Hawkeye football, hoops mailbag: Would Iowa crack top 25 with a win at Indiana?

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

National college football relevance is all in the eyes of the beholders.

For fans of Ohio State and Alabama, it’s the playoff (at least) or bust.

For some Iowa loyalists, being ranked in the polls still means something. At 4-1 overall, the 2018 Hawkeyes remain just outside top-25 status. Which prompted the question in Wednesday’s Hawk Central Facebook Live video chat: If the Hawkeyes beat Indiana on Saturday (11 a.m. CT, ESPN2), will they be ranked?

With Saturday's 48-31 win at Minnesota, Iowa is now 12-3 in trophy games over the past four season (4-0 vs. Iowa State; 4-0 vs. Minnesota; 3-0 vs. Nebraska; 1-3 vs. Wisconsin).

Before the answer, some background material …

Iowa stands one spot outside the AP’s Top 25 and second among “others receiving votes” in the USA TODAY Amway Coaches Poll.

True, these polls tangibly mean nothing. The only assessment that kind of matters is the one that doesn't first come out until Oct. 30: the College Football Playoff rankings. Those rankings help sort out bowl placement.

But there is something to be said about where your program stands if you’re “ranked.” And this has become a mostly missing benchmark for the Hawkeyes lately. Only once in the past eight seasons has Iowa been ranked in the final AP Top 25 (ninth, in 2015).

If the Hawkeyes improve to 5-1 on Saturday? Give them a 75/25 chance of joining at least one top 25. Coaches’ poll teams ranked No. 16 through 25 with tricky games this week: No. 17 Oregon (4-1) is a 3-point home underdog to Washington; No. 18 Colorado (5-0) is a 7-point underdog at Southern California; and No. 22 Texas A&M (4-2) is a 2-point favorite at South Carolina.  

Other stuff we covered ... 

TOPIC: Did the Hawkeyes take a step forward at Minnesota?

After a tough-to-swallow home loss to Wisconsin then a bye week, I wrote that it was important that Iowa show it could dominate a young, overmatched Gophers team.

It was a weird game, yes. But the 48-31 Hawkeye victory was never really in doubt. It was a validating step forward.

What I saw from Iowa’s passing game, particularly the maligned wide receivers, was especially encouraging. So was notching a third straight game of 400-plus yards of offense — the first time Iowa’s done that since the middle of the 2014 season.

Avoid the gift-wrapped touchdowns for opponents, and the Hawkeyes might really be in business.

TOPIC: Going forward, will Iowa be involved in more shootouts like Saturday's?

Let's start with this week.

Brian Ferentz's offense should be prepared to keep the pedal to the floor, with so much uncertainty on a banged-up defense that's allowed 69 points over its last nine quarters. That said, the Hoosiers have a more methodical offense than a high-powered one; they were held to 24 points by lowly Rutgers, and their 5.4 yards per play ranks 11th in the Big Ten.

In the final five weeks, though, Iowa faces three of the Big Ten's top five offenses (Penn State, Purdue and Nebraska) and four of the league's five worst defenses (Illinois, Purdue, Nebraska and Northwestern).

So, the answer is ... probably.

TOPIC: Can Iowa’s young corners stop the run?

A great question, because first-time starting freshmen Julius Brents and Riley Moss were mostly facing pass attempts after Iowa built quick leads of 14-0 and 28-10. We just don’t know yet.

We do know, though, that those are strengths of usual starters Matt Hankins and Michael Ojemudia. Both players will be available Saturday.

We also know that Indiana will be willing to test Iowa’s run defense on the edges. Freshman Stevie Scott (6-foot-2, 236 pounds) ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 528 rushing yards.

TOPIC: What is Iowa basketball’s starting five if Luka Garza isn’t ready?

Fitting to get some hoops talk in here, considering the Hawkeyes held their media day this week. With Garza, the sophomore center, still recovering from surgery to remove a 9-pound cyst from his stomach, I’ll predict a starting lineup of Jordan Bohannon, Isaiah Moss, Joe Wieskamp, Tyler Cook and Jack Nunge for the Nov. 8 opener against Missouri-Kansas City.

Two other basketball things while I have your attention …

  • The Hawkeyes were picked 10th out of 14 in a preseason poll of the Big Ten’s media. Not much respect there. But until they play some credible defense, they probably haven’t earned any.
  • Also, I have confirmed that Iowa will meet Cincinnati — a No. 2 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament — in a Dec. 21, 2019, neutral-site game at the United Center in Chicago. Good job by Fran McCaffery and the Hawkeyes to replace their Hy-Vee Classic game with a big-time opponent.