In a uniquely appropriate turn of events, a big bronze pig has become the physical manifestation of the hopes and aspirations of the 2012 Iowa Hawkeyes.
It seems crazy to call the conference opener a must-win, but after going 2-2 through the cupcake portion of their schedule, without a true road game, Saturday's showdown with the Gophers is exactly that for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa can not afford to go to East Lansing 2-3.
Saturday is Iowa's homecoming game and Kinnick Stadium is sold out for this rivalry game. If Iowa loses Floyd of Rosedale for the third consecutive season, it will be more than a bronze pig leaving Iowa City. Minnesota will be carrying Iowa's postseason aspirations out the the door. And it's only Week 5.
Where: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa
When: Saturday, September 29 at 11 a.m. CT
Tickets: Sold Out
WR - Keenan Davis 6
LT - Brandon Scherff 68
LG - Matt Tobin 60
C - James Ferentz 53
RG - Austin Blythe 63
RT - Brett Van Sloten 70
TE - C.J. Fiedorowicz 86
WR - Kevonte Martin-Manley 11
QB - James Vandenberg 16
RB - Mark Weisman 45
FB - Brad Rogers 38
WR - Brandon Green 1
LT - Ed Olson 58
LG - Tommy Olson 53
C - Zac Epping 52
RG - Caleb Bak 64
RT - Josh Campion 65
TE - John Rabe 81
WR - Marcus Jones 15
WR - Devin Crawford-Tufts 80
QB - Max Shortell 11
RB - Donnell Kirkwood 20
DE - Joe Gaglione 99
DT - Steve Bigach 54
DT - Louis Trinca-Pasat 90
DE - Dominic Alvis 79
LB - Anthony Hitchens 31
LB - James Morris 44
LB - Christian Kirksey 20
CB - Micah Hyde 18
CB - B.J. Lowery
SS - Tom Donatell 13
FS - Tanner Miller 5
DE - Michael Amaefula 98
DT - Cameron Botticelli 46
DT - Ra'Shede Hageman 99
DE - D.L. Wilhite 95
LB - Aaron Hill 57
LB - Mike Rallis 26
LB - Keanon Cooper 4
CB - Troy Stoudermire 2
CB - Michael Carter 23
SS - Derrick Wells 13
FS - Cedric Thompson 27
If you're a Hawkeye fan who enjoys the finer things in life, like defeating inferior opponents, respect from the national media and a conversation about your favorite college football team that has to do with anything other than the head coach's salary, last weekend was an absolute bummer.
The 2-1 Hawkeyes that entered the contest against Central Michigan inspired little confidence, but could still reach their bye week with a 4-1 record after a walk-through against the Chippewas and taking care of business against Minnesota the following week.
The 2-2 Hawkeyes who emerged from said "walk-through" make it difficult to see the four wins necessary for bowl eligibility on the conference schedule.
In the absence of their dynamic starting quarterback, MarQueis Gray, who was injured in the previous week, Minnesota was victorious against Syracuse 17-10.
Syracuse is not exactly a statement win, and theirs was far from pretty, but it moved the Gophers to 4-0 on the season and has them feeling very good about where they are as a team.
In other words, Minnesota enters conference play in exactly the position Iowa hoped to be in when the two face off at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa wins if they can manage to fight the overwhelming urge to shoot themselves in the foot.
Last week the Hawkeyes exercised a pretty staggering lack of discipline on their way to 106 penalty yards. They also managed to disappear in big spots, like, say, third downs and special teams.
Along with playing a more disciplined brand of football, the Hawkeyes will need to control the line of scrimmage on offense. Mark Weisman has been Iowa's breakout star this season, due in part to the fact the offensive line has been absolutely dominant over the last two weeks.
If that trend continues, they have a great chance to hand the Gophers their first loss of the season.
The unfortunate reality of Iowa Football is Minnesota, or any other opponent for that matter, can win if they keep it close.
Black Heart Gold Pants posted an especially depressing piece about Iowa's futility in one-possession games since 2005, especially since the end of the 2009 season. Since defeating Georgia Tech in the 2010 Orange Bowl, Iowa has lost a stunning nine one-possession games.
If Minnesota keeps it close, more likely than not, Iowa will find a way to lose. If it comes down to an onside kick, the Hawkeyes are essentially doomed. That's not just based on last week's failure, it's a realistic view formed by watching Minnesota recover onside kicks on their way to defeating Iowa in each of the last two seasons.
Last week, Iowa was forced to come to terms with the fact they are a bad football team with an extreme uphill battle to reach bowl eligibility. Minnesota, on the other hand, has as positive an outlook on a football season as they've had in a long time.
There are eight games remaining on Iowa's schedule and they won't be favored in many of them, but this feels like exactly the type of game in which the otherwise disappointing Hawkeyes get the job done.
After losing to Minnesota in a major letdown last season, the Hawkeyes responded by upsetting a superior Michigan team the following week. That is the Iowa M.O. They'll do just enough to keep you interested before ultimately underachieving.
Forcing Minnesota to settle for field goals will keep Iowa in the game, but to win they will need a couple big takeaways. I think they will force the turnovers they need and run the ball effectively enough to get the W.
Iowa 27 Minnesota 23