8/30 Northern Iowa
The Panthers are actually a pretty damn good FCS program. Mark Farley has been the head coach since 2001 and has won an average of 8.5 games every year; only twice in his tenure have the Panthers won fewer than seven games. Six times his team has won ten games or more. Even with that consistency UNI is only 1-15 against the Hawkeyes.
9/6 Ball State
Ball State's head coach, Pete Lembo, has done a fantastic job down there in Muncie in his short time there (since 2011). In fact, he has gone from six wins in the 2011 season, to nine in 2012, to last year's 10-3. He never had fewer than eight wins while coaching Lehigh from '01-'05, and he went 35-22 while coaching Elon in the Southern Conference. What I'm saying is that Pete Lembo is the new Jerry Kill. To keep winning, though, Lembo will need to find a replacement for QB Keith Wenning, who completed 64% of his passes for 4,148 yards, 35 TDs, and only 7 interceptions in 2013. The next guy on the team with playing experience is sophomore Ozzie Mann...2 of 9 for 29 yards and one interception in six games last year. Good luck with that.
9/13 Iowa State
Iowa State is Iowa's Northwestern: a team that gets under the Hawkeyes' skin and has the tendency to beat them whether ISU is good or not. Since 2000 they have split the series 7-7, but the Cyclones have gone in the opposite direction since taking two in a row in matching 6-7 seasons in 2011 and 2012 to the loss during a 3-9 season in 2013. The key in this year's game will be Iowa State's (in)ability to stop Iowa's run. The Cyclones allowed under 200 yards only four times in 2013 for 33 touchdowns (only 17 TDs given up through the air) on a 5.3 ypc average. According to Wide Right & Natty Light, the Cyclones have no defense, so it looks as though the most hideous trophy ever will remain in Iowa City.
9/20 @ Pitt
Because Todd Graham just had to jump jobs after one year once again, the Panthers hired former Wisconsin offensive coordinator as the new head coach at the end of 2011...after the other guy lasted only about two weeks. In Chryst's first season the team won six games, followed by a seven-win season in 2013. Tom Savage has taken his quarterback talents to the Houston Texans, leaving the door open for sophomore Chad Voytik to claim the starting job. Since the team is returning all of last year's rushers, the ground game should be pretty solid in 2014, putting pressure on the Iowa defense.
9/27 @ Purdue
Well, there were a couple positive plays in there.
Indiana's offense exploded in the way that many people thought it would, but the Hoosiers just couldn't make it to a bowl game after a loss to the Gophers couldn't get them over the hump. When you get right down to it, Indiana's problem was on defense, or lack of defense. Opposing offenses found it pretty easy to go out there and succeed against a bunch of tumbleweed. Fear not, intrepid Hoosier fan, you still have Tevin Coleman exploding out of the backfield. Coleman rushed for 958 yards on a 7.31 average and 12 touchdowns in 2013. Given what Kevin Wilson does, Indiana's offense is still going to be the strength.
10/18 @ Maryland
There are some people out there who hate the fact that Maryland is now a part of the Big Ten. Whether it's the league's footprint, the money grab, or the mediocrity that has been Maryland football, the Terps are not getting much respect. However, they were missing guys like Stefon Diggs and Deon Long on the outside after each kid broke a leg against Wake Forest last year. With these two young men returning, C.J. Brown should have some scary weapons that can be used to torch teams like Indiana. Surprisingly, Vegas really likes the 2014 Terrapins.
Iowa and Northwestern have split their series 6-6 since 2000, with Iowa taking a 17-10 OT victory last year. Although Trevor Siemian may bring a little more consistency and stability at the quarterback position for Northwestern, it will be a tough road test for the Fightin' Union-ers.
11/8 @ Minnesota
The Hawkeyes bullied the Gophers on both sides of the line in 2013, but Minnesota has taken two of the last three in Minneapolis. Can they do it again? It will depend on the consistency of Mitch Leidner and David Cobb, who will need to have more than the 30 yards that the Gophers tallied in last year's game.
11/15 @ Illinois
Northwestern may be "Chicago's Big Ten Team", but Illinois is also a...well...uh...ahem...a team. Although everyone pretty much agrees that Wes Lunt is going to be the starter in Champaign, Tim Beckman isn't tipping his hand just yet. Lunt makes the Illini a pretty dangerous team, really, but the threat level could have been increased dramatically if Ty Isaac had decided to transfer to Illinois. He chose Michigan instead of the "hometown" team, and The Champaign Room won't be happy if Isaac is granted a hardship waiver. So, rather than playing right away for a team that has offensive potential, Isaac decided to head to Ann Arbor where he may have to sit out a season. That doesn't say anything too positive about the Beckman regime.
The Badgers were stout in the running game, obviously, but don't forget that they also ranked 6th in the country in points against by allowing only 16.3 points per game. Even with the departure of much of last year's defense, Wisconsin is still going to have a deep and talented group out on the field each week. They'll need that defense to remain strong against the Hawkeyes, who could be at eight or nine wins by the time this week rolls around.
Finally, a battle to see which state is the flattest, boringest, cornfieldiest, landscapeless-est--I think the football stadiums in Lincoln and Iowa City are the highest point in each state--most godforsaken place in the Big Ten. I've driven through both states more times than I'd care to remember, and I've wanted to shoot myself in the face every time. Whomever wins this game will do so because the other one shoots itself in the foot.
- Sure Thing(s) -- Northern Iowa, Ball State, Purdue
- Probable -- Iowa State, Indiana, Maryland, Northwestern, Illinois
- Toss-up -- Pitt, Minnesota, Nebraska
Iowa's schedule sets them up perfectly for about nine wins in 2013, but ten wins is going to be more than within reach, making it a real possibility that the Hawkeyes will compete for a conference title. Kirk Ferentz is still the coach, though, so I suppose you shouldn't be surprised by a six win season, either.