This season, once again, it will all come down to the Iowa game

I'm really starting to get sick of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Of course, it all started back in November of 2008.  Penn State was 9-0, had just beaten Ohio State in Columbus, and was on its way to a National Championship showdown with also-undefeated Alabama.  Then, that school bus fire of a game happened in Iowa City.  It hurt, more than any other loss in my relatively young career as a Penn State fan.  But, like all such wounds, it healed pretty quickly; two weeks later, I was celebrating a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl berth in the stands of Beaver Stadium.  For me, the Iowa loss was already a distant memory.

Unfortunately, all of my favorite sports-related websites were filled with Iowa fans who refused to let me forget about it so easily.  It seemed like the internet was teeming with Iowa fans who sought out every article they could find about Penn State, just so they could write "Yeah but we beat u so bad 24-23, 6 of 7, KF will always pwn Jopa lol GO HAWKS."  I have to admit, I let it get under my skin.  Bad idea, I know, but what can I say?  I guess I had a little too much time on my hands.  But all of a sudden, the 2009 season couldn't get here fast enough.  Iowa had just gotten lucky.  Penn State was loaded.  I needed to see this disruption made right--in a Beaver Stadium Whitehouse, no less.  I got my tickets off eBay as soon as I could.  I wanted revenge.

Revenge must have missed the bus.  Unfortunately, these guys showed up instead:


The loss didn't hurt as bad as it had in 2008; we had been 3-0, not 9-0.  Expectations for the season had been high, but they were still largely unfounded.  So, I shook it off, and enjoyed the scorched-earth tour that DC17 and crew gave us for the rest of the season (save Ohio State, of course).  Likewise, Iowa fans had plenty of reason to enjoy their season, and we were happy to to go our own ways.

Until bowl selection time came around.

It was bad enough that these two teams had been entangled for over a year at that point.  Now, both had identical records and near-identical rankings.  The BCS was sure to take one of us for an at-large spot--but they could only take one.  Lucky for us, they gave fans nearly a month to have pointless arguments about it!  As a Penn State fan, I'll say we lost the battle (in getting passed over by the Orange Bowl) but won the war (got a win over a top-3 SEC team, got higher TV ratings than the Orange Bowl despite playing in the afternoon concurrently with 2 or 3 other bowl games).  In a fitting closure to such a contentious season, the coaches ranked Iowa and Penn State just one spot apart in the final rankings.  At that point, I was done; I never wanted to deal with Iowa again.

Which brings us to this season. 

I was looking over the schedule, thinking about best-case and worst-case scenarios.  Youngstown State, Kent State, and Temple should be wins.  Alabama will probably be a loss, as will Ohio State.  The rest of the Big Ten is a bit harder to predict.  Indiana has come a long ways under Bill Lynch, but that should still be a pretty solid win for Penn State.  I then looked at Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota.  They're all struggling with at least one major facet of their game, and are likely to be the bottom three teams in the league this year.  All three schools have the potential to make a jump, but right now, I wouldn't count on it; right now, all three look like wins, even in a worst-case scenario for Penn State.

Michigan State and Northwestern are late-season games, which makes them the hardest to predict at this stage.  Both will likely present significantly greater challenge than the 7 teams I have counted as likely wins.  However, both of these games take place in Beaver Stadium, which gives Penn State a big advantage; a loss in either of these games would qualify as a major upset.  In an absolute worst-case scenario, maybe one of these teams breaks through and gets the big win on the road, but right now, I would consider that a shocking outcome.  So, by my count, that's 9 games we should really win decisively, and 2 games where we are expected to lose decisively.

And so, of course, we come back to Iowa.  Yes, Iowa is ranked higher in the preseason polls, and we play in Iowa City.  Yes, they still have Adrian Clayborn, and despite keeping AC's picture on his cell phone as motivation, Quinn Barham is probably going to have serious trouble keeping him out of the backfield.  So, as expected, most people are predicting a loss for Penn State here.

At the same time, no one is predicting that Iowa will be as good as Alabama or Ohio State.  Iowa has a lot of significant losses from a team that got to 11-2 more through luck than outright dominance.  Of all the teams on Penn State's schedule this year, Iowa comes the closest to being an even matchup.  A loss to Iowa would mean that the 2010 regular season would look a whole lot like the 2009 regular season, with Penn State steamrolling all the lesser competition on their schedule and falling flat in the big games.  But if Penn State is going to exceed expectations this year and get an upset win, their best opportunity to do so is against Iowa.

As if it could have happened any other way.

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