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Iowa football has a chance either to catapult itself to national prestige or fall quickly in a big hole, as they are slated to begin the 2021 season with two important conference games back to back. To make matters more serious, both of those opponents — Indiana (Sept. 4) and Iowa State (Sept. 11) — are ranked higher than the Hawkeyes in the AP Preseason Top 25 . The gravity of the situation, a rarity in this era of strategic non-conference scheduling, isn’t lost on head coach Kirk Ferentz.
“That’s certainly something that’s got our attention,” Ferentz said. “We know we’re going to have to be at our best right off the bat, or at least attempt to be.”
Ironically, Iowa started 0-2 last season in the COVID-mandated all conference slate. To their credit, though, the Hawkeyes rallied to finish the season on a six-game winning streak, and the players are hoping to ride that momentum into this new gauntlet that stands before them.
“It’s definitely exciting and very challenging,” wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. said. “To play two really great teams off the bat will challenge us in ways we haven’t been challenged before.
“Indiana is probably going to be a top-10 team and so will Iowa State, so I feel like if we can win those first two games it’ll be a good push forward.”
Indeed, the Preseason Top 25 rankings agreed, placing Indiana at 18 and Iowa State at 7 in the country. But luckily for Iowa, most of their offensive skill players return this season, which will be important considering slow starts on offense is what derailed their first two games in 2020.
“We had a spring, had a summer and about to have a fall (camp),” Tracy also said. “With all the same guys and all of the same chemistry. I think that’s something we missed last year and that’s why we started 0-2. I’m not going to blame it on that but it played a part in where the chips landed.”
Iowa will most likely be underdogs on paper in both of their opening games, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be ready to play. According to offensive lineman Tyler Linderbaum, the first two games will be an opportunity to showcase themselves nationally and prove their worth in the college football landscape.
“We know what to expect,” Linderbaum said. “It’s going to be hard-fought. It’s going to be a game of the turnover battle, how the offensive and defensive lines (play) and everything. So I know we’re going to be ready to play, but I know Indiana and Iowa State will be ready as well.”