So how good is Iowa?
That is the question I've been wrestling with as we head towards tomorrow's Big Ten championship game.
The Hawkeyes are undefeated, and that in itself is deserving of respect. They may not do anything particularly spectacular, but they do everything well. They also have about the most balanced offense in college football, averaging about 200 yards passing per game and 203 yards rushing.
Much has been made about Iowa's "weak" schedule, but any team that wins all of its games is deserving of respect, no matter who its opponents have been. Iowa had no choice in its divisional designation, but all the talk is completely overrated concerning how "weak" the Big Ten West is anyway. If one is to take the East/West crossover games as a barometer of the two divisions' strength, they are both completely even. Both divisions finished tied at 7-7 in crossover games--and Iowa won both of its games against the East while Michigan State finished 1-1. Now, it is true that Iowa benefited from not having to play Michigan State, Ohio State, or Michigan. However, the same could be said for MSU, who didn't have to play Iowa, Northwestern, or Wisconsin.
The non-conference schedule is where Michigan State has Iowa beat. All of MSU's non-conference opponents finished the season above .500 and are all headed to bowl games. Two of Iowa's opponents, North Texas and Iowa State, combined for a 4-20 record. Iowa also played an FCS school in Illinois State (who finished 9-2 overall and 7-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Redbirds are headed to the FCS playoffs). The best non-conference foe for Iowa was Pittsburgh. The Panthers, bowl-bound, finished 8-4.
But what does any of this stuff really mean anyway? It'll be completely meaningless when the teams kick off tomorrow at approximately 8:17 PM at Lucas Oil Stadium.
I think you can all guess that I'm rooting like crazy for the Spartans to win the Big Ten Conference title tomorrow night. With any big game, I feel the need to prepare for any kind of outcome. I have a feeling that it won't matter what I do to prepare, though. I'll most likely be getting little sleep tomorrow night regardless of the outcome--however it must be said that sleeplessness in victory is much more enjoyable than sleeplessness in defeat.
A victory in tomorrow night's game would vault Michigan State into the college football stratosphere, a rarefied air that Mark Dantonio has been trying to reach since he arrived on campus in late 2006. It's a level of greatness that I never dreamed of seeing in my lifetime.
I need to learn from 2011, though. Even if Michigan State loses tomorrow, it's not the end of the program. It's not the end of the world. At this point, I need to keep in mind that it never makes sense to stew too much over a loss, because often times a big win is just around the corner,
The game tomorrow should be close, but unless Iowa is much better than I or most anyone else thinks (and they may be), I have a feeling MSU will find a way to win this. The college football playoff is a goal this team has been reaching for since last season. The team is healthier than it has been since the Oregon game, and has played its best football in the the three games since the Nebraska debacle. Go ahead and call me a homer, but I'm predicting the Spartans to beat the Hawkeyes in a close game. Michigan State 37, Iowa 30.