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One-third of the way through the regular-season, the Iowa football team is right where I thought it would be with a 3-1 record heading into Big Ten conference play.

Well, that's only partly true.

My prediction of 3-1 had Iowa defeating Iowa State on Sept. 13 and losing to Pittsburgh this past Saturday, but reality had other plans and flipped it around.

Iowa's 24-20 come-from-behind victory at Pittsburgh was yet another reminder that the circumstances rarely are as bad as they might seem under coach Kirk Ferentz.

Losing to the Cyclones always triggers an over-reaction from fans and from us in the media. Ferentz seemed a little surly on Saturday, at least by his standards, so perhaps he was reacting to the fans and media over-reacting to the Iowa State loss.

Ferentz, who is in his 16th season as the Iowa coach, can expect a huge reaction when it becomes clear who will start at quarterback against Purdue on Saturday in the Big Ten opener.

Sophomore C.J. Beathard is the popular choice after he came off the bench to lead the second-half comeback at Pittsburgh, completing 7-of-8 passes for 98 yards. Beathard has a stronger arm than junior starter Jake Rudock, and Beathard likes to use it, often choosing to throw downfield, whereas Rudock is more comfortable throwing to the underneath routes.

But on the flipside, Rudock has 17 starts on his resume, with Iowa winning 11 of those games. He was a key to last season's resurgence, so this situation isn't like the quarterback change that occurred in 2008 when sophomore Ricky Stanzi supplanted starter Jake Christensen after four games.

Iowa struggled with Christensen as the full-time starter in 2007, finishing 6-6 overall. Those struggles carried over to the 2008 season, causing Ferentz to finally make a change when he felt that Stanzi gave Iowa its best chance to win.

Some fans are convinced that Ferentz favors certain players over others and that's why Rudock has continued to start over Beathard.

That's a bunch a hooey. It's also not fair to Ferentz or to Rudock.

Rudock has earned Ferentz's trust and respect with his performances in games, but also with his daily approach and consistency in practice.

We're not the ones who see Rudock and Beathard compete on a daily basis. Beathard had only played in one series this season before Saturday's extended duty. And he didn't play much last season, either.

And when Beathard did play last season, he was mediocre at best, completing just 9-of-27 passes for 179 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

So the evidence supporting a change isn't as obvious as some of the Beathard supporters are making it out to be.

This is when you have to trust Ferentz to make the best decision for the team.

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Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz sees offense improving.

Some fans were upset based on the reaction on Twitter about what Ferentz said on his post-game radio show in reference to Beathard not practicing well on Thursday.

"I'm just happy he played better today than he practiced Thursday," Ferentz said. "I'll just leave it at that, OK?"

That was sort out of character for the usually guarded Ferentz, but perhaps he was sending a message to the fans begging for a quarterback change and to Beathard.

It might be an easy decision if Rudock's reported hip injury doesn't heal in time for Saturday's game at Purdue. The scary thing about that, though, is true freshman Tyler Wiegers would become the backup quarterback if Rudock can't play. The plan is to redshirt Wiegers this season, but sometimes plans change.

Here is a quick glance at the Big Ten race heading into conference play:

OFFENSIVE MVP: Nebraska senior running back Ameer Abdullah, who is from Homewood, Ala., continues to show why he turned down a scholarship to play defensive back for his childhood favorite Auburn.

Bo Pelini's staff wanted him as a running back and Abdullah has rewarded their faith in him. Abdullah was the driving force in Saturday's 41-31 victory over Miami (Fla.), rushing for 229 yards on 35 carries. Abdullah leads the Big Ten in rushing with 625 yards and the Cornhuskers are 4-0 heading into conference play.

DEFENSIVE MVP: It's still early, but you could make a strong case for Iowa senior defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat, so I figured why not. In four games, the Chicago native has a team-leading 31 tackles and two sacks. He also leads all the Big Ten defensive linemen in tackles.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: It's weird to think of Penn State as being a surprise, considering its vast resources and storied tradition.

But with everything that's happened in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, to be 4-0 under a new head coach is a worthy accomplishment, regardless how you feel about the NCAA's decision to soften its punishment against Penn State.

James Franklin has brought energy, his own vision and a new way of doing things to Happy Valley. He also has the luxury of being in a state rich in talent. So get used to seeing Penn State among the Big Ten's elite again.

BIGGEST DISSAPOINTMENT: This goes to 2-2 Michigan by a landslide. Barring a miraculous turnaround, Brady Hoke's demise as head coach seems irreversible. The question is will he even make through the season? Michigan fans are irate, and understandably so, with the dire circumstances, a 26-10 weather-delayed loss to Utah this past Saturday at the Big House is the latest cause of unrest and discontent.

The loss to Utah came two weeks after Michigan was shutout for the first time against Notre Dame, losing 34-0 on Sept. 6 at South Bend, Ind.

Hoke seemed like the perfect fit when he was picked to replace Rich Rodriguez as head coach in 2011. Hoke fit the criteria as a Michigan man by being a former Wolverine assistant coach. And he was a winner, rebuilding programs at Ball State and San Diego State before landing his dream job in Ann Arbor.

The dream has turned into a nightmare whose conclusion seems inevitable. Hoke and his assistants have recruited well, but the results have been mostly average to slightly above average and the just won't cut it at mighty Michigan.

MOST IMPRESSIVE VICTORY: The same Indiana team that lost at Bowling Green in the second game of the season came from behind in the final seconds to defeat 18th-ranked Missouri 31-27 this past Saturday in Columbia, Mo.

In addition to ending a seven-game road losing streak, it also had been 27 years since Indiana defeated a Top 20 opponent on the road — a 31-10 victory at No. 9 Ohio State.

MOST EMBARRASSING DEFEAT: Hawkeye fans probably would say it is Iowa's 20-17 loss to Iowa State on Sept. 13 at Kinnick Stadium, but that isn't fair to the Cyclones.

My choice is Michigan State's 47-26 loss to Oregon on Sept. 6 in Eugene, Ore. The Spartans had a chance to help silence the Big Ten's growing list of critics, but failed miserably as its vaunted defense unraveled down the stretch.

Though, it's true that Oregon was ranked second at the time and playing at home, Michigan State is supposedly the best the Big Ten has to offer. There is a level of expectation that comes with that title, but the Spartans failed to meet it.

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or pharty@press-citizen.com.

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