The Iowa Hawkeyes just got shut out by Michigan in the Big Ten title game. It poses a great question of what heights their offense has kept them from hitting.
With the 2024 College Football Playoff bracket having been officially set, controversial discussion topics are swirling amongst fans nationwide. But, through it all, one thing stands as a unanimous truth: The Iowa Hawkeyes have one terrible offense.
In a conference championship game that was far from last weekend’s most memorable, the Iowa Hawkeyes got humiliated by Michigan in a fashion that was almost too typical, as they succumbed to the Wolverines by a score of 26-0. The shutout loss was Iowa’s second of the season and made for the sixth time it’s been held to under 20 points in its last seven matchups.
The Iowa Hawkeyes will now be entering the Citrus Bowl with a record of 10-3, which is a good team, but not great. To me, that makes them one of the saddest tales in all of college football, as while they once held a narrative of “being good in spite of no offense,” they have since developed one of “their offense is keeping them from their true potential.”
Now I’m sure this will be a questionable declaration to many, as losing to a non-contender Penn State 31-0 and combining it with the aforementioned 26-0 from Michigan hardly amounts to a team on the brink of success. However, when looking away from the final scores and instead analyzing how they were produced, we see a considerably different—and more upsetting—story.
Early in their battle with Penn State, the Hawkeyes put on quite a physical performance defensively, only trailing 10-0 at halftime. They would enter the third quarter of the Big Ten title game with the exact same deficit. While one could chalk at least some of that up to teams waking up late, I feel it is more a matter of Iowa actually being able to contain them, but its defense just gets tired all the sooner when it’s complemented by an offense that can’t remotely utilize its possessions.
In other words, it’s fair to assume that if Iowa had a solid offense, it would not only be able to score, but also delay the defense’s fatigue. That thought alone is enough to leave me wondering just how good Iowa could truly be, but throwing in the fact that we’re talking about them facing elite teams has me wondering if a solid offense could—dare I say—make them elite as well.
The extent of Iowa’s being held back is a full-on tragedy upon digging deeper
It may come off as outlandish at first, but think about it: Instead of the Hawkeyes being down 10-0 at half with no hopes of scoring against the Nittany Lions and Wolverines, what if they were tied with them and had a less-tired defense for a longer amount of time? That paints a pair of second-half pictures that look nothing like the ones we have today, doesn’t it?
And as for their third loss, it was to Minnesota by a tally of 12-10. If we’re going to humor the idea of more offensively gifted Hawkeyes keeping up with (and perhaps beating) PSU and/or Michigan, we should have no reservations in taking them over the Golden Gophers whatsoever. With all of that said, let’s put together a scene, shall we?
I understand that it seems a tad too impractical to imagine the Iowa Hawkeyes as unbeaten, so let’s just say that instead of entering the Big Ten title game 10-2, it enters 11-1 (loss being at Penn State, but by a more competitive margin). Upon making the appearance, let’s assume it wins.
*Please note that while it may seem odd for me to give Iowa a win over Michigan when the Wolverines have been superior to PSU, neither name has dominated the Hawkeyes from start to finish in any game from recent memory. So, when one team was both on a neutral site and decided the result by a closer final, it feels more justifiable to twist its fate than the other’s from an Iowa-centric perspective. But anyway, let’s move on to the final stretch.*
At that point, the Hawkeyes would be 12-1 Big Ten Champs with a relatively “forgivable” road loss, a status that would grant them a rather strong case for a spot in the CFP. A wimpy offense being capable of playing a pivotal role in robbing them of that kind of glory is upsetting for even the most indifferent of folks to think about.
As I referenced at the beginning, Iowa being held back by its inexcusably poor offensive production is not some new phenomenon, and it’s gone as far as becoming a “meme” amongst those in the college football community. However, the bigger stages they make in spite of it, the more the magnitude of such a flaw is highlighted—and the less funny the entire situation ends up looking.