How the resilience of Iowa football gave the Big Ten West an unexpected boost

Iowa defenseman John Wagoner (left) and defenseman Dallas Craddieth (right) carry the Floyd of Rosedale after the Hawkeyes’ 13-10 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers Saturday, November 19 at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota , 2022. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

MINNEAPOLIS — Kirk Ferentz will be the first person to say he “knows nothing” about gambling and “does not advocate for it.”

But the 24th-year Iowa head coach offered some retrospective gambling wisdom after his team won its fourth straight Big Ten game after a three-game losing streak.

“I’m guessing if you put $10 on us four weeks ago you’d probably be fine,” Ferentz said. “It probably would have been a good deal. They would probably have a hard time finding buyers for it.”

Iowa is now the favorite to win the Big Ten West, with a 3-8 Nebraska team last in the Hawkeyes’ way.

As implied in Ferentz’ gamble chat, the comeback to a potential division title that is now likely seemed unlikely early in the season.

Even before Iowa’s three-game losing streak to Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State, ESPN’s Football Power Index gave the Hawkeyes just a 4.7 percent chance of winning the Big Ten West.

The low odds were despite a particularly poor year for the Big Ten West, which failed to place multiple teams in the AP Top 25 at the same time this season.

After Iowa’s bye week — after losses in Michigan and Illinois and before the inevitable loss at Ohio State — ESPN’s FPI gave the Hawkeyes a 90.7 percent chance of beating Northwestern, a 31.8 percent chance of beating Purdue , a 51.3 percent chance of beating Wisconsin and a 27.2 percent chance of beating Minnesota.

All football factors aside, the chances of four things with these probabilities all happening are around 4 percent.

But that’s exactly what Iowa has achieved. The Hawkeyes won all four games, and they were just one win away from the division title from last place in the division.

“People wanted to call off our season,” linebacker Seth Benson said. “I heard Jack (Campbell) say nobody believes in us. But we believed in ourselves. We never give up.”

Quarterback Spencer Petras called the turnaround a “really special” trip.

“This team has been through a lot,” said Petras. “Our ability to be resilient and keep pushing the thing through was pretty cool to see.”

Petras said the resilience was “a testament to the culture of our team.”

“It starts with our head coach and his leadership,” Petras said. “I also just can’t say enough about our leaders on defense.”

Petras recognized him, and the offense put the defense in “a lot of really, really, rough, rough spots” when Iowa lost to Ohio State four weeks ago.

“It would be easy for a unit to go on the offensive, but they didn’t do it,” Petras said. “They certainly didn’t. They just kept going to work.”

Iowa’s offensive players weren’t in a comfortable position at this point in the season either.

“It would be for an offensive unit to sort of give up after this game (Ohio State),” Petras said. “It would be easy for an offensive line unit to give up after the game they had last week. … But that’s not what we do.”

However, Iowa has more work to do before celebrating its turnaround too much.

Iowa’s late-season resilience will be a lot less memorable when Iowa loses to Nebraska next week. It would end without a trip to Indianapolis and 7-5 – which would be the team’s worst regular-season record since 2017.

Extending the current winning streak to five games, on the other hand, would complete the comeback story of a 3-4 team that was a national punchline for its ineffective offense that won a division title.

“You’ve got one more and you have to finish it,” Petras said, “because we’ve got a heck of a lot to play.”

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