IOWA CITY, Iowa -- It's November, and in college football, that means teams are tired and sore. But the good ones still find ways to win.
"If you don't you're not going to be successful," the Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz said Wednesday at a gathering with media in the Hayden Fry Football Complex. "Our goal has always been to be a championship-caliber team. I'm not sure we can be the Big Ten Champions this year, but you're always building toward something or you're taking away from something."
Iowa (6-4, 3-3 B1G Legends) and Minnesota (8-2, 4-2 B1G Legends) enjoy a bye week ahead of their final two games, while the remaining ten Big Ten teams face one another in Week 12 of the regular season.
Under Ferentz, the Hawkeyes have had winning months of November in 2008, '07, '05, '04, '03, '02, and 2000. In those seven years, Iowa won 64.4 of all its games (56-31); in years when they were .500 or below in November, the Hawkeyes had a winning percentage of 50.6 (44-43).
"In pro football you better be good in December and in college football if you're going to have a good team you have to win in November," Ferentz said. "We're in that last part of our schedule. What I'm pleased with is since our last bye week we had a four-game block and our guys competed hard in all four games. We have improved as well; is it enough to win the last two? Time will tell."
Since Iowa's last bye following a 26-14 loss to Michigan State at home, the Hawkeyes are 2-2 with wins against Northwestern and Purdue and losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin. The last two regular season games are against Michigan (6-3 overall, 2-3 Big Ten Conference) in Kinnick Stadium on Nov. 23 and at Nebraska (7-2, 4-1) on Nov. 29.
"It's going to be what we do with opportunities, knowing neither game is going to be easy," Ferentz said. "We're playing talented teams."
Thanks to its second bye week of the season, the Hawkeyes will be a little less sore and tired when they host the Wolverines. Ferentz said the team will practice Wednesday and Thursday, take a break Friday and Saturday, and begin game-week preparation Sunday.
Minnesota gets the same opportunity ahead of next Saturday's game hosting Wisconsin. The Golden Gophers final game is at Michigan State on November 30th.
"It's spring ball for us," Ferentz said of the bye week practice schedule. "We're not thinking too much about any opponent right now, but Sunday that will change, so we'll get a one-day jump."
Ferentz said the health of the Hawkeyes is good with the exception of one unnamed player who could be ready by Sunday. That does not include senior defensive lineman Dominic Alvis, whose status will be updated Tuesday. Alvis has not played since Oct. 19.
"He's progressing but he hasn't had any contact yet," Ferentz said of Alvis. "We'll have to wait and see."
Ferentz spent time talking about Iowa's defense, ranked 11th in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense (319.2 yards per game) and 13th in scoring defense (18.7 points per game).
"That's the key element to it and we're quietly getting better each week," Ferentz said. "We have competed hard defensively every game. The guys are working hard, the attitude has been good, and we're playing solid defense. We're making progress and that gives you a chance in any game."
The Hawkeye offense picked it up Nov. 9 at Purdue, gaining 509 yards, 318 on the ground. Sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock has completed at least 50 percent on his pass attempts in all 10 games with five more touchdowns than interceptions.
"We're doing some good things, and 10 games in we know more about our quarterback than we did in preseason," Ferentz said. "We're doing good things subtly, now the big thing is trying to tie it all together and find a way to make more of a push offensively. If we're going to have a chance in these next two games we're going to have to find a way to pull it all together."
Defense wins Championships the old saying goes. Both Iowa and Minnesota need help, if they are going to win a share of the Big Ten Legends division in the final year.
Next year, the Big Ten will realign, so this is the third and final season of the Legends and Leaders. When Maryland and Rutgers join in 2014, the Big Ten will realign to East and West divisions.
In the Legends final season, what could be coined the Legends title game takes place in Lincoln, Nebraska. Michigan State (5-0 B1G Legends) travels to Nebraska (4-1 Big Legends), as the 2011 and 2012 Legends Division winners meet in a key match up.
A Michigan State win will eliminate Iowa and Nebraska from the division title hunt in 2013. A Nebraska win gives Iowa a sliver of hope and puts Nebraska in driver's seat, ahead of a game at Penn State next Saturday.
Michigan (2-3 B1G Legends) and Northwestern (0-5 B1G Legends) are both out of the Legends race, but the Wildcats who host both Michigan teams in back to back weeks need two wins in the coming three weeks to get bowl eligible. The Wolverines are bowl eligible at 6-3, but need to be careful to avoid a major November slide in year three under coach Brady Hoke.
Ohio State is 9-0 and 5-0 in the B1G Leaders. They clearly are in the driver's seat in the other division. The Buckeyes travel to Illinois (0-5 B1G Leaders), who haven't won a Big Ten game over the past 19 games. The Buckeyes have won 13 straight Big Ten games under second-year coach Urban Meyer.
Dispite the ugly B1G record, the Fighting Illini can become bowl eligible with three straight wins, starting today with Ohio State.
Wisconsin (4-1 B1G Leaders) hosts Indiana (2-3 B1G Leaders), as the three-time defending champs, need help from others with Ohio State. The Badgers would win their third straight division title, if some how they can get the help to leap frog Ohio State. It is not likely, as the Buckeyes face @ Illinois, Indiana and @ Michigan to close out November.
Penn State (2-3 B1G Leaders) hosts Purdue (0-5 B1G Leaders) today in Happy Valley. Both teams are out, but Penn State can continue to be a spoiler with games vs. Nebraska and @ Wisconsin in the final two Saturdays in November.
November will determine who plays in Indianapolis in the third and final Big Ten game between the winners of the Legends and Leaders divisions. The most interesting game would be undefeated Michigan State and Ohio State, if each can win the final three games. Most expect Ohio State to remain undefeated, but the Spartans face games @ Nebraska, @ Northwestern and Senior Day in East Lansing hosting Minnesota.
It should be an interesting close out in November in the Big Ten.