Saturday October 31st, 2009

You'd think I would have learned by now never to doubt Iowa. Silly me. Early in the third quarter Saturday, after Ricky Stanzi's third of five interceptions set up Indiana at the Hawkeyes' four-yard line with a chance to possibly go up 28-7, I made the mistake of posting this prophecy on Twitter: "I don't see Iowa comeback happening today. Their offense, not that great to begin with, is all out of sorts. Four [turnovers]."

Three plays later, Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell's pass bounced off three different players at the line of scrimmage and landed in the hands of Iowa safety Tyler Sash, who returned it 86 yards for a touchdown.

Someone is definitely smiling on these Hawkeyes, who improved to 9-0 on Saturday despite the worst possible first half, despite its quarterback throwing five interceptions (four in the third quarter), despite Chappell shredding its previously stingy defense for three quarters. As if on cue, the Hawkeyes, down 24-14 late in the third quarter, rolled off four straight fourth-quarter touchdowns (the first two coming on long Stanzi touchdown passes) against a hard-luck Hoosiers (4-5) team that blew a 28-3 lead to Northwestern just a week earlier. Final score: 42-24.

Luck continues to favor the Hawkeyes -- and in the wake of all those recent SEC officiating controversies, many around the country are sure to grumble about the unusual number of breaks Iowa caught from the guys in the booth when the game was still in doubt. One replay review negated an apparent Indiana touchdown in which the receiver got a foot down in bounds. On another, the Hoosiers player appeared to scrape the side of the end zone, but again, no dice. A questionable spot bailed out Iowa on one third down, and an unnecessary personal foul call on a sideline hit did so on another.

By the end, however, the lopsided score made it all seem moot. (Ironically, Iowa finally delivered a "lopsided" Big Ten win in a game it trailed after three quarters.) And to many poll voters, the final score is all that matters.

We'll have to wait and see Sunday whether the BCS computers continue showing the Hawkeyes love -- Iowa ranked fourth in last week's standings, but first in the computer component. The Hawkeyes still need help from ahead regardless, but they're moving ever closer to wrapping up a Big Ten title. They'll need to win at 7-2 Ohio State in two weeks (Stanzi probably won't get away with five picks in that one); however, the Buckeyes visit Penn State next weekend. If the Nittany Lions win, Iowa could conceivably lose to Ohio State and still win the conference since it holds the tiebreaker over Penn State.

But right now, Hawkeyes fans presumably have their sights set on that "other" game in Pasadena. Saturday's ugly performance won't instill any confidence nationally, where most non-Big Ten fans find the idea of an Iowa national-championship berth preposterous. But take it from me -- if you doubt these Hawkeyes, you're not doing yourself any favors.

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