Three games on 2011 schedule post challenges for Hawkeye football

BY BEN SCHUFF | JULY 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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With the realignment of the Big Ten and creation of the Legends and Leaders divisions, the Hawkeyes' 2011 schedule lacks some familiar foes. But that doesn't mean the schedule lacks any formidable opponents.

In the last installment of a weeklong series, The Daily Iowan takes a peek ahead to see which three games will be the biggest for head coach Kirk Ferentz's team this fall.

3) At Penn State, Oct. 8

Dating back to 2009, it seems the Hawkeyes have had Penn State's number.

From Daniel Murray to Adrian Clayborn, individual performances have highlighted this series over the past few years.

However, many of the players who made big plays against the Nittany Lions are now gone.

This game should be Iowa's first true road test, because Happy Valley almost always guarantees a raucous environment. With a relatively inexperienced and young team, the Hawkeyes will face a tough challenge in beginning conference play.

A win against JoePa — or simply a strong showing — could go a long way in building the confidence of a youthful squad.

2) Northwestern, Oct. 15

What Iowa has been to Penn State for the last three seasons is exactly what the Wildcats have been to the Hawkeyes of late.

The last two years have resulted in gut-wrenching losses for the Black and Gold — Ricky Stanzi's injury led to the first loss of the 2009 season, and Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa brought his team back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit last November to beat Iowa in Evanston.

Persa in particular has created problems for the Iowa defense. His ability to scramble has given Norm Parker's unit headaches — the senior ran for a touchdown in each of the last two meetings.

Oh, and he threw for another 318 yards and two more scores last year.

1) At Nebraska, Nov. 25

Best-case scenario: This game decides who will represent the Legends division in Indianapolis at the inaugural Big Ten title game.

Many expect Nebraska to become another main in-division rival to go along with the longstanding series against Minnesota for Floyd of Rosedale.

Today, an announcement is expected from conference officials in Chicago at Big Ten Media Days about the trophy the teams will play for.

The Cornhuskers will have several playmakers on both sides of the ball who could guide Nebraska to its first win against Iowa in conference play.

Big Red returns a handful of All-Big 12 selections from a year ago, including Jared Crick and Lavonte David on defense.

Offensively, quarterback Taylor Martinez will try to continue the success he had in his freshman season. Martinez passed for 1,631 yards and ran for 965 — the kind of run-pass quarterback who has given Iowa problem in the past.

Running back Rex Burkhead also had a phenomenal 2010 season, rushing for almost 1,000 yards as a backup. This year, he'll be the primary ball carrier.

So, what's the worst-case scenario? Hawkeye supporters, shield your eyes.

Honorable mention — At Purdue, Nov. 19

Plain and simple, the Hawkeyes haven't gotten the results they've wanted at Purdue under Ferentz.

In their four trips to West Lafayette since 1999, Iowa has won only once.

Before falling off the schedule in 2009 and 2010, the last visit in 2007 resulted in a 31-6 beatdown.

With Purdue as the protected crossover opponent from the Leaders division, the Hawkeyes had better figure out how to play winning football against the Boilmakers.

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