretches this season held Michigan to 16 points and 323 total yards, well below the Wolverines' season averages.
The backs-to-the-wall Hawkeyes resume play Saturday against No. 17 Michigan State.
"There's been so much talk about division play, conference races, all that stuff," Ferentz said. "The one thing that hasn't changed is the more you win, the better off you are, and the more you lose, the worse off you are."
Iowa learned the second lesson the hard way in 2010. A senior-laden Hawkeyes team appeared poised for a strong stretch run after thumping Michigan State 37-6 on Oct. 30. But a November to remember became one to forget as Iowa dropped its final three games and likely was a Damarlo Belcher drop away from going o-fer November.
"We learned that nothing is given to us; we've got to go out and take it," defensive end Broderick Binns told ESPN.com. "That starts in practice. It's how you approach practice. If you come to practice with the mind-set that we're going to work and get better, everything's going to take care of itself."
Did Iowa have the same mind-set in 2010?
"I guess in some cases we didn't," Binns said. "I guess we kind of felt entitled in a couple games last year. But me, being a fifth-year senior, I'm going to do my best to get my teammates ready to go."
Binns isn't concerned about entitlement affecting the 2011 Hawkeyes, even those who were on the field for the Michigan State beat-down last October.
"That was last year's team," Binns said. "Michigan State is a totally different team, and Iowa is a totally different team from last season. Michigan State is playing really good ball right now. We know it's not going to be an easy game."
Iowa players are aware of where they stand in the Legends division race. But if last November showed them anything, it's to focus on the journey more than the destination.
"We're not even thinking about the future," Binns said. "We're just worrying about playing this next game."