Following Iowa's loss to Central Michigan, Hawkeye fans were of the nearly unanimous opinion that the season was headed straight for the dumpster.
There are still plenty of questions—not only about the 2012 Hawkeyes, but the direction the program is headed—but a big rivalry win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers seems to have settled fans down a bit. Perhaps that is because it was not only a victory, but a victory in which the Hawks looked competent and, in some phases of the game, dominant.
Nevertheless, the season is still young, and there are still a number of big questions, not the least of which concerns the passing game.
In effect, this season could still go a number of different directions.
Perhaps this win is similar to the victory over Penn State in 2008.
Following that win, the 2008 Hawks played arguably as well as any Iowa team since the 2002 co-Big Ten championship group.
This is not to profess any grand illusions about the 2012 squad being as good as the 2002 or 2008 teams. Nonetheless, the element of turning the corner—of the 2012 Hawkeyes playing to their full potential—holds true.
As for that full potential, under the best of circumstances, this group is not going to rattle off eight straight wins and march into Indianapolis as the division champs.
However, it could pull off four or even five more wins, and at 7-5/8-4, wind up about where most prognosticators, myself included, had them pegged before the season started.
Of course, they have some work to do in order to get there, particularly in the passing game.
Think Michigan State 2010.
Iowa limped into the game with a 5-2 record, having suffered two ugly, and close, losses to Wisconsin and Arizona.
Meanwhile, MSU was undefeated, having already beaten Michigan, Notre Dame and the same ranked Wisconsin team that beat the Hawks.
In the end, Iowa crushed the Spartans, 37-6, but followed up the dominating win by squeaking by lowly Indiana and then dropping three in a row to close out the season.
Iowa's dominance in the Michigan State game was a combination of how well Iowa played and how poorly MSU played, much the same as the Hawks' recent win over Minnesota.
Of course, man-for-man, that Hawkeye team was much better than this year's team, but 2010 Michigan State was much better than 2012 Minnesota. Moreover, the Big Ten in 2010 was light years better than the 2012 conference.
In short, it's not inconceivable that the victory over the Gophers will be the last ray of hope in a disappointing year.
The Minnesota game was a combination of factors that worked in Iowa's favor.
The reality is, a better team than Minnesota would have taken advantage of the many chances they had. Most of the Big Ten teams that the Hawkeyes will play this year are more consistent, if not better, than the Gophers.
In effect, this season will be a roller coaster.
In one or two games, the Hawkeyes will no-show. They will also have one or two dominant performances and two or three shaky performances that could go either way.
The end result of this sort of scenario is anywhere from 5-7 to 7-5.
Iowa played well, but to be fair, Minnesota was terrible. That sort of inconsistency has to be expected for a squad as young as the Gophers.
When one looks at how the Hawks performed, it is fair to say the linebackers, offensive line and Mark Weisman played well regardless who they were facing.
But all things considered, the rest of the team was anywhere from inconsistent to mediocre to sub-par, and a better team than Minnesota would have exposed it.
If Minnesota had played a better game, it would have been a close contest. Iowa can't expect its other, mostly more experienced foes to fall flat.
In effect, the end result could very well be 1-7 in the Big Ten.
...the passing game will continue to struggle, especially on the road.
As the Hawks have four road games to go—at Michigan State, Indiana, Northwestern and Michigan—that would mean trouble.
The end result of such a scenario would be a surprisingly dominant defense, offensive line and running back corps, but a group that can't put things away, as better defenses key on the run but don't fear Iowa's passing game.
This would lead to bowl eligibility but little more.