Kirk Ferentz wasn't overly impressed with the Iowa football team's rise into the national polls this week. "I gotta be honest with you, it didn't move me too much,'' the Iowa coach said today at his weekly news conference. Fortunately for Ferentz, the Hawkeye offensive line has been dictating the line of scrimmage as Iowa has worked its way to a 5-0 start to the season. What once was lining up as a preseason area of concern has quietly and methodically developed into a strength of this Hawkeye football team. Anchored at center by Austin Blythe, with Jordan Walsh and Sean Welsh providing consistent work at the guard spots, Iowa has seemingly found solutions for the two vacant tackle spots that had to be filled this season. The performance of Ike Boettger on the right side and the tandem of Boone Myers and Cole Croston on the left has helped Iowa do what Iowa has traditionally done when it is at its best, use the strength and muscle at the point of attack to create successful offensive production. "They've been on the same page all along but every week, they're making progress,'' running back Jordan Canzeri said. "They're doing a great job opening holes and making it all work.'' To Boettger, taking the field as a first-time starter in Iowa's season-opening win over Illinois State six games ago seems more like it was six years ago. "The speed of the game has been a huge thing, the way it has changed for me,'' Boettger said. "Every game, it seems like we have gone up against bigger, stronger guys who are a little tougher to play against. The challenge becomes a little greater.'' And for the sophomore from Cedar Falls, the little successes in the game within the game become a good measuring stick for the growth Iowa is seeing from its front five. "I still have a lot of work to do. I see that every week. But, it has been good a start, something to build on and almost halfway through the season, that feels good.''
Losses by teams at the top and bottom of the Associated Press college football poll have led to a significant shake-up on my ballot for this week's poll. Four top-10 teams -- Mississippi, Georgia, Notre Dame and UCLA -- lost on Saturday and on my ballot, Ohio State at 1 and Baylor at 4 are the only two teams in the same slots as they were a week ago. I opted to flip TCU and Michigan State in the 2-3 spots based on Saturday performances. LSU, Florida State, Oklahoma, Clemson, Texas A&M and Utah, all unbeaten, round out my top 10 for the week. Losses by Wisconsin, Mississippi State and West Virginia in the bottom eight spots from a week ago led to their exit from ballot for the week. Florida, Michigan and Houston are their replacements, landing in the 20th, 23rd and 25th positions. The Wolverines are among five Big Ten teams on my ballot, with Ohio State and Michigan State in the first and third spots and unbeaten Northwestern at 17 and Iowa at 21 this week. In addition to Houston, I considered Oregon, Duke, Memphis and Boise State for the final spot and opted to go with Tom Herman's unbeaten club this time around. Here is my ballot for this week's AP poll to be released later today: 1. Ohio State 2. TCU 3. Michigan State 4. Baylor 5. LSU 6. Florida State 7. Oklahoma 8. Clemson 9. Texas A&M 10. Utah 11. Mississippi 12. Alabama 13. Notre Dame 14. USC 15. Georgia 16. UCLA 17. Northwestern 18. Oklahoma State 19. Stanford 20. Florida 21. Iowa 22. California 23. Michigan 24. Toledo 25. Houston
In this case, there really is a lot of football left to be played. Seven regular-season games, actually, but the Iowa football team's plans to move from pretender to contender in the West Division of the Big Ten started by making a statement Saturday. "Wisconsin's been at the top for like the last four, five years. If you want to be where they're at, it starts by beating them,'' Iowa cornerback Desmond King said. "We came here today ready to make a statement that we're in this for the long haul.'' King did his part, collecting his fourth and fifth interceptions of the season as part of a gritty defensive effort that was matched by the Badgers. Iowa's defense recorded two sacks, six tackles for a loss, recovered a pair of fumbles, broke up five passes and generally left the Badgers hearing footsteps from start to finish of a 10-6 slugfest at Camp Randall Stadium. The Hawkeyes continued to deny opponents the opportunity to carry in the ball into the end zone, not allowing a rushing score for the fifth straight game while limiting the Badgers to 86 rushing yards on 34 carries. "This wasn't a game of anyone outwitting each other,'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It was a case of two teams just really going at each other hard.'' For the Hawkeyes, that was the way things had to be Saturday. Linebacker Josey Jewell said Iowa showed up looking for more than the chance to haul the Heartland Trophy back to Iowa City. "That part of great. Winning those trophies back is part of what we're all about this year,'' Jewell said. "But, it was more important for us to step up and show the Big Ten that we're serious about turning this thing around.'' Somehow, it was almost fitting that the Badgers' chances ended in the final minute with a defensive stand by Iowa. An incomplete pass by Joel Stave on a 4th-and-2 with 34 seconds remaining put the ball and trophy in Hawkeye hands. From the Hawkeyes' perspective, that could only happen with a statement Saturday.
Four things the football teams from Iowa and Wisconsin can do to position themselves for victory on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium: WISCONSIN (3-1, 0-0) 1. Establish the run. This has been a bit of an issue for the Badgers this season, with it taking some time for three new starters to adjust to roles on the offensive line and what ultimately was diagnosed as a sports hernia keeping projected starting running back Corey Clement out of the lineup. Redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal, this week's Big Ten freshman of the week, and junior Dare Ogunbowale have split duties in the backfield this season and combine to average 142.7 rushing yards. Ogunbowale is also Wisconsin's second-leading receiver, while Deal provides more of a power look. They fueled a 321-yard rushing performance last week against Hawaii, an effort labeled a statement game by Wisconsin center Dan Voltz, one of five 300-plus pounders now starting in the Badgers offensive line. 2. Stop the run. Wisconsin, like Iowa, has built its early-season success on stopping the running attack of opposing offenses. Since giving up 238 yards on the ground to Alabama, Wisconsin has allowed a total of 93 rushing yards in its last three games and has not allowed a touchdown of any type in those three wins over Miami (Ohio), Troy and Hawaii. The Badgers continue to deploy a 3-4 look on defense, with outside linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert creating their share of havoc. The pair has combined for 15 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks. 3. Get continued Stave swagger Wisconsin's senior quarterback has endured his share of ups and downs during his career, but has seemingly put it all together through the Badgers' 3-1 start. His passing numbers mirror those of Iowa's C.J. Beathard, with Stave completing 72-of-109 passes for 830 yards and seven touchdowns. He has been intercepted once. Alex Erickson has been his top target, grabbing 23 balls for 320 yards. 4. Enjoy home cooking. Camp Randall Stadium has become one of the most challenging environments to play in the Big Ten. Wisconsin has won its last 10 games there and on Saturday. That effort has been helped by defense that has been dominant at home since the arrival of Dave Aranda as Wisconsin's defensive coordinator in 2013. In home games played since the start of that season, no team in the Football Bowl Subdivision has allowed fewer than the 10.8 points and 239.1 yards per game surrendered by Wisconsin. Alabama, at 11.8 and 267.5, ranks second on both lists. IOWA (4-0, 0-0) 1. Establish the run. This will be a challenge against a Wisconsin run defense which has allowed 82.8 yards per game so far this season. Iowa has helped itself with a rushing attack that has topped 200 yards on three occasions and has featured plenty of balance. Jordan Canzeri leads the way at 79 yards per game, and continues to average 5 yards per rush. The senior is also Iowa's second-leading receiver. LeShun Daniels continues to work his way back from an ankle sprain, but quarterback C.J. Beathard leads all Big Ten quarterbacks with 151 rushing yards this season to complement what Canzeri has provided. 2. Make good decisions. Much like the Pitt game two weeks ago, efficient offensive execution will be big in this match-up. C.J. Beathard has accomplished that throughout the season, completing 75-of-110 passes for 962 yards and six touchdowns. He has been intercepted once. Iowa has put the ball in the hands of 10 receivers this season and those options will be important against a stout Badgers' defense. Receiver Tevaun Smith may or may not be available Saturday -- coach Kirk Ferentz declined to discuss Smith's status during his weekly call-in on Wednesday -- and his availability will likely impact the way the Badgers defend Iowa's passing game. 3. Deliver on defense. Wisconsin won't be the only physical defense centered on stopping the run that takes the turf Saturday at Camp Randall. Iowa has been effective in that area as well, limiting opponents 84 yards per game and 2.6 yards per carry. That last number illustrates the havoc being created by a defense which has recorded 24 tackles for a loss and 14 sacks this season. The Hawkeyes' sack total, led by five from Nate Meier, is 12 fewer than Iowa collected during the entire 2014 season. Iowa's ability to play with consistency will be critical against an opportunistic Wisconsin offense. 4. Ignore the elements.. No Iowa player has ever competed at Camp Randall Stadium, where the Hawkeyes last played in 2009. It tends to be one of the Big Ten's more raucous environments and as was the case at Iowa State during the second week of the season, Iowa must find a way to block out the noise and stick to its plan. The Hawkeyes have had success in Madison, winning there in three of their last four visits. That will be critical if Iowa hopes to be an active participant in its second trophy dash of the year. Wisconsin, which plays for traveling trophies against Minnesota and next week's opponent Nebraska as well, has won its last nine trophy games. The last time the Badgers lost a trophy contest was in 2009, when Iowa hauled home the Heartland Trophy from Camp Randall Stadium following a 20-10 victory.
The wins are adding up. The excitement from the fan base is building. And, the Iowa football team is determined to go about its business as it has on a daily basis since it started working in January to make the most out of its 2015 season. A strength of this year's team has been its focus, the ability to ignore the offseason gripes about what transpired last season and do the only smart thing, put it works to turn things around rather than become consumed about game results from a year ago that can never be changed. And now, as players make their way to class and go about their daily routine in Iowa City, the same ability to ignore the noise becomes an equally important trait. "We have to be careful now and understand that we've improved because we've been focused on the right things,'' coach Kirk Ferentz said. "That's what we've got to say and the approach we've got to take.'' Iowa players understand that. "What matters is what we hear inside these walls,'' Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard said. "Really, that's what matters, what we do as a team.'' Free safety Jordan Lomax said both the criticism and the compliments come with the territory. "It's part of the deal,'' he said. "But, we don't focus on the outside noise. We focus on ourselves.'' And win or lose in Saturday's 11 a.m. game, that won't change. Not if Ferentz has anything to say about it. "If the roof should cave in this week, if all hell breaks loose, we're going to line up and play next week, too,'' Ferentz said.
Paul Chryst is in his first season as the head football coach at Wisconsin. But for a coach who spent eight seasons on the sidelines in Madison as an assistant, was a Badgers quarterback from 1985-87 and who grew up the son of a former Wisconsin player, the rivalry between Iowa and Wisconsin is personal. "For me and my recollection, it goes back to when coach (Hayden) Fry was there,'' Chryst recalled this week. "And I know before that I think it was my dad, when he was playing here. That was the one loss they had that kept them from going to the Rose Bowl.'' But despite the similarities between the teams in terms of how they approach the game, the hard-nosed style of football play, Chryst sees differences. "It's interesting when you talk to people, and they compare this is a similar-type of Iowa team or a similar-type of Wisconsin team, they are all so different to me because of the players who play in it each year,'' Chryst said. He appreciates the similarities, but said he sees a newness to the rivalry as well. "I think that's what we get to focus on this week,'' Chryst said. "Certainly a lot of respect for Iowa and their program and yet this is all about this year, these two teams.'' The 11 a.m. game at Camp Randall Stadium will be the first trophy game Chryst has worked as a Badgers head coach. Wisconsin has won the last nine trophy games it has played - dating to a 20-10 loss to Iowa at Camp Randall in 2009 - and will play for hardware next week against Nebraska and on Thanksgiving weekend at Minnesota. Chryst gets the significance and plans to talk about it with his team this week. "If you want to win your side (of the Big Ten), you've got to beat those teams,'' he said. "Therefore, I think they are big games. I think our players, even before that trophy came in, I know our players always enjoyed it and it was a big deal to play Iowa.''
I told myself I wasn't going to do it, but I did. No matter what happened on the field Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, my intention was to wait until after next week's game at Wisconsin to think about whether Iowa belonged in the top 25 on my ballot for the Associated Press college football poll. That was before the bottom fell out of last week's ballot. So long, Oregon. Later, Arizona. Catch you later, Auburn and Georgia Tech. Losses by those four teams, some by rather impressive margin, opened the door for four newcomers on my ballot this week. Mississippi State, West Virginia, Stanford and Iowa are moving onto my ballot this week. Mississippi State is 3-1, losing only a two-point game to LSU, while Stanford was on my preseason ballot, but dropped off after losing its opener at Northwestern. Iowa and West Virginia are unbeaten, but face significant road tests next week. The Hawkeyes travel to Wisconsin, while West Virginia faces Oklahoma in the first of a string of Big 12 tests that follows with Oklahoma State, TCU and Baylor. I considered six other teams for those four spots as well, including Florida, Houston, Indiana Memphis, Miami, Michigan and North Carolina State. Given the match-ups next week involving some of teams in the 16-25 spots, I suspect I'll be revisiting things again next Sunday morning. The top of my ballot remains essentially unchanged. Ohio State hasn't been overly impressive the past couple of weeks, but the Buckeyes have done enough to hold onto my No. 1 spot. I did flip Michigan State and TCU in the 2-3 spots with Baylor, Mississippi, Georgia, Notre Dame, LSU, Florida State and UCLA holding steady in my top 10. All but Florida State, which was idle, won yesterday. TCU struggled a bit with Texas Tech before winning a 55-52 shootout, while I continue to be impressed with the defensive work of Michigan State. Here is my ballot for this week's Associated Press college football poll: 1. Ohio State 2. Michigan State 3. TCU 4. Baylor 5. Mississippi 6. Georgia 7. Notre Dame 8. LSU 9. Florida State 10. UCLA 11. Oklahoma 12. Alabama 13. Clemson 14. Texas A&M 15. Utah 16. USC 17. Wisconsin 18. Northwestern 19. Oklahoma State 20. Mississippi State 21. West Virginia 22. Stanford 23. California 24. Iowa 25. Toledo
Dan McCarney left Kinnick Stadium planning to repeat what he did a week earlier. After enjoying a front-row view of Iowa on Saturday as it picked apart McCarney's North Texas team, he plans to vote for the Hawkeyes for the second straight week in the coaches poll. "I put Iowa in my top 25 last Sunday and I'm sure going to do it again tomorrow when we vote,'' McCarney said. From the tape he watched before Saturday's 62-16 game and from what he saw of the Hawkeyes in person, McCarney was reminded of some of the Iowa teams he worked with as a defensive line coach during Hayden Fry's tenure. "The physicality of the team stands out. Iowa is fundamentally sound from the playmakers, returners, punters, kickers and it has a tremendous quarterback that really knows how to execute,'' McCarney said. "... They have big-play talent on their football team, and I was just really impressed.'' McCarney likes how defensive coordinator Phil Parker is deploying his players, centering its efforts around an athletic front four. "They do a really good job of blitzing when they do blitz, their timing of it and their coverage behind it, there is a method to their madness,'' he said. McCarney was pleased with the way his team was able to move the ball on the ground at times against Iowa. The Hawkeyes, who have not allowed a rushing touchdown during their 4-0 start, had allowed 51 yards per game on the ground before Saturday. The Mean Green finished with 183 yards on 45 carries against Iowa, an average of 4.1 yards per rush. Jeffrey Wilson saw his first action of the year for North Texas after returning from surgery and finished with 74 yards to complement a 66-yard game by Antoinne Jimmerson, whose 41 first-half yards were more than any individual had rushed for against Iowa this season, That gives McCarney's team something to build on as it moves into Conference USA play, but it did little to change his impression of Iowa. "They are a complete football team,'' he said.
Four ways the football teams from Iowa and North Texas can help put themselves in a position to win Saturday at Kinnick Stadium: NORTH TEXAS (0-2) 1. Stop the run Something easier said than done so far this season for the Mean Green, North Texas has surrendered an average of 231 yards per game on the ground this season. Opponents SMU and Rice have averaged 52 carries a game and there is no reason to expect Iowa not to follow the same path forged by others. Free safety Kishawn McClain and middle linebacker Blake Bean lead North Texas in tackles, averaging 12.5 and 11 per game. 2. Celebrate homecoming. North Texas coach Dan McCarney is 3-3 as a head coach in games played at Kinnick Stadium. The Iowa City native, a former Hawkeye and 12-year assistant under Bob Commings and Hayden Fry at Iowa, has never had a problem motivating his players to play in past games at Kinnick. His 1998 Iowa State team helped lead Fry's final Hawkeye team to a 3-8 record, ignoring being a 30-point underdog to win 27-9. North Texas quarterback Andrew McNulty is also celebrating a homecoming today. He's a senior from Iowa City High and enters this week coming off of the first 300-yard passing game of his career. McNulty has been effective on third down this season, completing 14-of-21 passes and 12 of those completions have moved the chains. Carlos Harris has been his favorite target. He grabbed a 93-yard touchdown pass last week and his average of 116.5 receiving yards per game ranks 12th nationally. 3. Be opportunistic on defense. North Texas has experienced success during McCarney's first four seasons in Denton in part because of an aggressive defensive approach. Turnovers - on both ends of the equation - have been problematic for North Texas so far this season. The Mean Green enter the game with a minus-four turnover margin. McNulty has thrown interceptions and the team has lost four fumbles through two games. North Texas has recovered three opponent's fumbles in its losses to SMU (31-13) and Rice (38-24). 4. Hang around. The longer the Mean Green can keep things competitive, the greater their opportunity of adding their name to a list of non-FBS opponents who have won at Kinnick in recent seasons. In all likelihood, that would mean forcing some turnovers against an Iowa team which has given the ball away just three times through three games and finding a way to make big plays against an Iowa defense which has not allowed an opponent to gain more than 20 yards on a rush this season and has surrendered four pass plays of 30 yards or more through three games. McCarney said earlier this week his team's best chance to win centers around keeping things close through three quarters and gaining confidence along the way to finish things off in the fourth. IOWA (3-0) 1. Establish the run. Iowa should be in a position to add to its collection of 200-yard rushing performances against a Mean Green defense which has lacked much bite during its first two games. Pitt limited Iowa to 105 yards a week ago, but Iowa the 4-3 defense the Hawkeyes will face this week is more similar to what Iowa saw in its first two games than what it saw against the Panthers. Jordan Canzeri will again likely be Iowa's primary ball carrier. LeShun Daniels continues to work his way back from an ankle sprain and was limited to nine carries and 15 yards a week ago while struggling to get much of a surge off of the injured ankle. Derrick Mitchell and Akrum Wadley could figure into things as well along with quarterback C.J. Beathard, whose 142 rushing yards rank as the most by any Big Ten QB. 2. D it up. The Hawkeyes' defense against the run has been impressive so far this season. Iowa is one of four teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision which has not allowed a rushing touchdown yet this season. Limiting opponents to an average of 51 yards per game on the ground, Iowa will be tested by senior running back Antoinne Jimmerson. He's approaching 2,000 career yards for the Mean Green has a small house blocking for him in 6-foot-9, 360-pound true freshman Jordan Murray, North Texas' starting left tackle. 3. Work the clock. You won't find a golf club on the turf at Kinnick this weekend, but the Hawkeyes have been winning their share of long drive contests through the initial weeks of the 2015 season. Through three games, Iowa has put together four drives covering nine or more plays and 80 or more yards. Only three other FBS teams - Texas A&M, Bowling Green and Florida State - can match that number. That has helped the Hawkeye offense progress and produce. Iowa has scored on 10 of its 11 trips into the red zone this season and has collected touchdowns on nine of those drives. Seven of the Hawkeyes' 15 scoring drives have taken five or more minutes off of the clock. 4. Keep on keeping on. Never too high. Never too low. One of the traditional strengths of the Iowa program under Kirk Ferentz has been the steadiness from one week to the next in preparation. Coming off of two emotional wins and with start of Big Ten play one week away, the routine has remained the same for Iowa. Ferentz explained this week his belief that each week provides his team with a chance to grow and develop regardless of who the opponent is. The differences in preparation are dictated by the different styles of games played by opponents, but if Iowa continues its business-like approach that has been the norm this season, an efficient offense, stout defense and improving special teams should position Iowa to finish unbeaten in the regular season outside of Big Ten play for the first time since 2009.
If it seems Iowa has been huddling up more this season than it did a year ago, that's an accurate perception. Quarterback C.J. Beathard said that has been by design during the Hawkeyes' first three games of the season. He said the no-huddle look Iowa utilized at times a year ago has been reduced in scope for a couple of reasons, including a desire to make certain that everyone is on the same page. "And, coach (Kirk) Ferentz talks about one of the traditional strengths and pride of Iowa football is us being a team together, being physical together and part of that involves everybody hearing the call from the quarterback,'' Beathard said. "It's about us being a team and working together as a team.'' Beathard believes that can also benefit the Hawkeyes when things don't go as planned. "If somebody misses a block or if I overthrow a guy or something gets messed up and a guy or two is a little frustrated, we're there for each other and we have time to go through the next play and pick each other up a bit,'' Beathard said. "It's a team thing. We're in it together.''