First and 20: It’s time to talk about Iowa

Anthony Gimino

November 23, 2015 at 10:08 am.

Nov 21, 2015; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes running back Jordan Canzeri (33) is pursued by Purdue Boilermakers linebacker Danny Ezechukwu (36) during the second quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 21, 2015; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes running back Jordan Canzeri (33) is pursued by Purdue Boilermakers linebacker Danny Ezechukwu (36) during the second quarter at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s talk about Iowa.

We might not want to talk about Iowa. We’ve been trying to ignore Iowa. The Hawkeyes have no sizzle, no pizzazz, no sex appeal.

But we have to talk about them. All they are is 11-0, sitting with Clemson as the only undefeated teams in college football with two weekends left, and we have to admit everyone and their little sister was wrong about Iowa.

The Hawkeyes received no votes in the AP preseason poll and were a consensus fourth pick in the Big Ten West, according to the major preseason magazines.

Still, after reaching this point unscathed, the nicest thing many say about Iowa is, “Well, they have no losses.”

Even Jeff Long, the chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee, seemingly shrugged his shoulders last week after his 12-person panel ranked Iowa fifth: “They’re not a flashy team,” he said, “but they are consistent.”

Quick: Name three players on Iowa.

OK, that’s not a real test the selection committee uses — but, hey, would you really be surprised? — and the Hawkeyes don’t have to apologize for inserting themselves into our college football discussion a year after finishing a disappointing 7-6.

“If you think every day is going to be a parade, you’re in for a tough life,” coach Kirk Ferentz said after a 40-20 victory over Purdue on Saturday clinched a spot in the Big Ten title game.

“You’ve got to endure some tough times, and I never thought we were off that far last year, but you know, being off that far sometimes makes a big difference.”

Perhaps the biggest difference came when Ferentz took the unusual step of announcing C.J. Beathard as his starting quarterback in January, prompting Jake Rudock to transfer to Michigan. Call it a win-win.

Beathard and running back Jordan Canzeri have anchored an efficient, but not explosive, offense while a salty defense is 15th nationally in yards allowed per play (4.76). Cornerback Desmond King has picked off eight passes. There. That’s three players.

The selection committee, which likes Iowa’s road wins — against Wisconsin and by 30 points over Northwestern — could move the Hawkeyes into their top four this week after Ohio State’s home loss to Michigan State. Or it could vault the one-loss Spartans, with road wins at Michigan and Ohio State, over the Hawkeyes.

To many, Iowa can’t win the “eye test.” As far as resume, the Hawkeyes have a few solid wins, but it’s OK to want more from them. They close the regular season at Nebraska and then will play either Michigan State, Ohio State or Michigan in the Big Ten title game.

So, Iowa will get one “biggie” before the College Football Playoff final vote, and the committee wouldn’t possibly leave off an undefeated Big Ten champ, would it? If it did, that would be something to talk about.

10 things we think we learned in Week 12

1. LSU, you might be crazy. The Tigers have lost three games in a row, and there is real buzz that coach Les Miles could be in trouble. Hey, LSU: You’re already dating a Homecoming queen, and Miss America is taken. Break up with Miles, and who do you think you’re going to get?

2. Gary Patterson made the right call. TCU went for a two-point conversion, trailing at Oklahoma 30-29 with 51 seconds left after rallying from a 30-13 fourth-quarter deficit. The result wasn’t what TCU wanted — Oklahoma’s Steven Parker batted down a roll-out pass from third-string QB Bram Kohlhausen — but we’d go for the win right there 10 times out of 10.

3. It’s hard to repeat. Ohio State has the talent. No question. Chemistry and motivation, however, are slippery suckers. The Buckeyes haven’t looked dominant after their championship season, and a home loss to Michigan State exposed the team’s cracks, with running back Ezekiel Elliott ripping the play-calling after getting only 12 touches. He and quarterback Cardale Jones, both juniors, rather emphatically announced they would not be back in Columbus next season.

4. Oklahoma has rediscovered Samaje Perine. The Sooners struggled to incorporate the powerful sophomore running back into its new Air Raid offense through the first half of the regular season, when he averaged just 15.5 carries and 70 yards per game. In the past five games, he’s averaging 20.2 rushes and 148 yards per game.

5. Oregon has the nation’s biggest “What if?” As in, what if graduate transfer quarterback Vernon Adams had been healthy all season? Oregon is looking perfectly Duck-y again, beating Stanford and rolling over USC in the past two weeks. Adams was 20 of 25 for 407 yards and six touchdowns in the 48-28 win over the Trojans. Oregon, at 8-3, can’t get to the Rose Bowl but it’s playing like the best team in the Pac-12 again.

6. The SEC Least, right? Think twice about extolling the depth of your league, SEC fans, because the East is still a part of it. On the league’s annual November cakewalk Saturday, The Citadel beat South Carolina, Florida needed overtime to beat a two-win Florida Atlantic squad, Georgia also needed overtime to beat Georgia Southern, and the offenses at Vanderbilt and Missouri combined for eight points in defeats.

7. The AAC will still have the Group of Five champ. Houston suffered an upset loss to UConn to drop from the unbeaten ranks, but the American Athletic Conference still has the top contenders — Navy, Houston and Temple — to fill a spot in one of the Big Six bowls.

8. L.A. back in front in the Pac-12 South. Arizona State won the South two years ago, Arizona last season, and Utah was the front-runner for much of this season. But when UCLA plays at USC, the winner advances to the Pac-12 title game, even with three league losses in a division that has completely cannibalized itself.

9. Just wow. Michigan State never led in its games against Michigan or Ohio State until the clock read 0:00. Just wow, Part II: The Spartans have won six of their past seven games against top-10 teams.

10. Our new top six. Clemson, Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Iowa. Your mileage may vary.

5 top Heisman candidates

1. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama. His limited time against Charleston Southern (nine carries, 68 yards, two TDs) will hurt his averages but won’t be held against him.

2. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson. He passed for 343 yards against Wake Forest and has topped 350 total yards in five of his past six games. The sophomore has led No. 1 Clemson to more than 500 total yards in seven consecutive games.

3. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford. It all might have happened too late for East Coasters, but McCaffrey had 192 yards rushing, a 98-yard kick return and a 49-yard touchdown catch as Stanford beat Cal and clinched the Pac-12 North. McCaffrey ended with a school-record 389 all-purpose yards.

4. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State. Big game coming up Saturday at Florida, which has the eighth-best rushing defense in the country.

5. Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy. The triple-option whiz has already set the major college record for career rushing touchdowns, and he has 9-1 Navy on the brink of a big bowl. Get him to the Heisman ceremony.

5 best Week 13 games

1. Notre Dame at Stanford (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET). The Irish are fighting for their College Football Playoff lives, and two-loss Stanford might still have the tiniest of hopes. No game in the country will be as physical in the trenches (and that includes the No. 2 game on our list).

2. Ohio State at Michigan (Saturday, noon ET). Urban Meyer vs. Jim Harbaugh. Here’s hoping this matchup has as many sequels as the Rocky movies.

3. Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (8 p.m. ET). OU could end the season with one loss, at the mercy of the selection committee. OSU could end the season with one loss, at the mercy of the selection committee and Baylor, which could then win the Big 12 by beating TCU.

4. Baylor at TCU (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET). The starting QBs are hurt, and this isn’t the winner-take-all showdown many envisioned, but college football as offensive theater still doesn’t get much better.

5. Iowa at Nebraska (Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET). The Cornhuskers beat Michigan State at home just two weeks ago. This would not be a huge upset. Film Room Review

Analyst Rob Rang’s five prospect takeaways for this week. Players listed including position, school, year (Height, weight and current overall rating and by position).

5. C Jack Allen, Michigan State, 6-2, 298, Sr. (#166/#5): Allen does often win the leverage battle, but it was the athleticism he showed when blocking on the move and the savvy snapping on a silent count that seemed to cause the Ohio State the most trouble. Allen doesn’t have ideal physical tools but he’s a favorite among scouts because of his blue-collar effort and experience in Michigan State’s pro-style scheme.

4. WR Isaiah Jones, East Carolina, 6-1, 197, Jr. (#57 WR in Class of 2017): Jones already sports the tapered frame NFL scouts are looking for, with broad shoulders, long arms and fluid athleticism. He was consistently able to generate separation from UCF’s defensive backs in catching a career-high 14 passes Thursday, showing savvy as a route-runner with varied gaits, shoulder fakes and the body control to make tough receptions look easy.

3. LT Taylor Decker, Ohio State, 6-7, 315, Sr. (#19/#3): Decker struggled a bit in pass protection against Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun. While Decker helped pave the way to Ohio State’s first touchdown with stellar run blocking, Calhoun (a possible top 50 pick, as well) beat him with quick swim moves and lateral agility in pass protection, raising concerns about how well he would fare if kept on the blind side against NFL edge rushers.

2. TE Bryce Williams, East Carolina, 6-6, 258, Sr. (#133, #7): Showing surprising fluidity given his frame, Williams possesses the raw traits that may help him earn an invitation to the Senior Bowl. Williams isn’t the mauling blocker his size suggests, though he does compete. He wins in the passing game by slipping past would-be defenders with quickness and balance and making sure-handed catches.

1. LT Jack Conklin, Michigan State, 6-6, 318, Jr. (#25/#4): Conklin solidified his position as a potential first-round prospect with a standout performance against Ohio State, consistently generating movement in the running game. Conklin’s long arms and leg drive helped him knock his opponent off the ball and frequently release to get a hit on Ohio State’s linebackers.