We have less than 100 days until college football comes back. So it’s time to start taking an earnest look at expectations for each Big Ten team and what make-or-break games might help them reach those realistic milestones.
This week, we're taking a look at the must-win game for each team in the Big Ten. You're up, Iowa Hawkeyes.
Must-win game: Oct. 22 vs. Wisconsin
If there were one pivotal moment in a dream 12-0 regular season for Iowa last year, it had to be the Hawkeyes' 10-6 victory at Wisconsin.
It not only opened the Big Ten season on the right note for Kirk Ferentz's team, but it helped push down a main rival. The Hawkeyes knew that if they wanted to win the West Division, the road would go through Madison, as the Badgers were the defending division champs and a program that had gone to three of the previous four Big Ten championship games. Wisconsin had also won three straight -- all in Iowa City -- and five out of seven in the Heartland Trophy series before last season's game.
Iowa should enter this year as the favorite to repeat as West champions, but the field of contenders is large. It includes Nebraska, Northwestern and quite possibly Minnesota. Yet Wisconsin remains the standard in the division, and the Hawkeyes' march toward a return trip to Indianapolis likely must include a win over those Badgers in Kinnick Stadium.
There's a chance that Iowa could win the division even if it lost to Wisconsin, as the Badgers' brutal schedule likely means they will incur some conference losses along the way. Paul Chryst's team will have played at Michigan State, at Michigan and against Ohio State before getting to Kinnick. It will be lucky to arrive relatively intact.
Still, some of Iowa's best recent seasons -- think last year, 2008-09, 2002-04 -- have had one thing in common: They've included a victory over Wisconsin. If the Hawkeyes are to get back to the dizzying heights of 2015 and those previous glories, they'll need to view that Oct. 22 game as a must-win.