Ranking the Iowa Hawkeyes’ five most important games in 2023 and why
Spring ball is over. The summer workouts are about to get underway. College football isn’t as far away as it may feel right now. We are about four months out from the opening kickoff for many teams on Saturday, Sept. 2.
The Iowa Hawkeyes are looking for 2023 to be a season where fresh faces, incoming transfers, and returning stars look to turn the corner and get this team back to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game.
Iowa does get a favorable schedule this year as they avoid both the Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes. That sets up nicely, but, in exchange, some of the Hawkeyes’ key games do require them to go on the road.
The Big Ten West has seen changes this offseason with a multitude of new head coaches and transfer quarterbacks. How does that impact Iowa? Can the Hawkeyes navigate the Big Ten West and be in the conversation late in the year like they expect? Here are the five most important games in 2023 for the Iowa Hawkeyes and why.
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Iowa's 2023 schedule
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2023 Iowa Hawkeyes football schedule:
Sept. 2: Utah State Aggies
Sept. 9: at Iowa State Cyclones
Sept. 16: Western Michigan Broncos
Sept. 23: at Penn State Nittany Lions
Sept. 30: Michigan State Spartans
Oct. 7: Purdue Boilermakers
Oct. 14: at Wisconsin Badgers
Oct. 21: Minnesota Golden Gophers
Oct. 28: BYE
Nov. 4: Northwestern Wildcats (at Wrigley Field)
Nov. 11: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Nov. 18: Illinois Fighting Illini
Nov. 24: at Nebraska Cornhuskers (Friday)
What games are left out?
One interesting note about Iowa’s 2023 schedule: the Hawkeyes’ home-away split breaks Iowa’s way with seven home games versus just five road games. With a 12-game schedule, not every game can be ranked here. Here is what games are left out and a bit of reasoning why.
First off, lumping Utah State and Western Michigan together as the early season out-of-conference matchups. Simply put, these are two games the Hawkeyes should handle and use to get the offense humming.
Next up includes two teams in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. First up is Michigan State coming to Kinnick. The Spartans were the next big thing until they suddenly weren’t last year with a big step backward. They may not go back again this year, but I don’t see a return quickly. Following that is playing host to Purdue who lost their talented quarterback and head coach. Purdue may be in store for a tough year.
Down the stretch, Iowa gets a fortunate lineup of Northwestern, Rutgers, and Illinois all in a row with two at home and the Wildcats at Wrigley Field. This needs to be a 3-0 stretch run for Iowa if they want to be in the Big Ten West conversation.
No. 5: Oct. 21 versus the Minnesota Golden Gophers
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Last meeting: Iowa 13, Minnesota 10 on Nov. 19, 2022
Like it or not, P.J. Fleck always has Minnesota hanging around in the Big Ten West. They start strong each year but the question is if they can hang down the stretch. Also, can they ever beat Iowa? It remains unseen.
This game comes before a stretch of the bye week, which is then followed by Northwestern, Rutgers, and Illinois for Iowa. This game and those three are all very winnable, if not expected. Winning this one could put Iowa on a stretch run that could catapult them to the top of the West in the second half of the year.
No. 4: Sept. 9 at the Iowa State Cyclones
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Last meeting: Iowa State 10, Iowa 7 on Sept. 10, 2022
Early in the year and a non-factor in conference standings don’t exclude this one. This one matters. Ask anyone in the state of Iowa. The Hawkeyes lost a defensive struggle last year and want to reclaim the Cy-Hawk trophy.
This is also Iowa’s first real test of the 2023 season and could be a measuring stick of how good this team can be. If Iowa can win this one, they follow it up with Western Michigan and would be staring at a 3-0 start.
No. 3: Sept. 23 at the Penn State Nittany Lions
(AP Photo/Matthew Putney)
Last meeting: Iowa 23, Penn State 20 on Oct. 9, 2021
Somehow, someway, this game always seems to loom large for each of these teams. The Nittany Lions get West Virginia, Delaware, and Illinois before this one. There is a better than not chance that this is a matchup of two 3-0 teams.
It is also in Happy Valley which is one of the most hostile places to play. Iowa will more than likely be the underdog here, but this game gives them a national spotlight to make some noise and show the entire Big Ten they are for real. The only reason this sits at No. 3 is it doesn’t have as much of an immediate impact on the Big Ten West standings.
No. 2: Nov. 24 at the Nebraska Cornhuskers
Last meeting: Nebraska 24, Iowa 17 on Nov. 25, 2022
Iowa will want revenge for last year. Nebraska played spoiler for a trip to Indy. Now, the Cornhuskers have a new regime under Matt Rhule who has infused life into this once downtrodden program. Rhule will turn Nebraska around, but it may take a few years to get the ship righted.
Sitting as the last game of the year, this could have an enormous impact once again but it may be just for Iowa. If Iowa can handle its business, there is a path where the Big Ten West is wrapped up prior to this game. But, that would be too straightforward in the Big Ten. This one is set up for drama.
No. 1: Oct. 14 at the Wisconsin Badgers
Joseph Cress / USA TODAY NETWORK / USA TODAY NETWORK
Last meeting: Iowa 24, Wisconsin 10 on Nov. 12, 2022
Wisconsin brought in Luke Fickell, a proven head coach with College Football Playoff experience. They are throwing the ball and remaking everything. Can Fickell get them to the Big Ten Championship in his first year?
The Big Ten West feels as though it is between Iowa and Wisconsin right now and this game is monumental. It is just a Week 7 matchup, but the winner is going to have an inside track down the stretch in what is always a tightly contested conference race.
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