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ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit offered up a mea culpa Saturday afternoon.

After discounting an undefeated Iowa team on the air earlier in the day, he had a change of heart after the Hawkeyes’ 40-10 victory at Northwestern.

“I completely underestimated @HawkeyeFootball today,” Herbstreit tweeted. “Thought injuries were too much. Boy did I whiff! Congrats Hawks-Lookin good.”

Using Iowa and College Football Playoff in the same sentence would have been laughable at the start of the season. Seven games in, it still might be a long shot. But the Hawkeyes are one of 14 FBS teams still undefeated. The first playoff ranking comes out Nov. 3 at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN.

The Hawkeyes are 12th in the Associated Press poll released Sunday, and 13th in the Amway/USA Today Coaches poll. This is Iowa’s highest AP ranking since it was ninth in the Sept. 12, 2010 poll.

The Hawkeyes’ victory Saturday gave them two road victories over Top 25 foes for the first time since the 2002 season. Alabama is the only other team to accomplish that this season.

After a bye week, Iowa returns to action at home against Maryland Oct. 31. According to ESPN’s Power Index, the Hawkeyes will be favored in four of their last five regular-season games — a 93 percent chance of beating Maryland, 75 percent at Indiana, 85 percent against Minnesota and 91 percent against Purdue. That lone exception would be at Nebraska (47 percent).

But four wins in the last five games would be good enough to get Iowa in the Big Ten Championship game Dec. 5 in Indianapolis. If Iowa ties with Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes own the tiebreaker. All this speculation is something Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz doesn’t care to discuss.

“The next game is the most important one,” Ferentz said.

A winning test-drive

During the bye week, Ferentz was going to get running backs Akrum Wadley and Derrick Mitchell some scrimmage time.

“We wanted to get those guys tackled a little bit because we haven’t been able to do that,” Ferentz said. “Before you put them in a game, you sure would like to test-drive them a little bit.”

That plan went up in smoke when Jordan Canzeri was knocked out of Saturday’s game in the first quarter with an ankle injury. Wadley responded with 26 carries for 204 yard and tied a school record with four touchdowns. The 204 yards tied for 14th on Iowa’s all-time single-game rushing list. Mitchell had 10 carries for 79 yards, with a touchdown.

With LeShun Daniels expected to return to action against Maryland, Iowa might be able to get by without Canzeri for awhile.

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Reserves combine for 283 yards vs. Northwestern

Depth at tackle

Iowa opened the season with no starting experience at offensive tackle. Now they’ve got four players who have started there — Boone Myers, Ike Boettger, Cole Croston and Sean Welsh. James Daniels has also taken snaps at tackle. Myers has missed the last three games with a neck injury. Boettger missed most of the last two games with a sprained ankle.

“I’d like to tell you I saw that coming,” Ferentz said. “That players have responded in a positive way. That’s one of the good things about injuries, right now, because we’ve got a lot more faith and confidence in a lot of guys.”

Oh, you Northwestern

Remember when Northwestern was a thorn in Iowa’s side? Iowa has outscored the Wildcats 88-17 the last two seasons and won three straight in the series for the first time since 2000-2002.

“I sure didn’t see this coming,” Ferentz said of Saturday’s one-sided victory.

Art imitates life

Ferentz said his quarterback, C.J. Beathard, was limping around so bad the first three days of practice last week that it reminded him of “Amos McCoy.” Who?

Walter Brennan played Amos McCoy in the ABC series “The Real McCoys” from 1957 to 1962. McCoy walked with a hop in his get-along.

“He’s a tough-minded guy who wants to compete, but he’s very poised out there,” Ferentz said of Beathard.

The junior aggravated a groin injury he suffered against Illinois on his last snap Saturday. Ferentz told ESPN on Sunday that Beathard played at about 50 percent.

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Chad Leistikow and Rick Brown recap a 40-10 victory that sends a message to Big Ten.

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