The Iowa Hawkeyes are members of the Legends Division.
This was designated by the newly aligned Big Ten Conference.
If the Hawks end up with a better record than their divisional rivals, they will get an opportunity to play in the first Big Ten Championship Game at the end of the season.
Luckily, the Hawkeyes benefit from a very favorable schedule in 2011.
Their toughest tests may be the first conference game of the season on the road at Leader's Division rival Penn State and the last game of the season, a road game against Legends Division rival Nebraska.
Overall in 2011 the Hawkeyes play three of their intra-divisional rivals—Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.
Iowa must face Legend rivals Minnesota and Nebraska on the road.
The Hawkeye's cross-over contests in the Big Ten have Iowa challenging Leaders Penn State in Happy Valley, Purdue in West Lafayette and Indiana at home in Iowa City.
The Hawkeyes, however, do not have to face Ohio State or Wisconsin in 2011 unless Iowa meets the Buckeyes or the Badgers in the Big Ten Championship game.
Co-Legend Nebraska was dealt a very stiff schedule to start out their campaign in the Big Ten.
Michigan and Michigan State also received few scheduling breaks.
Both must face Ohio State, Nebraska and each other. Additionally, Michigan State must face Wisconsin.
While no game will be easy, Iowa has an increased chance for doing very well because of their favorable schedule in the upcoming football season.
Working through the 2011 schedule, here is how Iowa wins the Legend’s Division:
Game 1: Tennessee Tech—September 3, 2011—Iowa City
Tennessee Tech is a member of the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC).
In 2010 they went 4-4 in conference play and 5-6 overall.
The Golden Eagles and their coach Watson Brown are coming off what they consider a rebuilding year.
The Golden Eagles head into 2011 welcoming a large number of returning starters and key reserves back.
Returning will be 25 seniors and 25 juniors. Coach Brown wishes to look at them all and review their strengths.
Currently the Tennessee Tech coaches are using spring practice to review players and find which ones will best fit into Tennessee Tech’s offensive and defensive schemes.
The desire for 2011 is to integrate more speed into the Golden Eagles game by picking up the tempo on the field.
Iowa has never played Tennessee Tech but has played other teams out of the OVC.
Iowa will win this one at home starting off the season 1-0.
Game No. 2 Iowa State—September 10, 2011—Ames, Iowa
Iowa’s second opponent of the season is Iowa State. The Cyclones remain members of the Big 12, formerly a member of the Big 12 North Division.
Last year the two teams met in Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City where Iowa won 35-7.
The Iowa vs. Iowa State rivalry has existed since 1894 with Iowa leading in the series 39-19-0. The meeting in 2011 will mark their 59th as they vie for the Cy-Hawk Trophy now residing in Iowa City.
This year brings new challenges to Iowa State who lost their vaunted quarterback Austen Arnaud and his partner in the backfield, running back Alexander Robinson.
Spring drills will help Coach Paul Rhoades decide who will lead the Cyclones in 2011. The competition to replace the three-year starter at QB appears stiff with Shontrelle Johnson, Jeff Woody and James White battling it out.
Iowa State has plenty of question marks coming into the 2011 season.
While the Cyclones bring back a good defensive corps, they still must replace many key players on offense.
With an excellent coach in Rhoades, expect the Cyclones to make great strides as the season progresses.
Iowa will win this contest on the road behind a brilliant passing attack by Vandenberg. Iowa will stand 2-0 on the season as they leave Ames.
Game No. 3: University of Pittsburgh—September 17, 2011—Iowa City
The Pitt Panthers out of the Big East finished 2010 with an 8-5 (5-2 Big East) record.
They were led by junior quarterback Tino Sunseri who threw for 2,572 yards in 346 attempts last season.
Sunseri was aided in the backfield by junior running back Dion Lewis who ran for 1061 yards and scored 13 touchdowns in 2010 and by running back Ray Graham who scrambled for 922 yards, scoring eight touchdowns.
Lewis, however, has declared himself draft eligible and is scheduled to compete in the NFL scouting combine.
At the end of the season, Pitt fired coach Dave Wannstedt.
Newly hired coach Todd Graham is working to adapt the Pitt offense to his “high-octane” style of play.
The offense is based on speed not only during plays but also on snapping the football quickly after the last play.
Graham brings in a whole new coaching staff and philosophy which worked well for him at Tulsa. But it may take some time to develop at Pitt.
Graham’s offenses at Tulsa have been among the most productive and explosive in the country. The Golden Hurricane averaged nearly 83 plays per game while leading the nation in total offense twice, and ranked in the top five of that category three times.
Expect Iowa, however, to win this one at home in a close contest. Iowa will now stand at 3-0.
Game No. 4: Louisiana Monroe—September 24, 2011—Iowa City
The Louisiana Monroe Warhawks are members of the Sunbelt Conference.
Last year they compiled a 5-7 record, 4-4 in their conference. They are coached by Todd Berry.
The Warhawks were led by freshman quarterback Kolton Browning who threw for 2,552 yards and 18 touchdowns during the 2010 season.
Luther Ambrose returns for his senior season as the Warhawks wide receiver after compiling 752 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 2010.
Ambrose may be aided on the receiving end by sophomore Tavarese May who gained 505 yards on 43 receptions, scoring three touchdowns.
Louisiana Monroe finished in the middle of the pack in the Sunbelt Conference.
They are the Hawkeyes fourth non-conference opponent.
Iowa will win this one and finish their non-conference schedule undefeated at 4-0.
Game No. 5 Penn State—October 8, 2011—University Park
Iowa’s first conference game takes place on the road at Penn State—which is not a member of the Legends Division.
Traditionally, Iowa does well against Penn State, having won their last three games. Overall the Hawks lead in the series 12-11.
Penn State had less than a stellar year on the gridiron in 2010—not up to their lofty standards by any one's estimation.
The Lions never quite resolved the quarterback situation during the 2010 season.
Rob Bolden struggled as a freshman should who is thrust into the starting position at the major college level. Later the freshman was replaced in favor of Matt McGloin after Bolden suffered a concussion.
One can argue that Penn State’s weak play on the offensive line was the crux of their problem moving the ball and scoring last year.
It is not helpful that the Lions lose their starting guard Stefen Wisniewski.
While Penn State recruited well in that area, it will take time to stabilize the offensive line. If the offensive line becomes stronger and more reliable, expect the entire offense to improve—but all this takes time.
Luckily Iowa faces Penn State early in the season.
Iowa has a good shot at winning this one on the road. But it is time for Penn State to win at home. Iowa will leave Happy Valley standing at 4-1.
Game No. 6 Northwestern—October 15, 2011—Iowa City
Iowa’s first “Legend” opponent of the season is Northwestern which journeys to Iowa City on October 15.
Has any team been more of a thorn in the side of the Iowa Hawkeyes than the Northwestern Wildcats?
The Wildcats started the horrible slide Iowa endured last year at the end of the season. Northwestern also ended Iowa’s undefeated streak in 2009.
This year Northwestern returns to Iowa City with an established quarterback in Dan Persa.
Persa was injured on November 13, 2010 at the very end of the game against the Hawks after assuring a win for the Wildcats.
Persa was sidelined for the rest of the season and Northwestern did not win another game.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald, needless to say, was not happy with the the way Northwestern ended the year.
Mainly he was not happy with the defense which seemed to wilt as Northwestern played their last games of the season.
Northwestern will be looking to build a running game that doesn’t fold when and if Persa is not in the game.
With Persa healthy, the Cats have a great chance to win.
But with their inexperience on the offensive line, their lack of a pass rush on defense and their fledgling ground game, Iowa has a real shot to finally beat the Wildcat, especially considering the recent past.
Iowa will finally beat the Wildcats at home in Iowa City posting a 5-1 record on the season.
Game No. 7 Indiana—October 22, 2011—Iowa City
New head coach Kevin Wilson has his work cut out for him in bringing the Indiana Hoosiers up to speed in the Big Ten.
Wilson is one of three new head coaches in the newly aligned Big Ten.
The man must love a challenge to walk into Memorial Stadium and begin the task of rebuilding a Big Ten caliber team—one that can play toe to toe with the big boys.
Definitely, the Hoosiers will be rebuilding from top to bottom.
The Hoosiers will have to develop new schemes on offense and defense and without the necessary caliber of players to develop a defense capable of stopping the best teams.
Iowa will win this one at home and leave the field with a 6-1 record.
Game No. 8 Minnesota—October 29, 2011—Minneapolis
On the road again, Iowa travels to Minneapolis to meet the Minnesota Gophers, another member of the Legend’s Division of the Big Ten.
Last year’s defeat in Minneapolis at the end of the season had to be the lowest point of the year for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
In fact, the loss to the Gophers sent many Hawkeye fans screaming into the night.
Expect this year’s team to seek redemption at TCF Bank Stadium in October. The Hawks will be seeking to return the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy to Iowa City in 2011.
Gophers new head coach Jerry Kill will again be rebuilding this team that has seen more new head coaches promising a winning season than Minnesota has lakes.
2011 will be one more rebuilding season for the Gophers.
Kill will no doubt be concentrating his efforts on building a non-existent defense.
Then too, Adam Weber, the Gophers quarterback in 2010, is gone. So the task of replacing him will become a primary focus during spring drills.
After winning this one on the road Iowa will leave the Twin Cities 7-1.
Game No. 9 Michigan—November 5, 2011—Iowa City
Big Blue is hoping to become the dominating force on the gridiron they once were in the recent past.
Like Minnesota and Indiana, Michigan has hired a new coach, Brady Hoke, who has a penchant for rebuilding football teams.
Hoke is coming to Ann Arbor from San Diego State which went bowling in 2010. He brings with him a new coaching staff.
Of course, Michigan brings back the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback Denard Robinson.
Michigan also returns almost all their starters on offense from a year ago.
Once the players adapt to a new offensive scheme, this veteran offense should prove to be much better than a year ago.
Look for Hoke to modify and simply the defense which returns nine starters from one year ago. The truth is that Michigan could be a handful for the Hawkeyes by November 5.
Iowa will have to win this one, however, to win the Division. Doing so Iowa now stands at 8-1.
Game No. 10 Michigan State—November 12—Iowa City
The fact that Michigan State must travel to Iowa City again in 2011 more than makes up for the Hawkeyes having to travel two years in a row to Minneapolis to play the Gophers.
Last year Iowa handed the Spartans their only regular season loss as the Hawks upended Michigan State 37-6 in Iowa City.
That was the high mark of the season for the Hawks and the low point of the year for the Spartans—that is until Michigan State had to play Alabama in the Capital One Bowl, losing 49-7.
Michigan State comes back with their backfield intact. Quarterback Kirk Cousins will return to lead the offense.
He will be aided by running backs Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker as well as many seasoned receivers.
Unfortunately the Spartans lost most of the offensive line. They also lost some key personnel on defense including All-American linebacker Greg Jones.
Look for Iowa to win again at home against the Spartans and send their record to 9-1.
Game 11 Purdue—November 19, 2011—West Lafayette
Iowa has another road game with a team from the Leader’s Division—the Purdue Boilermakers.
Purdue suffered last year with unending injuries.
This left the Boilers struggling to score at the end of season having to field untested personnel at key positions.
Purdue ended up 4-8 (2-6 Big Ten).
With all wounded bodies healthy once again, the Boilers return 16 starters from last season to attempt once again to live up to the expectations of third-year coach Danny Hope.
Purdue should be much better than they were in 2010.
They lost some first-rate talent, however, with linebacker Jason Werner and All-American defensive end Ryan Kerrigan leaving the team. The Boilers have some big shoes to fill on defense.
Iowa will win this game on the road and enter Lincoln with a 10-1 record.
Game No. 12 Nebraska—November 25, 2011—Lincoln
The last game of the regular season finds the Iowa Hawkeyes facing rivals living on their western border—the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
This game has the potential of being the one that determines the Legends Division championship.
Regardless, it will be an exciting and remarkable game for both sets of fans.
Being played in Memorial Stadium on the day after Thanksgiving with the stands inked in a sea of RED, nothing could be more exciting for a Hawkeye fan than to win this game.
The odds of doing it in Lincoln seem rare. But this is why we play the games, as they say.
Last year Nebraska found their offense disappointing, letting them down in the big games.
To that end, Bo Pelini, Nebraska’s head coach, has ushered in whole-scale changes starting with new coaches, most significantly, a new offensive coordinator. Out with Shawn Wilson and in with Tim Beck.
Nebraska will have talent to burn as they always do. The problem for the Huskers will be adapting to a new offensive scheme, new coaching personnel and an entirely new home—in the Big Ten.
Iowa will fight hard but lose this opener in Lincoln. They will end the regular season at 10-2
In this scenario detailing how the Iowa Hawkeyes could win the Legends Division and compete for the Big Ten Championship in 2011—it goes as follows for the teams remaining in contention:
Iowa ends the season with a 10-2 record with one loss to Nebraska in their division.
Michigan ends up with losses to Michigan State and Iowa in the division race.
Michigan State suffered losses to Nebraska and Iowa in the division.
Nebraska lost to Michigan, tying with Iowa in the division—but with an overall win-loss record of 9-3, losing also to Wisconsin and Penn State.
That is as close as Iowa could possibly come to winning the division.
The Hawkeyes will probably lose out because Nebraska won the head-to-head and would nudge Iowa out of the spotlight!
But anything is possible. Dream on, Iowa fans!