Imagine being a 9-0 Big Ten team and being left out of the College Football Playoff rankings’ top 4, sitting behind assorted one-loss teams.
Hawkeyes fans don’t have to work too hard to conjure it, because it happened to them in 2015. Now they’re in the unenviable position of sympathizing with — or even defending — the credentials of their oldest rival, the 9-0 Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Minnesota, and Iowa before it, is an undefeated Power 5 conference team — and let’s be honest, many consider the Big Ten and SEC to be at yet another level. An undefeated Power 5 team is not being left out of the College Football Playoff, so why not let the rankings be more fluid from week to week?
In 2015, a 9-0 Iowa was No. 8 in the AP Top 25 and an 8-1 Alabama was No. 3. In 2019, a 9-0 Minnesota is No. 7 in the AP and an 8-1 Alabama is No. 4.
In 2015, a 9-0 Iowa was No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings. In 2019, a 9-0 Minnesota is No. 8 in the CFP rankings. For the uninitiated, that’s on the outside looking in.
In 2015, critics said the 9-0 Hawkeyes hadn’t played anyone, but they’d beaten the No. 19 and No. 20 teams in the country on the road. In 2019, critics say the Gophers haven’t played anyone, but they just beat No. 4 Penn State at home. So maybe now it’s “not enough anyones.”
The fact is, Minnesota is only one of three undefeated teams with a top 10 win. The others, of course, are Ohio State and now No. 1 LSU.
Now I mentioned Alabama — who, yes, went on to win the title in 2015. The 8-1 Crimson Tide got a first place vote in that 2015 poll referenced above. That just shows you the level of absurdity the polls reach. That year it wasn’t the top team in the country they lost to, but a highly ranked Ole Miss. But No. 1 with one loss?
They’re out of the CFP for the moment, but only rose to No. 1 this year when an undefeated defending national champion Clemson won by “just” one point. The Crimson Tide were outclassed at home by LSU as 7-point favorites and their best win is against a then-24th-ranked and now-unranked Texas A&M. But they are Alabama, so they get one free pass each year. Only Notre Dame gets more favors. Eventually, everyone realizes that the college football fanbase at large wants more than SEC rematches in BCS and CFP action and then we get start all over or expand.
All of this is not to heap praise on P.J. Fleck and the Golden Gophers. Their style is not Iowa style. But you can’t demand respect for the undefeated Hawkeyes in 2015 and not grant the same to these undefeated Gophers this year.
That said, the opportunity is there for the Hawkeyes to welcome a top team into Kinnick Stadium the best way they know how: As spoiler.
Strangely enough, it wouldn’t even be an “upset” — the Hawks are favored by 3. “Vegas knows,” but that’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about here. It’s time to give the Gophers some respect, the same respect you wanted for the Hawkeyes in 2015. And if Iowa wins, it should mean just as much as those upsets of Michigan and Ohio State.
Let’s see what our experts think.
Once again, we are thrilled to have our predictions on Hawkeye Headquarters brought to you by Draft Day Sports Lounge inside Rhythm City Casino, “where you can grab a bite and make live bets!”
The Hawkeyes’ all-time leader in receptions is back for a third season of picks.
Kevonte Martin-Manley: Iowa 28, Minnesota 10
Steve Batterson: Iowa 24, Minnesota 21. Playing for the pig for the 85th time, there will be no shortage of tradition at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday when the Hawkeyes and Golden Gophers renew acquaintances.
Expect a more recent tradition to also be part of the festivities – spoiling an opponent’s hopes and dreams.
Ask Michigan in 2016. Ask Ohio State in 2017.
The Hawkeyes have a way playing the role of the spoiler, and they’ll get that chance against a productive Minnesota offense that will be dealing with an Iowa defense looking to rebound after surrendering 300 yards on the ground last week at Wisconsin. Expect the Hawkeyes to take out their frustrations on the Gophers.
Steven Lassan: Minnesota
Mitch Light: Minnesota
Mark Ross: Minnesota
Dennis Dodd: Minnesota
Jerry Palm: Minnesota
Tom Fornelli: Iowa
Chip Patterson: Minnesota
Barton Simmons: Iowa
Barrett Sallee: Minnesota
Ben Kercheval: Minnesota
Bruce Feldman: No pick as sideline reporter
Stewart Mandel: Minnesota 24, Iowa 20
Minnesota 29.2, Iowa 29.1 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
David Kenyon: Minnesota 21, Iowa 17
Ralph D. Russo: Minnesota 20, Iowa 18
Bill Bender: Minnesota 24, Iowa 23
Bill Connelly: Minnesota 27, Iowa 24
Molly Geary: Minnesota
Max Meyer: Iowa
Michael Shapiro: Minnesota
Laken Litman: Minnesota
Ross Dellenger: Iowa
Pat Forde: Minnesota
Lorenzo Arguello: Minnesota
Hawkeye State predictions
Marc Morehouse: Iowa 27, Minnesota 24
Scott Dochterman: Iowa 27, Minnesota 21
SI’s Hawkeye Maven
John Bohnenkamp: Iowa 23, Minnesota 20
Brendan Stiles: Minnesota 27, Iowa 20
John Patchett: Iowa 24, Minnesota 17
Tyler Tjelmeland: Iowa 27, Minnesota 13
Jack Brandsgard: Iowa 20, Minnesota 17
Chad Leistikow: Iowa 35, Minnesota 21
Go Iowa Awesome
Mark Hasty: Minnesota 38, Iowa 20
Rob Howe: Iowa 27, Minnesota 24
Black Heart Gold Pants
JPinIC: Iowa 20, Minnesota 18
Jerry Scherwin: Iowa 24, Minnesota 21
Tnels20: Iowa 25, Minnesota 22
Matt Cabel: Iowa 21, Minnesota 17
BoilerHawk: Minnesota 23, Iowa 21
Benjamin Ross: Iowa 31, Minnesota 17
Doug Saye: Minnesota 31, Iowa 27
Matt Reisener: Minnesota 21, Iowa 20
DC: Minnesota 28, Iowa 17
Adam Hensley: Minnesota 27, Iowa 24
Cody Hills: Iowa 27, Minnesota 21
And finally, the totally irrelevant prediction based on playing EA Sports’ NCAA Football 2004 on a PS2, as is the tradition since 2015.
Ryan Jaster: Minnesota 25, Hawkeyes 20. The Hawkeyes’ return the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown, but as those of us in attendance found out at the 2003 Orange Bowl, it’s always a good thing, but it does not guarantee victory. (Same for Bears fans at the same stadium for the Super Bowl four years later.) And it only took two long pass plays and the Gophers pull even with a 41-yard TD pass. Iowa answers with a 36-yard TD pass set up by big gains on the ground. The teams don’t do much else but trade interceptions before the half, but a bad snap on a punt gives Minnesota the ball on the 24 with a little more than a minute left. The Gophers capitalize with a touchdown and tie the game 14-14. In the third quarter, Iowa kicks a field goal, but Minnesota responds with one off the upright. It turns out okay for the Gophers when Iowa’s QB is sacked for a safety. The Hawkeyes add another field goal in the 4th to extend the lead to 20-16, but a 65-yard touchdown pass gives the Gophers their first. Minnesota gets the ball back with under two minutes left and a chance to run out the clock with a first down, but the Hawkeyes defense holds firm, forcing a punt. A perfect coffin-corner kick bounces out at the 2 and on the next play Iowa’s quarterback is sacked for a second safety. It’s 25-20 and all but over with the Hawkeyes kicking off.
Prognosis: Kirk Ferentz hasn’t lost to Minnesota in Iowa City since his first season, 1999. The Hawkeyes are favored and many of the Iowa experts have stayed true, but the national insiders have grabbed a paddle and jumped on the Minnesota bandboat. This just might be the year to tip your cap, send Floyd packing for a year of self-exploration up north, withstand the pain as best as possible and bring home the bacon next year. You know who those 2015 Hawkeyes beat 40-35 to reach 10-0 for the first time? The Golden Gophers on a glorious day that included Kinnick’s first wrestling dual. As the Ws piled up, it started to look like Minnesota’s West to win. The Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl might be another story. Just like 2015 for the Hawkeyes.
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Ryan Jaster writes a weekly predictions column during football season for HawkeyeHQ.com and previously wrote and edited for CBS Sports, the Quad-City Times, ChicagoSports.com and the Chicago Tribune. You can follow his Hawkeye musings at @Hawkologist.