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Iowa prepares for a tough, evenly-matched Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship. David Scrivner/Iowa City Press-Citizen

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — Austin Blythe, Jordan Lomax and Drew Ott represented Iowa at the Big Ten’s annual football media days in Chicago this summer.

They talked openly about their goal: winning the Big Ten Championship.

“It’s what we came to Iowa to do,” Blythe said.

In the wake of an underachieving 7-6 season in 2014, those words sounded like a pipe dream in July and generated more than a few raised eyebrows from the media.

“I’m sure they did,” Blythe said.

But undefeated Iowa and one-loss Michigan State meet for the Big Ten championship on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“Last year was definitely not the year we wanted,” Blythe said. “The way we finished was not Iowa football. It’s a complete opposite of the way we’ve been playing this year. I think people were expecting us to have an average year, another mediocre year. That was not the vision we had inside the program.”

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Maverick Kirk, huh?

There were cries for Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz to shake up his staff in the wake of a disappointing 2014 season. Ferentz made some tweaks, but there were no personnel changes.

“New Kirk, Maverick Kirk,” Ferentz joked Tuesday. “I know the world we live in right now. Walking the plank is really a popular thing.”

Ferentz said the view inside a program is often much different than public perception.

“I think any time you experience adversity, whether you’re involved in  intercollegiate, pro or high school athletics, you’re going to have that examined,” Ferentz said. “You have to size it up and get a feel for what’s best for you.”

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The infirmary 

Linebacker Ben Niemann left Friday’s game at Nebraska in the first half after taking a helmet-to-helmet blow from teammate Josey Jewell. Ferentz thinks Niemann will be ready to play against the Spartans.

Ferentz said that Niemann is going through concussion protocol.

“He’s doing great,” Ferentz said. “It can always turn the other way. You never know. Those things are unpredictable.”

Defensive end Nate Meier also left that game with a leg injury in the fourth quarter. Ferentz said that Meier is practicing on a limited basis he expects him to play Saturday.

Underdogs again 

Asked the importance of the game with the Spartans, Ferentz went big-picture.

“The start of the season was pretty important,” Ferentz said. “That victory against Illinois State (in the opener) was really important on a lot of levels. They all count. It’s like your kids. It’s hard to say this one over that one. Because you can get in trouble on a lot of fronts. But we’ve had a lot of great players. A lot of great moments. A lot of important games. It’s nice to coach somewhere where you get to coach in big games. I really appreciate it and feel fortunate on that front.”

Ferentz said his team has been the underdog in 11 of the 12 bowl games they’re played under his watch, so not being favored against Michigan State will be nothing new.

“It’s not like we’re just out there winging it,” Ferentz said. “We’re trying to put a good plan in place. We’re a couple of days into prep. A couple more to go. We’re the team that’s not supposed to be there. So what the heck? Cut it loose and see what happens.”

No. 13

Iowa has had its share of doubters on the national landscape this season. But that scrutiny hasn’t affected this team.

“Each week, we have that mentality of just focusing on what we can control, what we can do and the things that have gotten us to this point in time,” running back Jordan Canzeri said.

Canzeri said that approach has also relieved some of the pressure as Iowa’s win total increased each week.

“When you have that focus, it’s going to relieve you from pressure from the outside world, all the big picture talk,” Canzeri said. “We just focus on this being the 13th game, rather than the Big Ten Championship. That allows us to relax and work the way that we have been.”

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