Leistikow: Why the Iowa Hawkeyes, rest of Big Ten need Iowa State to be good

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

If you’re a passionate fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes, there’s nothing better than hearing trumpets and tubas blaring a jovial rendition of “In Heaven There is No Beer” after a football win.

You’re 3-for-3 on hearing that celebratory tune this fall, with Saturday’s 18-17 triumph at Iowa State producing the sweetest victory polka yet. An adversity-filled win against a well-coached rival in a challenging environment provided validation that the 2019 Hawkeyes could be something special.

Big Ten West title special? New Year’s Six special? Even more special than that?

Brandon Smith and Iowa hurdled Iowa State in a hard-fought game Saturday night at Jack Trice Stadium. But why aren't the Hawkeyes getting more credit?

With everything still on the table for Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes as they hit their first of two bye weeks, here’s another tune you (and the rest of fans of the Big Ten) should want to hear more of this season:

“Sweet Caroline.”

Yes, the more times the Cyclones’ victory ballad is played after a football game, the more capital that hard-earned win last Saturday will produce for Iowa and the rest of the conference when it comes to the all-important College Football Playoff rankings.

As you may have noticed, Iowa got basically zero poll bounce from beating a Cyclone program that has been recently outstanding at home under Matt Campbell, particularly against highly ranked teams.

The Hawkeyes stayed put at No. 18 in the Amway Coaches’ Poll; they got a one-spot bump to No. 18 by a panel of Associated Press sportswriters.

What gives?

Iowa State's rickety win against Northern Iowa didn't help.

But more notably, it was a bad weekend for the Big Ten. Michigan State’s ugly home loss to an offensively-challenged Arizona State team was a stain for the conference. Northwestern’s Week 1 loss to Stanford and Nebraska’s Week 2 loss to Colorado mean the Big Ten will end the season 0-3 against the Pacific-12 Conference, considered the weakest of the Power Five leagues.

That’s not to mention that Purdue (albeit short-handed) was drilled by the Big 12’s TCU on Saturday; that Maryland and Illinois lost Saturday to Group of Five opponents; that No. 10 Michigan struggled to survive Army a few weeks ago; that No. 12 Penn State has looked pedestrian at home for two straight weeks; that Minnesota has had to pull out three dramatic finishes to beat South Dakota State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern.

So, to date, the Big Ten’s most impressive nonconference win is … Iowa over Iowa State, by a single point in a wet-field slugfest that lacked sexy style points. And even though us Iowans understand the challenge of winning that rivalry game, neither the Hawkeyes nor the Big Ten will get national-narrative credit UNLESS…

... Iowa State proves over the next two months that it's a really good team — 9-3 or 10-2 good.

The Big Ten's bed is mostly made. There’s only one more matchup this season — No. 7 Notre Dame at Michigan on Oct. 26 — that gives the Big Ten another chance at a quality nonconference win. So, after being shut out of the College Football Playoff three years running, the conference is in a familiar place again: Battling for national respect when, frankly, it hasn’t warranted much yet outside of No. 6 Ohio State, No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 18 Iowa.

Let’s be real: It’s already apparent that finding empty chairs at the four-seat playoff table is going to be difficult.

It’s hard to imagine No. 1 Clemson or No. 2 Alabama being booted. The SEC will have a great chance at a second team, based on the early dominance shown by No. 3 Georgia and No. 5 LSU. No. 4 Oklahoma, the annual class of the Big 12, looks as powerful as usual with Jalen Hurts at quarterback. Even No. 11 Utah could make a playoff case if it runs the table in the Pac-12, especially considering that 3-0 record vs. the Big Ten. Notre Dame is a wild card that can't be dismissed.

Sure, there’s a lot of football to be played. But already, Big Ten hopes could be hitched to the Cyclones, of all teams.

It’s certainly realistic, with that defense, that Iowa State (1-1) wins five of its next six games — Louisiana-Monroe, at Baylor, vs. TCU, at West Virginia, at Texas Tech, vs. Oklahoma State. Maybe all six.

Then imagine how the national narrative would change if Iowa State could somehow knock off Oklahoma in Norman, on Nov. 9, and prove itself as a Big 12 title contender. Suddenly, the Big Ten would own a big chip over the Big 12 in the CFP hunt: That one-point Iowa win in Ames.

Pause button: I realize we’re getting way, way ahead of ourselves here. But that’s part of the fun of sports; thinking about what’s possible for our favorite teams.


If Iowa ends up being a very good team, then the CFP rankings will matter. Twelve teams get chosen for the prestigious New Year’s Six bowl lineup — four go to the playoff (at the Fiesta and Peach bowls this year); the other eight go to the Cotton, Orange, Sugar and, yes, Rose.

As we learned four years ago, if the Big Ten champion goes to the playoff, the key tiebreaker to make the Rose Bowl — what Hawkeye fan wouldn’t love a shot at redemption in Pasadena? — is being the highest-ranked remaining Big Ten team in the Dec. 8 CFP rankings.

The first batch of CFP rankings comes out Nov. 4. If Iowa can be 7-1 or better by that point, scoreboard-watching will become even more prevalent. But why wait? Every bit of help Iowa and the Big Ten can get now matters.

Grit your teeth, willing Hawkeye fans. You don’t need to shout “Let’s Go State!” with as much gusto as you do “Let’s Go Hawks!” But if your Hawkeyes are good — and I think they are — then you and your Big Ten brethren should want the Cyclones to be good, too.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.