It isn’t about the pig so much as saving one’s collective bacon. The loser of the annual Floyd of Rosedale fete between Iowa and Minnesota would have two conference defeats on its respective ledger with Nebraska (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) and Wisconsin (4-1, 1-1) still to come on the dance card.
“I think that losing this game, it doesn’t (mean) there’s a panic,” said ESPN analyst Anthony Becht, who’ll be calling Saturday’s game at TCF Bank Stadium.
On one hand, it’s early. On the other, if Indianapolis is the destination point, a setback Saturday in Minneapolis puts one, in mixed martial arts terms, on the wrong end of the rear mount position. Suddenly, the schedule is riding you like a giant spider monkey, and you’ve got to figure out a way to shake the bugger off and get back on your feet.
“I would say that, just looking at their schedules, and what everybody else has left, I’d say you still have a shot,” Becht continued. “But the problem is, if you don’t beat Nebraska, then you’re screwed. If you have two losses, then you beat Nebraska, then you would have one of the tiebreakers.”
And if you don’t, well, welcome to the Foster Farms Bowl.
A win Saturday means bragging rights, 98.3 pounds of trophy, and back to the grindstone. A loss? A loss hurts.
Johnny Cash hurt.
Given a chance to make a statement at Penn State last weekend, the Golden Gophers (3-1, 0-1) left a shrug. Minnesota let a 13-3 halftime edge slip away and a 23-20 lead evaporate in the final minute as the hosts forced overtime and eventually edged out a 29-26 victory. ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit went out on a limb in the preseason and declared Minnesota his sleeper pick in the Big Ten West, a good team that pulls away from the pack and parlays enough breaks to post a great record, the way the Hawkeyes did in 2015.
“When I watch them, they seem in a similar fashion to what Iowa is,” Becht said. “They can’t make mistakes. They have enough to beat anybody, but they’ve got to be good every week.”
But you can’t lay claim to being “this year’s Iowa” unless you … well, beat this year’s Iowa. The Hawkeyes (3-2, 1-1), the defending West champions, the safe choice to repeat, have played four games at home and already dropped two of them, to North Dakota State and Northwestern. Iowa has as many losses after one month as it managed last season over four. Internally, injuries are mounting; externally, fans are steaming like it’s 2014 all over again.
“You can’t just win with a tight end and a slot receiver; that’s tough to do,” said Becht, who worked the Iowa-Rutgers game two weeks ago, a 14-7 Hawkeyes victory in Piscataway, N.J. “Heck, I would’ve tried (cornerback/return man) Desmond King at wide receiver. Why not mix it up? He’s a return guy. Run a jet sweep.
“They just lack playmakers. It definitely starts up front for them, (and) it’s not clicking, play to play.”
It’s too early for desperation, granted. Instead of a “must-win,” perhaps it’s more accurate to call the biggest game of the weekend in the Big Ten West more of a “must-not-lose.”
A setback on Oct. 8 doesn’t chuck the rest of the season into the wastebasket, right then and there. But if the vanquished has designs on the West crown, it would mean said vanquished now has two conference blights, making the margin for error the rest of the way wafer thin. Or, it requires said vanquished to knock off not just Wisconsin or Nebraska, but, in all likelihood, both.
The Badgers have the best defense in the division and probably the best team, but the Huskers have the best quarterback, momentum and a slate that doesn’t set up — on paper or iPad — for more than three losses the rest of the way:
“When you’re looking at what (the Gophers) have got left, (at) Maryland, Rutgers, (at) Illinois, Purdue,” Becht said. “If you take care of business, that’s four wins that you’re going to have under your belt. That would be huge if you could take care of a home game against Iowa.
“Because Iowa’s got to play Wisconsin. I’ll tell you what, man, if they think North Dakota State is tough, that defense — they might not get 50 yards rushing if they do what (they’ve been doing). Wisconsin’s defense is impressive, and you’ve got Nebraska, (at) Penn State, Michigan. They’re not going to get any softballs from any of these teams. I would say if Iowa loses this, they could easily finish the season .500.”
Basically, the math gets harder, right along with the road. And the saw that’s gnawing through the Hawkeyes’ fan base right now would go from scraping cartilage to bone. Even if Saturday doesn’t change a season, it sure as heck might start to define the crap out of it.