The race to Indy starts Saturday for Hawkeyes
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Four weeks, four teams, one trip to Indianapolis. Gentlemen, start your engines.
That's what the race for the Big Ten's West Division title has come down to. And thanks to the way the Big Ten football schedule plays out, the West will be won in a round-robin competition.
Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska all have one league loss. They play each other in the final four weeks of the regular season, starting with today's 11 a.m. Floyd of Rosedale tug-of-war at TCF Bank Stadium.
"I guess there's some luck in that, because you can't plan those things ahead of time," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It's an exciting time to be involved in football, for sure."
The Hawkeyes can afford to lose Saturday and still make it to the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis, Ind., on Dec. 6. But any margin of error would be gone. Iowa would then have to run the table the final three weeks of the regular season – at Illinois Nov. 15, Wisconsin at home Nov. 22 and Nebraska at home Nov. 28.
With a win over Minnesota, Iowa could afford to lose the following week at Illinois and still play for all the marbles.
If two teams tie for the division title, head-to-head results are the first tiebreaker. If three or more teams tie, the first tiebreaker again is head-to-head results. So a win in the final two games at Kinnick would likely guarantee Iowa a spot in Indianapolis, assuming they split the next two games. And assuming that Minnesota loses two of its final three – Ohio State at home, at Nebraska, at Wisconsin.
It's not a stretch to see coach Jerry Kill's team ending the regular season with five straight losses. Minnesota lost at Illinois 28-24 on Oct. 25 and is coming off a bye week.
You'd think the Gophers will be zeroed in against the Hawkeyes. A bye week to heal, work on execution and throw some new wrinkles Iowa's way. And it's a rivalry game. I can already hear the "We Hate Iowa" chants.
But the Hawkeyes should be used to this whole bye week thing. This is the third of four straight opponents Iowa plays coming off a bye week. First Maryland, then Northwestern, now Minnesota and Illinois next week.
The results have been hit and miss. Iowa played one of its poorest games of the season while losing at Maryland 38-31, but thrashed Northwestern last week 48-7. Now it's time to put the pedal to the metal and finish fast.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.