Football Four to Watch: Most important games


A five-part series, also check out:
- 07/26/10: Four to watch: Freshmen
- 07/27/10: Trap games
- 07/28/10: Top Opposing Players
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Four games could be the difference between another BCS berth or a December bowl game for the Hawkeyes. The Daily Iowan counts down Iowa's four most important games in 2010.

4) at Northwestern, Nov. 13

The inclusion of this game in the countdown may surprise some, but a quick conversation with the ghosts of Hawkeye seasons' past should swiftly wash away any doubt.

Iowa needed to clear just one more obstacle in 2009 before improving to 10-0 heading into a showdown with Ohio State the following week. Unfortunately, that obstacle — Northwestern — had other plans. Hawkeye quarterback Ricky Stanzi left the game with an injury, and Iowa suffered its first loss of the season and its fourth loss to the Wildcats in the teams' last five meetings.

If the Hawkeyes want another BCS Bowl appearance — or even a national championship game appearance — they must rid themselves of recent Wildcat demons.

3) at Michigan, Oct. 16

This bunch clearly isn't your granddaddy's or even your daddy's Wolverines. Tate Forcier has a cool name, but he isn't quite Rick Leach or Tom Brady. And Rich Rodriguez definitely isn't Bo Schembechler.

But Michigan Stadium is still "The Big House" and the Wolverines didn't even need home-field advantage to nearly upset the Hawkeyes last season in Kinnick.

Besides this being a Big Ten road game, its placement on the schedule alone makes this a dangerous game for Iowa. It comes sandwiched between clashes with Penn State and Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium, easily apart of the toughest four-game stretch of Iowa's season.

Throw in Michigan's spread offense — an offense to which Iowa surrendered more points to than any other opponent in 2009 — and this game will be difficult.

The trip to Ann Arbor may serve as a must-win game if the Hawkeyes want to realize dreams of a Big Ten championship.

2) at Arizona, Sept. 18

The last time Iowa visited the Grand Canyon State for a road game, it didn't end well. The Hawkeyes were thrashed in 2004 by Arizona State, 44-7. Iowa still went on to win a share of the Big Ten championship — but you can bet head coach Kirk Ferentz isn't banking on such a fortunate fate if his squad is tripped up in the desert once again.

This year's trip out West could prove pivotal for the Hawkeyes' entire season — it could set the tone for what Iowa does in its nine remaining regular-season games. A big win over an Arizona team that is expected to compete for a Pac-10 championship may propel Iowa to another historic season. A loss, on the other hand, may be difficult for the Hawkeyes to recover from.

In a game played this far from Iowa City and with a 9:35 p.m. central starting time, anything can happen.

1) vs. Ohio State, Nov. 20

Whenever a team is slated to play Ohio State, it's typically that squad's biggest game of the season. It's no different for Iowa in 2010.

Ohio State has essentially owned the Big Ten for the last five years, winning at least a share of the conference title each season.

I know a guy who once said, "To be the man, you've got to beat the man." Few quotations are more applicable for the challenge the Hawkeyes will face when the Buckeyes roll into Kinnick Stadium in a game that could potentially draw a live broadcast from ESPN's weekly "College GameDay." But beating Ohio State is a task that has proven elusive for Kirk Ferentz, who is only 1-6 against the Buckeyes since taking over at Iowa.

The last time the Hawkeyes won at least a share of the Big Ten championship — in 2004 — was also the last time they knocked off Ohio State.

It's no coincidence.

The path to winning a Big Ten title can vary, but it almost always requires a win against the Buckeyes.

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