The 2015 Iowa Hawkeyes have positioned themselves to finally break back out (after all it has really been a while) and make a return to the national stage in a major bowl game, barring some sort of colossal meltdown over the next few weeks. With their gritty win at home against the Illini of Illinois, a week after a hard-fought win on the road against an always tough Wisconsin Badgers squad, the Hawkeyes have improved to an impressive 6-0 record. The last time the Hawks started off this strong was 2009 which, not coincidentally, ended in an appearance in the Orange Bowl. While the Hawks are often a popular choice as a dark horse team, this year the team and its coaching staff actually look talented and prepared to seize that opportunity.
The Hawkeyes success is due in large part to some surprising leadership and overall performance at the quarterback position. I don't think any fans were terribly comfortable with the idea of CJ Beathard as the quarterback when the season started, but he has performed admirably and has shown significant poise and leadership when the Hawks needed it most. In fact, it's easy to argue that Beathard has stepped well beyond the role of game manager to major playmaker for Iowa.
His stats this season won't blow you away (only 206.5 yards per game and just over 1 TD), but he has shown toughness and leadership that the Hawkeyes have lacked since the days of Ricky Stanzi, and Drew Tate before him. He's also much more dangerous as a scrambler and has a better arm than either.
For all the good that Beathard has done for this Iowa squad the unquestioned leader of the offense, and quite possibly the team as a whole, this season has been running back Jordan Canzeri. Much like Beathard, the emergence of Canzeri has been somewhat of a surprise.
Canzeri has been a pivotal part of the Hawkeye offense, rushing for nearly 700 yards and 9 touchdowns so far this season, adding another 150 yards and 1 touchdown receiving. If Canzeri can keep up this pace, and if the Hawks keep winning, he might just find himself in the discussion of “Best running back not named Leonard Fournette or Ezekiel Elliot.”
From a leadership standpoint, Beathard and Canzeri have been invaluable, but the success that the Hawkeyes have had thus far would not be possible without the help of a solid defense. The Hawkeyes aren't exactly a Baylor or TCU on the offensive side of the ball. No one in the Big 10 is, that's just not how football is played in this conference. To win in the Big 10 you have to be able to run the ball, and you have to be solid on the defensive end.
The Hawkeyes have only allowed 20+ points twice this season and with the way their schedule shakes out the rest of the way, it's a distinct possibility that they won't allow that many points again until the conference championship game. However, their front four did take a significant hit with the loss of DE Drew Ott to a torn knee ligament.
Surprisingly enough, the biggest thing the Hawkeyes have in their favor this season is the schedule. Playing in the Big 10, arguably the most top-heavy conference in college football, it's hard to believe that a schedule could be favorable, but when you look at it, the Hawks somehow avoid playing Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan. Nebraska is unexpectedly terrible this year, and as previously mentioned, they've already defeated Wisconsin, arguably the hardest game on the schedule. Next week's matchup against the Northwestern Wildcats appears to be the only remaining difficult game on the schedule. If the Hawkeyes can win next week, it looks likely that they'll finish the season undefeated.
Assuming Iowa can get through the remainder of their schedule without a blemish on their record, it's not out of the question that they'll enter the college football playoff discussion. It's hard to imagine that they'll actually make the playoff with the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State all ranked higher than them within their own conference, not to mention the likes of Baylor, Utah, and TCU (and whoever wins the SEC) but a lot can happen in the course of a season – and Iowa has without a doubt one of the easiest roads to get there and stay in the discussion.
With that being said, all three of the aforementioned Big 10 schools play each other, so it's impossible for them all to finish the season undefeated. If either Michigan or Michigan State can find a way to upset the Buckeyes, then lose to the remaining school, I don't think it's out of the question that Iowa could find themselves a likely 4th in the playoff if they manage to win in the conference championship game. It's a far-fetched scenario, but suddenly half way into the season it's one that certainly isn't completely out of the question anymore.
Welcome! My name is Chris Spooner. I am an overly-passionate Dolphins fan who has many opinions about his team, and the sports landscape as a whole. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy voicing them.