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The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Mike Hlas column

Mike Hlas, CR Gazette –

This is where someone in my job might have called a misdirection play, told you all is not as mediocre as it may seem with Iowa football, urged you to stay calm and carry on.

Someone else might have written that Iowa would be 4-0 but for a dropped pass in the end zone against Iowa State and an on-side kick not recovered against Central Michigan. Which is true, probably.

But me? Not this time. Not when the Hawkeyes could also have been 1-3 had they not squeezed out their opening win over Northern Illinois. Not when Iowa State and Central Michigan left a lot of points in the red zone against the Hawkeyes in Kinnick Stadium.

Not when Iowa has lost two regular-season nonconference games for the first time since 2000, when they went were simply undermanned and went 3-9. Not when the Hawkeyes haven’t played a true road game, have yet to step into someone else’s comfort zone.

And especially not when the Hawkeyes lost on their home turf to Central Are You Kidding Me Michigan. It didn’t do Iowa’s program any good having clips from that game prominently featured on college football halftime shows and ESPN’s “SportsCenter” throughout Saturday night.

Hey, maybe Iowa will take care of 4-0 Minnesota in Kinnick Saturday and enjoy two full weeks of being 1-0 in the Big Ten before going to Michigan State. Maybe the Hawkeyes will hoist Floyd of Rosedale and the horror of the 32-31 loss to the Chippewas will yield to some renewed optimism.

It wouldn’t be an upset. Would it? The Gophers haven’t exactly beaten the Four Horsemen of college football in UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan and Syracuse, so … wait a second. They beat a directional Michigan team from the MAC, so that puts them one up on Iowa. Or three up if you count their last two games against the Hawkeyes.

But this isn’t about the Minnesota-Iowa game. This is about looking at a Hawkeyes team that needs to go 4-4 in the Big Ten for the third-straight year just to finish the regular-season with a .500 record.

While the nation has turned its nose up at Big Ten football thanks to most of the league’s top teams laying September eggs, it’s still a competitive conference with a lot of talent.

It’s a league with teams that will torch you if you don’t have a pass-rush, and Iowa doesn’t have one. It’s a league with bull moose running backs Le’Veon Bell of Michigan State and Rex Burkhead of Nebraska who might go and go all day against the Hawkeyes. Like Burkhead did last November.

It’s a league with Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who undoubtedly won’t be the tattered “Shoelace” against Iowa in November that he was against Notre Dame Saturday night.

It’s a league with less-touted teams in Northwestern, Purdue, and even Minnesota showing gleams in their eyes so far. They seem to be on an elevator going up.

Mark Weisman has been a storybook tale at running back the last two weeks, and Keenan Davis seems to be rounding into the kind of wide receiver people thought he could be as a senior. Iowa’s offensive line was the master of its domain Saturday for the most part. But the last two games were against Northern Iowa and Central Michigan, not Big Ten defenses.

In a nutshell, this season is about to get harder and the Hawkeyes must improve in nearly all facets or this will be a lousy season.

We know all about the attrition from Iowa’s 2008 and 2009 recruiting classes that have hurt depth and talent levels at wide receiver, running back, and on the defensive line. We knew this was sort of a bridge season all along, with better things expected in the next few years as heralded recruiting classes from the last couple years mature. Assuming no similar attrition takes place, that is.

That didn’t mean the outer world had to lower expectations that weren’t unreasonably high in the first place. Not with a senior quarterback and a September schedule many of Ferentz’s other Iowa teams would have torn apart.

Maybe as the weeks go by the Hawkeyes will grow stronger. It’s happened before. But the team that grabbed itself a win in Kinnick Saturday was Central Michigan.

Central Are You Kidding Me Michigan.

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