Hawkeye fans are starting to get a taste of what it’s like at the top of the college football food chain.
Fans are quickly realizing that taste comes with a large side-order of stress. As writers and analysts sing Iowa’s praises, expectations mount—along with the stress.
ESPN.com’s Andrea Adelson recently wrote an article about the 20 teams with the best shot at playing in Glendale for the national title this season. She makes sure to mention that it isn’t her Top 20 ballot, but rather the teams she thinks have the easiest road-map to a BCS championship.
"The nonconference schedule is manageable, with the toughie being a road game at Arizona,” theorized Adelson in her article. “The Hawkeyes get Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State at home. With 14 starters returning, that is quite a nice trifecta."
Iowa’s schedule includes three preseason top 25 teams: No. 2 Ohio State, No. 12 Wisconsin, and No. 14 Penn State. Another opponent, Arizona, just missed the top 25, and ranks No. 29.
Playing a night game in a region two time zones behind, against a legitimate Pac-10 title contender is a tad more difficult than the label, "toughie," might suggest. That's a road-game nightmare.
Playing MSU, OSU, PSU, and the Badgers at Kinnick Stadium is no "manageable" walk in the park either. Sure, the home field advantage is a great thing, but having to play the entire top half of the Big Ten in Iowa City is no blessing in disguise.
Replace Ohio State and Wisconsin with Illinois and Purdue, and then maybe Iowa’s schedule could be branded as manageable.
Coaches, players, and fans appreciate the respect that the team is getting, but they accept the high praise with sort of a cringe. Popular Iowa blog Black Heart Gold Pants expresses concern over such proclamations.
"That's an ESPN writer tabbing Iowa as the team with the best shot at the NCAA championship game. NO PRESSURE OR ANYTHING."
Head coach Kirk Ferentz knows to temper the expectations, mentioning at Iowa’s media day that it is up to the players to follow through on what’s expected of them.
"Expectations have nothing to do with how the season is going to turn out,” Ferentz explained. “The things that we have to do, that's really going to be the most important thing, and then all of that being said, we don't know what's going to happen out here or on the road in those 12 ballgames."
Per usual, Ferentz speaks the truth. The preseason praise is great, but Iowa has to play (and likely win) 12 games before even thinking about a trip to Glendale.
Truth be told, there is no easy path to a BCS championship.