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Iowa begins the “Big Ten Playoffs”

BY JACOB SHEYKO | OCTOBER 31, 2014 5:00 AM

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Saturday marks the start of the Big Ten playoffs. And no, that’s not a real thing.

It doesn’t have an official bracket, there’s no committee to determine what teams get in, nor does it have any real implications.

But to Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis, the Big Ten playoffs are real. Dubbed by defensive coordinator Phil Parker, the general idea is that from here on out, every game is practically a must-win for Iowa.

“This is a whole new season,” Davis said. “It’s the Big Ten playoffs right now; the race to Indianapolis. Every team, they’re going to be tough. From here on out, there are going to be no easy games. Everyone is coming to play, because everyone has a point to prove.”

Even if Iowa doesn’t win the next five games — which would put it in the Big Ten championship game, its remaining schedule is highly important to deeming this season a “success” or “failure.”
Unfortunately for Iowa, the remaining schedule is perhaps the toughest stretch of games the Hawkeyes will face all season.

The next five games on Iowa’s slate are Northwestern — which has defeated Iowa in six of the last nine meetings — Minnesota, second in the Big Ten West, Illinois, a somewhat surprising 4-4 team, Wisconsin, which just defeated Maryland, 52-7, and Nebraska, perhaps the best Big Ten West team. 

“All goals are pretty much still intact from the start of the season,” running back Mark Weisman said. “It hasn’t gone the way we’ve planned, I’d say. It never does. You have to go through the ups and downs of a game, a season, whatever it may be, you got to bounce back.”

An area of the game Iowa will need to improve drastically is stopping the run, something it hasn’t done the past two games.

Against Indiana and Maryland, Iowa allowed 528 yards on the ground. It was a far cry from earlier in the season, when the Hawkeyes were regarded as one of the top run defenses in the Big Ten.

In the first five games of the season, Iowa allowed 466 rushing yards.

Some of the reasons for this were technical things such as pursuit angles and holes in the defensive line. However, linebacker and cocaptain Quinton Alston sees another reason.

“It’s leadership,” he said. “I take full responsibility. I have to continue to stay on these guys and make sure they don’t relax at all. We just have to keep our focus, and keep our focus is all from the neck up. It’s all mentality.”

Not so luckily for Iowa, the talent it faces in opponents’ backfields is only going to get more difficult to stop.

Of the next five teams Iowa plays, three of them contain top running backs in the league — Minnesota’s David Cobb, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah.

“We don’t think about them,” Alston said. “We think about one step at a time. I know it’s pretty cliché, but we’re just thinking about the next game.

“There’s no thinking about the past. There are no clouds over our heads, no melancholy stuff around here.”

To this point, Iowa’s season has been considered somewhat of a disappointment. Maybe that’s because of unrealistic expectations, a few bad breaks, or because the team is not as good as previously thought to be. All of these reasons could and have been debated.

But when the Hawkeyes look back at their season, they’ll look back at this final stretch of games as what determined their fate.

Whether they want to end it on high note or a low note is up to them.

“We’ve got five games left that we’re guaranteed,” Davis said. “We’re trying to win them all, and, hopefully, that takes us to where we want to go.

“We all control our destiny. It’s just how do we want to go out?” 

Follow @JacobSheyko on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis of the Iowa football team.


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