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After Pushing Penn State, Is Iowa a Real Threat to Win the Big Ten West?

In this week's #DearAndy mailbag, your questions about irrational fan bases, Kenny Hill's step forward and whether or not Group of Five teams can compete without running quirky offenses.

I’ve never interviewed a statue to answer a reader’s question. Until this week…

From Wayne: Which college football team’s fan base has the most unrealistic expectations compared to actual team performance?

You probably think I’m going to say Nebraska here, but I’m not. One thing I’ve noticed in the past few years is that most Nebraska fans I interact with harbor no illusions of getting back to the dominance of the mid-’90s. They simply want a team that can compete in the Big Ten West every year and win it every few years. That’s an entirely realistic goal.

The two fan bases that jump out to me are both in the SEC. Tennessee fans still seem to believe the Volunteers can replicate the success of Phillip Fulmer’s first 10 years, but that may be impossible. That doesn’t mean Tennessee can’t win the occasional SEC East title. The Vols absolutely should expect that. But they face some challenges in today’s landscape. Their state still doesn’t produce a ton of major recruits, though Nashville’s exploding population could push the number of quality players in Tennessee higher. Fulmer had a great pipeline into Atlanta, and he could also go into the Carolinas and get players. But some things have changed. Today, Albert Haynesworth (Hartsville, S.C.) probably goes to Clemson. To succeed at Tennessee requires casting a wide net. The Georgia and Florida coaches don’t have to do that.

Texas A&M, meanwhile, has the recruiting base and resources to be a year-in, year-out contender for the SEC title, but after a stellar first season in the league—when Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy—in 2012, the Aggies are 16–17 in SEC play. They were typically average in the Big 12 before that, winning it once (’98) between ’96 and ’11 and finishing with a .500 or worse conference record eight times. A&M must find a way to overcome its history, but that may not be possible as long as Nick Saban is at division rival Alabama. 

It is no coincidence, by the way, that both these fan bases are ready to run off their coaches.

From Ray: How impressed have you been with the progression from Kenny Trill to Kenny Chill? [Answer linked here, and in the video atop this story.]

From Mike: Can Iowa still win 10 games? Should I just stop?

I would not advise you to stop, especially if you’re allowed to include a bowl game. The way Iowa’s defense played against an explosive Penn State offense in Saturday’s 21–19 loss suggests the Hawkeyes can limit any offense they’ll face in the Big Ten. (For now, I’m choosing to consider Iowa State’s scoring outburst in Iowa’s 44–41 overtime win an anomaly.) Meanwhile, they should be able to move the ball on most of their remaining opponents except possibly Ohio State. A perusal of the schedule suggests Iowa can win 10 games in the regular season as long as the Hawkeyes beat the teams they’re supposed to beat and then beat either Ohio State at Kinnick Stadium on Nov. 4 or Wisconsin in Madison on Nov. 11. Add a bowl game into the mix and Iowa could lose both of these and still win 10 games. But if the Hawkeyes hold serve against their less talented opponents and do win in Madison, they’ll likely be headed to Indianapolis as the West champ.

Did I get your hopes up, Mike? I’ve been wrong before, but if the Hawkeyes can replicate that defensive performance from Saturday, they’ll be especially salty the rest of the way.

From TS: Washington State is 4–0 and yet no pending visit from College GameDay. How is this not a major story? West Coast bias? [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]

From Marcus: Could you tackle Barry Sanders?

This is a trick question. No one could tackle Barry Sanders. But for those too young to remember how he ran at Oklahoma State, watch this…

And then remember that he did pretty much the same thing to NFL defenses.

From Billy: Could a Group of Five team have sustained success while running a pro style offense in today's college football? [Answer linked here, and in the video below.]