Survive and advance

Depending on the point of view, Iowa’s football schedule is either incredibly soft or much more challenging than initially assumed. The Hawkeyes themselves, meanwhile, remain pretenders to some and legitimate contenders to others.

The debate rages on, intensifying by the week. We’re nine games into the season now, and Iowa hasn’t gone away. Head coach Kirk Ferentz’s squad was a feel-good story of redemption a month ago. Now they’re still hanging around and have morphed into a polarizing outfit not just regionally, but nationally.

Why? Because they keep winning.

At its core, football is really quite this simple. If a Top-10 team goes down – the way Michigan State, LSU and TCU did on Saturday – they become easier to categorize. If a program deviates from the script, though, the natives tend to get restless.

Polls and computers and pundits doggedly weed out the also-rans as the season wears on, but there are always exceptions to the rule: the darkhorses who experts simply can’t define – or discredit – until adversity strikes them down.

The Hawkeyes are playing that spoiler role right now, which is music to the ears of some and fingernails on a blackboard to others.

Here’s what we all have no choice but to respect about Iowa: it’s all being tuned out. You may think they’re posers. You may think they’re destined for 13-0 and a date in the national semifinals. They obviously don’t care either way. It’s not easy to keep the collective attitude of an entire program on the same page, but Ferentz has done it so far. The proof is in the 9-0 record.

Is Beathard really this good? 9-0. Too many injuries? 9-0. Are there enough playmakers on offense? 9-0. Will the defense be able to solve opponents who burn the edges? 9-0.

The relentless Beathard has helped resurrect the program’s grit. The offensive line and running backs are following suit. Josey Jewell, Desmond King and the defense have produced a plus-11 turnover ratio and surrendered more than 363 yards of total offense in a game just once.

Iowa will be favored by double digits in each of the next two weeks at home against Minnesota and Purdue. A tricky trip to Nebraska then closes the regular season.

There are no guarantees, but there never are in football anyway. None of us know when or where this unbeaten run will end between here and the Big Ten championship in Indianapolis on Dec. 5. Maybe it won’t.

The optimists continue to find reasons to believe. The pessimists wait for the other shoe to drop. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes just keep taking care of business as the direct competition slowly but surely thins out and falls by the wayside.

As everyone continues to talk the talk, Iowa quietly walks the walk.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net