Let’s establish this from the start. Every single game in college football is important. You cannot afford to take a game off. That one loss could make or break your season.
The Hawkeyes have to view every game as a must-win. That being said, there certainly are games with more at stake, or with more of a narrative in play than others. Games hold a special significance. About a month before the season, here is my ranking of every Iowa 2022 football game from least important to most important.
Nevada (Game Three)
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Nevada sadly has to be the odd man out this year. For nearly the past half-decade, the Wolfpack have been a formidable opponent from the Mountain West who boasted an electric offense. That was the old Nevada under previous head coach Jay Norvell, though.
Since the end of last season, pretty much every piece has left either to the NFL or to some other Mountain West team. There’s still some intriguing pieces. Running back Toa Taua is back for a fifth season, as is defensive line leader Dom Peterson for his sixth. The Wolfpack just have so many question marks after such a heavy program turnover that the out-of-conference opponent should be one of the easier slates of the season, especially when you consider it will be Iowa’s third week at home.
Rutgers (Game Four)
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Poor Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights, despite showing some improvement recently, are below an FCS opponent. The only reason they’re above Nevada is because they are Iowa’s first opponent on the road as well as their introduction to the Big Ten season.
Besides that, this should be one of the games where Iowa handily comes away with the win. Unless the rebuild has rapidly sped up this offseason, Rutgers just isn’t quite yet ready to compete with some of the bigger guns in the conference. Maybe in a few years, though.
Iowa State (Game Two)
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This is a sneakily important game, just showing how hard it truly is to make a rankings like this. Iowa State will be the Hawkeyes’ first FBS test of the season, and, as always, it will be an emotionally charged battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy. There are a ton of storylines coming in that will be scrutinized to death before this week, especially the debate of the best coach in the state of Iowa. The Cyclones could surprise this year, but they did lose a good amount of players on offense, including second-round 2022 NFL draft pick Breece Hall.
South Dakota State (Game One)
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It might be surprising to see a contest against an FCS opponent this high on the list, and above both a rivalry game and an inner-conference game, but getting off to an early start is huge. While an FCS opponent, the Jackrabbits present a challenge to the Hawkeyes. They are routinely one of the best in the FCS and are returning a good amount of players. Iowa shouldn’t be on upset watch (hopefully), but this is a very good test early on to tune up the Hawkeyes.
Illinois (Game Six)
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This will be the cliche department’s favorite game, the trap game. Sandwiched between two goliaths, Illinois is one that fans may overlook. The team probably won’t, but the fans and media could. The Fighting Illini might not boast the most talent in the Big Ten, but they are a tough, pestering unit that will make life heck for the bigger teams in the conference. It’s a game to keep an eye on.
Northwestern (Game Eight)
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Just looking at the record from last year, Northwestern should be ranked near Rutgers. The Wildcats were not a good team last year, only winning three games in 2021. The offense couldn’t score, and the defense was unusually bad. They look once again to be one of the teams at the bottom of the conference in 2022. Coming after a tough three-game stretch, you think that Northwestern would be the easy game to recover.
It has a sneaky importance though. Say Iowa comes out of that Michigan, Illinois, Ohio State stretch with two, even three losses. This contest against the Wildcats now has monumental importance. With a tough West division slate upcoming, a loss here could cause a spiral for Iowa before they play in some of their biggest matchups of the year.
Nobody wants to see that. On the flip side, if Iowa enters the Northwestern game on a high note, then it is even more imperative to not let a loss against an opponent that they should beat (on paper) derail them.
Nebraska (Game 12)
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The significance of the last game of the season greatly depends on the results prior. This game against Nebraska could just be a game that is gearing the boys up for their bowl game. It also could be the magic key to the Big Ten Championship game. That’s what makes it incredibly hard to rank, and why I decided to put it in the middle. This could end up closer to Rutgers and Iowa State, it also could be the biggest of the season. Let’s hope it is the latter option.
Ohio State (Game Seven)
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Boo me all you want, but the only thing putting this game this high is the caliber of opponent, and the potential consequences of pulling off this upset. There are other games more important to whether or not the Hawkeyes make it back to the Big Ten Championship game than this road contest at the Horseshoe, especially when you consider that Iowa should in all likelihood lose this game.
It stinks to say, but Ohio State is the better team. You can say this for the Buckeyes against nearly every team in the nation, save for a few exceptions such as Alabama and Georgia. A win though would definitely be a massive statement, and, of course, a morale booster for the Hawkeyes.
Michigan (Game Five)
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The Michigan game is pretty similar to the previous entry with Ohio State. Pretty much all of the national media, unless Michigan vastly underperforms to start the season, will expect the Wolverines to pull away in this one. It is another case of the potential reward from making the upset happen that really elevates this one, besides playing a team at the level and prestige of Michigan.
What really lifts it above Ohio State though, is the game’s placement on the schedule. The Wolverines are Iowa’s first real test of the season. Sure, the first few games won’t be a cakewalk, but none of those teams really present the same level of challenge as Michigan. This is where we will really see the trajectory of Iowa’s season.
Purdue (Game Nine)
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Maybe my reasoning is just illogical, but I feel that the three games against the other top competitors in the West are by far the most important. Yes, Ohio State and Michigan are two of the nation’s elite and that makes them instantly important for Iowa, but the key to Iowa’s season are the divisional games.
They can afford to drop their two games against Ohio State and Michigan and still possibly make it back to the conference championship. I’m not nearly sure the same can be said for the remaining few entries. Purdue played spoiler last year, and with star quarterback Aidan O’Connell back at the helm, the Boilermakers look to contend for the entire division this time around.
Minnesota (Game 11)
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The game against the Golden Gophers holds pretty much the same exact weight as the Purdue one. Both bookend the most important game of the year (spoiler by the way) and are integral to the Hawkeyes’ goals. Minnesota was very good last year at 9-4, but still view last year as a disappointment. This will be a very tough defensive battle, and it’s on the road!
Wisconsin (Game 10)
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A lot can change throughout the season. Through some unfortunate luck, this game could not mean as much as expected if the Hawkeyes end up just kind of being alright in 2022. Just going on how we all think the season can and will play out, this is easily the biggest one of the year.
This most likely should decide who wins the Big Ten West. Again, lot of different variables, but the Badgers should be the biggest obstacle in the division for the Hawkeyes. Wisconsin will boast the best rushing attack in the Big Ten. Sophomore Braelon Allen might make a run at the Doak Walker, and the defense will contend for the best in the nation again.
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