Iowa’s bye weekend wasn’t just about the Hawkeyes getting some rest while trying to figure out what ailed them in the loss to Purdue the week before.
It was also about them staying out of the mess that is the Big Ten West.
And when the weekend was over, the Hawkeyes were back in the top 10 in the national rankings — they’re at No. 9 in the Associated Press and coaches polls.
Now they head into the final five weeks of the season in control of their own destiny.
Which isn’t a bad place to be as chaos swirls around the division.
Iowa and Minnesota each have one Big Ten loss. Wisconsin and Purdue have two. Illinois and Northwestern have three, and Nebraska has four.
Wisconsin won at Purdue. Illinois won at Penn State, outlasting the Nittany Lions in nine overtimes. Minnesota won at home over Maryland, and Northwestern lost at Michigan.
It’s good to be ahead of the traffic jam.
If the Hawkeyes run the table the rest of the way, they’ll be the West champions on the way to the Big Ten championship game.
Stumble once, and now they’re in the middle of the traffic jam not sure of what lane to take to get out of it.
Iowa’s 6-1 start clearly wasn’t without its flaws, and those were something the Hawkeyes were determined to correct last week.
The formula for the Hawkeyes over the last five games is simple — be fundamentally sound.
They need to be better on the offensive line, a trademark for the program in the Kirk Ferentz era.
They’re going to need to run the ball effectively and with consistency — they’re 12th in the conference in rushing yards per game.
And they will have to continue to be opportunistic on defense — they’re second nationally with 20 forced turnovers and third with a 1.57 turnover margin.
That formula is important, because every game the rest of the way is going to be a grind.
Much of the talk after the loss to Purdue, and during the bye week, was how the Hawkeyes had to figure out what went wrong against the Boilermakers. We’re going to find out at Wisconsin on Saturday what was fixed, and what wasn’t.
Saturday’s game against Wisconsin has an over-under of 36 ½. Get used to that, because that’s going to be the way it is the rest of the season.
What it’s going to be every week is a grind. There is no dominant team in the division — everyone has flaws, some more than others. It’s going to be a weekly slog.
The Hawkeyes seem fit for that, but they have to get back to what worked in those first six wins of the season. Which was, basically, finding a way to win even when things weren’t working.
That will serve them well in the coming weeks.
What is coming is not going to be artistry, but those last five games will be typical Big Ten West games — a crucible of physicality in which the winner makes the least mistakes.
It’s all about fundamentals now.
It’s all about staying ahead of the crowd behind you.
The Hawkeyes controlled their own fate after the loss to Purdue, and they still do.
At this point of the season, you can’t ask for much else.