Let’s dispense with the pleasantries, shall we?
Wisconsin’s loss to BYU Saturday afternoon in Madison, which finished up shortly before Iowa throttled UNI 38-14 to improve to 3-0, took a little bit of the helium out of next week’s Big Ten opener.
A little, not all.
This is still viewed by many as a de facto elimination game for the Big Ten West crown.
In Week 4.
In the first conference game played by either team.
No pressure, right?
If you ask Iowa’s players – and several of my media colleagues did Saturday night while I was getting UNI’s perspective – the road to Indianapolis and the Big Ten title game still runs through Madison.
I’m not so sure of that and that’s not something I would have considered typing a month ago or, to be quite frank, a week ago.
The Badgers looked flat and uninspired in their 24-21 loss to the Cougars and they sounded the same in their postgame comments.
“We’re going to learn from this loss and take those lessons and bring them to practice,” running back Jonathan Taylor said. “We’re going to focus on things we need to correct to ensure we’re ready to play Iowa.”
Wisconsin wasn’t the only team to struggle Saturday. Nebraska lost at home to Troy. Northwestern dropped a game to Akron (aside: the Zips travel to Ames next weekend for a game Iowa State absolutely, positively needs to win). Purdue suffered its third heartbreak in as many games, coming up a field goal short at home against Missouri.
Only Iowa and Minnesota have managed to navigate the first three weeks of the 2018 season undefeated.
But that doesn’t count for much moving forward. Everyone (save Northwestern and Purdue) is 0-0 in league play.
Saturday is a clean slate. Essentially, it is the start of a new season.
“We have to close it out,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “We’ve got basically seven days to stay focused and try to keep improving and then we’ll see where we’re at when next week’s over.”
Iowa’s on to Wisconsin. Wisconsin is on to Iowa. And there’s a good chance when the dust settles one of those two teams will, indeed, be on to Indianapolis when December rolls around.
That’s a good deal for those lucky enough to hold a ticket to next week’s sold-out affair at Kinnick Stadium. It’s even better news for Indianapolis bar owners.