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Andrew Logue: Hawkeyes playing much better than advertised

[ 0 ] September 29, 2013 |

When preseason football magazines arrived last spring and summer, the forecast was gloomy.

Nobody offered much hope for Iowa.

The Sporting News picked the Hawkeyes to finish sixth in the Big Ten Conference’s Legends Division — with no invitation to a bowl game.

Lindy’s Sports tabbed coach Kirk Ferentz’s team for fifth place, adding “Shhhh … If you listen close enough, you can hear Iowa sinking in the Big Ten standings.”

Well, perhaps it’s time for a rewrite.

The Hawkeyes (4-1) beat Minnesota 23-7 in Saturday’s conference opener — matching their season win total from 2012 — and have as much reason for optimism as anyone else.

“We’ve been going back every Monday and starting over,” receiver Damond Powell said. “We don’t look far down the road.

“If a bowl game comes up, then we’ll prepare for that.”

Damond Powell (holding ball) and Iowa have reason for optimism after improving in multiple facets so far this season. (Bryon Houlgrave/Register photo)

Damond Powell (holding ball) and Iowa have reason for optimism after improving in multiple facets so far this season. (Bryon Houlgrave/Register photo)

The Hawkeyes have won four straight and need two more victories in their final seven games to qualify for a postseason bid.

Should they set even bigger goals? After all, Iowa is alone atop the Legends Division standings.

OK, OK. Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern and Michigan State were off last weekend and won’t begin Big Ten play until this Saturday.

But hey, when you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll.

The Hawkeyes have recovered from an opening loss against Northern Illinois and head into October with some serious mojo.

Junior running back Mark Weisman is the nation’s fourth-leading rusher with 615 yards on 119 carries.

Powell, Kevonte Martin-Manly and Jacob Hillyer give Iowa a solid receiving trio, while quarterback Jake Rudock continues to impress with his poise and decision-making.

The defense is seventh nationally against the run, holding opponents to 79.2 yards per game. A once-spotty secondary has helped hold opposing quarterbacks to a 48.7 completion rate the past four games.

“It’s about taking steps,” Ferentz said. “Our guys have prepared well every week. They’re working hard, and they’re showing up and playing hard.

“If you can do that, you give yourself a chance.”

Do the Hawkeyes belong in a conversation about the Legends Division elite?

It would have sounded like crazy talk when Stewart Mandel of SI.com projected Iowa to finish 1-7 in the Big 10, 4-8 overall.

But that was before Michigan nearly was beaten by Akron and Connecticut, and before Nebraska fans found out what coach Bo Pelini really thinks of them.

Northwestern would be a logical choice, but the Wildcats have tricky crossover games against Leaders Division opponents the next two weeks, against Ohio State (Saturday) and at Wisconsin (Oct. 12).

Michigan State, meanwhile, has a friendlier schedule, with crossover games against Indiana (Oct. 12), Purdue (Oct. 19) and at Illinois (Oct. 26).

So the Hawkeyes could do themselves and everyone else in the Legends Division a favor Saturday by beating the Spartans in an 11 a.m. game.

“They’re going to be ready,” Iowa defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat said. “So we have to be ready as well.”

It is worth pointing out the Hawkeyes began last year’s Big Ten schedule 2-0 and finished with six straight losses.

And things are going to get tougher in coming weeks. The next four opponents are a combined 16-3.

If Rudock keeps improving, Weisman keeps rumbling and the defense remains stout, another collapse seems unlikely.

Then again, making predictions is anything but a cinch.

Andrew Logue covers Hawkeyes football for the Register.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Andrew Logue: Andrew has been with the Des Moines Register for 19 years, covering everything from preps to Hawkeye and Cyclone sports, as well as the Drake Relays. View author profile.

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