Rankings are mostly opinions. Sure, we have wins and losses to go by, but in college football, some wins mean more than others. That’s why we have rankings in the first place. They try to help us see who is a big deal and who isn’t.
When the College Football Playoff Rankings come out for the first time each year, they instantly push the AP and Coaches polls to the background. No one cares anymore about those other two polls that don’t determine who plays for the national title.
So when we found out that Penn State had jumped from No. 20 in the AP poll to No. 12 in the Playoff Rankings, it felt like a big freaking deal. A day after beating Purdue, it felt like Penn State might make a run at 10 wins. After the Playoff Rankings came out, it felt like the Lions might make a run at the national title.
The change was only in perception, though. Just because a new group of opinions says that Penn State is a better team than LSU, Oklahoma, and other heavyweights doesn’t make it true. Just like how Ohio State had flaws that Penn State exploited to pull an upset, the Lions have their own flaws that be exploited by Iowa in that program’s search for a signature win. We talked to GospelOfMax from Black Heart Gold Pants about the Hawkeyes’ so-far disappointing campaign and their chances to knock Penn State off its new lofty perch.
Black Shoe Diaries: Iowa fans had great expectations heading into 2016 after the amazing Rose Bowl campaign from last year and the return of starting quarterback C.J. Beathard. What's been the biggest difference between 2015 and the current season, which has already featured three Iowa losses?
Black Heart Gold Pants: Probably the passing game. While last year's passing game wasn't going to blow anyone away, but it was super competent and could be relied upon in critical situations. This season, C.J. Beathard hasn't really had the rapport with some of these guys after the departures of Tevaun Smith, Henry Kreiger-Coble, and Jacob Hillyer (and the season ending injury to this year's best WR Matt VandeBerg doesn't help, either). On top of not being able to get on page with a bunch of the underclassmen who aren't as good as the guys they replaced, the offensive line was abysmal to start the season due to injuries, which I think has made CJB a bit skittish in the pocket and has affected his internal clock. While it's gotten better, I wouldn't say that Iowa wants to be in a situation where it has to rely on the passing game to get points.
BSD: The word on the virtual street is that Kirk Ferentz has not been the same coach since he received a huge contract extension earlier this year. Is there any validity to that notion or are fans just frustrated that this team isn't as good as last year's?
BHGP: It's probably a slight combination of both, although I'd say it skews more towards frustration from fans rather than Kirk changing anything. Last season, "New Kirk" just so happened to be a coach with the right personnel pulling the right strings at the right time. This season, he's definitely done some things to try and pull those strings, but due to a lack of success, he's had to be a bit more conservative. Last year, he could count on the line to hold up long enough for CJB to find a target or scramble, or he had a veteran kicker who was capable of kicking a 57-yarder. This year, without those pieces, it's safe to say that Iowa can't take all the same risks. Plus, THAT CONTRACT! Someone save us.
BSD: Akrum Wadley is averaging almost two yards per carry more than LeShun Daniels Jr. even though Daniels has 19 more carries for the season. At what point will Wadley start to get the bulk of the carries? Does he deserve a larger role?
BHGP: We at The Pants think he deserves the bulk of the carries, as do many Iowa fans, but the Iowa ground game has been really solid this season so it'd be best not to mess with it. The 19 carries that Daniels has over Wadley is for the most part actually a product of the NDSU game, where Wadley was injured and unable to play for the majority of the game. He's definitely the more explosive back between the two, although Daniels has had two 70+ yard runs negated by some weird chop block/holding calls. For now, I'd say that they should stick to the game plan in regards to the ground game, but when they fall behind? Run Akrum Wadley.
BSD: Riley McCarron has come out of relative obscurity to lead the Hawkeyes in receptions and receiving yards. What's been the key to his emergence in the past four weeks?
BHGP: The key to his emergence is the fact that he was needed because of emergency. No one would really know who Riley McCarron is if not for the broken foot that Matt VandeBerg suffered after Week 3. He was firmly behind MVB in the depth charts because MVB has been a really good slot receiver throughout his career at Iowa, and their careers have just so happened to overlap entirely. They're really similar in that they're both pretty efficient route runners and both have good hands, so it seems natural that Beathard would replace his favorite target with someone just like him. It's worked out well for the two, as that connection appears to be the one that CJB is most comfortable with, even after just four games.
The other way to look at it is that Iowa has no true receiving threats outside TE George Kittle, so after MVB's injury, well, someone had to break out?
BSD: Desmond King has just one interception this year compared to eight last year. Has this just been due to luck or are opposing quarterbacks actively avoiding him? How has the rest of the star defensive back's performance compared to last year's?
BHGP: People don't throw at Desmond King anymore. And they shouldn't. He's still a bad, bad man. The game that I can recall him being thrown at the most this season was the Purdue game, and that's the game where he returned his sole interception of the season for a touchdown in the final minutes. PFF College Football has him graded as their third best cornerback in the nation (89.5), only one point behind their highest graded player, Jaire Alexander (90.7).
His performances this season are probably just as good as last season, just without the ridiculous stats to go with them. He's great in the kick return game, as sure a tackler as you'll find at cornerback, and a Thorpe Award finalist again this season. He's just fine.
BSD: Iowa is a seven-point underdog on Saturday. How do you see the game going for the Hawkeyes?
BHGP: I don't see it going well for Iowa. Despite the fact that I think they will be able to bottle up Saquon Barkley for the most part (and by that, I mean he'll still get about a hundred yards), I don't think this Iowa offense is equipped enough to beat Penn State on the road. This will be the most hostile environment Iowa's had to endure in a few years, and it could take them a bit of time to settle in. I think it'll be close, but I think Penn State will come out on top, 21-17.
Thanks again to GospelOfMax for taking the time to answer our questions. Remember to keep reading Black Heart Gold Pants to stay up to date on the Hawkeyes all season long.