I was celebrating the bye week at the Iowa-Iowa State game this weekend because a lot of my friends from home go to Iowa and because Iowa City is a damn good time. And in between accidentally confusing all of Iowa's players for Northwestern players (I kept thinking No. 55 was Drew Smith), I came up with two conclusions:
- Kirk Ferentz is about a million times more conservative than Pat Fitzgerald.
- There is no reason Northwestern can't be competitive in the Big Ten West.
We already knew the first was true, though some of Fitzgerald's recent play-calling might have skewed our memory. I don't remember Iowa attempting a single pass greater than 20 yards (might have actually been 15). Also, this happened: Iowa was up 14-10 on the ISU 38 yard line, ran up the middle on 2nd-and-8 for two yards, then ran up the middle on 3rd-and-6 for no gain, then punted.
Iowa lost the game, of course, and it's clear that this isn't a very good football team, and it certainly isn't with Kirk Ferentz calling plays. But Iowa's still probably going to find a way to go 8-4 this year, not because of its own merit, but because its opponents — the same as Northwestern's opponents — are absolutely terrible. Here's a rundown of the seasons the other Big Ten West teams have had:
- Nebraska has a nice offense, but the Huskers are incredibly inconsistent. They blew out Fresno State this week, but nearly lost to McNeese State the week before. If they don't show up in every game — they most certainly won't — they're going to have some bad losses.
- Wisconsin's average-at-best starting quarterback has the yips, and its safety-turned-quarterback is looking like a safety-turned-quarterback. Moreover, the front seven on defense has major concenrs.
- Minnesota can't throw the ball and lost 30-7 to TCU this week.
- Tim Beckman thinks Illinois is really good when you ignore all the bad. Unfortunately, there's a lot of bad.
- Purdue is Purdue.
NU's crossover opponents? A Michigan team that can't seem to get anything right and a Penn State team that can't seem to score, despite everyone saying the offense is really good.
Some of you will call me out, saying that Northwestern is just as bad as its division mates. That might be true, but there's no game left on the schedule that the Wildcats will be noticeably out-matched in. If they make some corrections, this maybe-average team can finish with a much better record than it deserves. The Big Ten might be bad, but that's not all bad for NU.