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Hawkeyes rekindle Big Ten hopes

BY JORDAN GARRETSON | NOVEMBER 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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A week ago, some were more concerned with Iowa's bowl-game eligibility than its division title viability. The Hawkeyes' 22-21 loss at Minnesota on Oct. 29 didn't seem to bode well with three ranked opponents still remaining on the schedule.

A week later, Iowa (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) is fresh off a 24-16 upset of No. 15 Michigan, is tied for second place in the Big Ten Legends Division, and is receiving votes in both the Coaches' and Associated Press polls.

"It's a big win for us," said sophomore linebacker James Morris, who recorded eight tackles in the victory. "We're not dead like maybe some people might have thought or would have written down going into this part of our schedule."

At the same time, players are well aware three more conference tests lie ahead. Iowa will host No. 13 Michigan State this week before traveling to Purdue and No. 19 Nebraska to end the season.

Iowa kicked off last November with a come-from-behind win at Indiana but proceeded to lose three straight and finished the regular season 7-5.

"We have one win in November, and this was a good way to start off the month," quarterback James Vandenberg said. "We have another really good team coming here Saturday."

Michigan State occupies first place in the Legends Division. If the Hawkeyes win Saturday's game against the Spartans (7-2, 4-1) — scheduled for an 11:01 a.m. kickoff in Kinnick Stadium — they'll grab at least a share of first place in the division.

Three-straight wins to end the season would guarantee Iowa a division title and a trip to the first-ever Big Ten championship Game on Dec. 3 in Indianapolis.

"We'll worry about that after Nebraska," Vandenberg said. "That's something down the line, and it'll get figured out."

Unsurprisingly, head coach Kirk Ferentz doesn't seem too keen on discussing Iowa's chances of winning a division title, either.

"Only if we're idiots," Ferentz said. "What we've got to do is worry about [this] week, so I hope we don't have any idiots on our team. We'll talk about that [Sunday], but we've got a tough game coming in here Saturday. I know that."

You won't hear much from Michigan State this week. Head coach Mark Dantonio has barred reporters from interviewing his players.

It's not a first for the fifth-year Spartan head coach, who used the same tactic the week before his team's 10-7 win against Ohio State on Oct. 1. But is he employing it again because of its past success? Or, with questions eminent regarding last year's loss at Iowa, would he simply rather not have his players thinking about that debacle?

The Spartans entered Kinnick Stadium on Oct. 30, 2010, with a flawless 8-0 record and a No. 5 ranking. But a 37-6 blowout by the Hawkeyes ended Michigan State's march for an undefeated record. Marvin McNutt's last-second game-winning touchdown catch at Spartan Stadium a season earlier gave Iowa its first 8-0 record in school history.

Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins spoke about his team's pending opportunity in Iowa City following the Spartans' 31-24 win against Minnesota on Nov. 5.

"It's exciting to go back there and get a chance to play much better than last year,"Cousins told msuspartans.com. "At the same time, we try to take each game individually and just go there and play. It's a new team this year on both sides of the ball. Obviously, we want to make it personal each and every week to find as much motivation as possible, and with last year's result, we can find a way to make it personal."


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