The Iowa Hawkeyes have a loaded schedule this year, and there’s no better time to release Iowa’s matchup rankings for 2021. Iowa opens the season at home with a tough draw against Indiana in early September. The Hawks also travel to Ames in week two and Madison in late October for two season-defining road games. Where do the rest of the games shake out? Find out here in Iowa’s matchup rankings for 2021.
Iowa’s Matchup Rankings for 2021:
1.) @ Wisconsin (10/30/21)
This game, as usual, is the biggest and most important of the year for Iowa. The Hawks will travel to Madison on October 30th in their second divisional matchup of the year in a game that will, in all likelihood, define their season. With a win, they would take control of the Big Ten West and own the road to Indianapolis. Last year, Iowa blew out the Badgers at Kinnick in an all around great performance. Tyler Goodson secured the Heartland Trophy with his 80-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. Wisconsin might write that off as a “COVID-year loss,” but Iowa still showed they can take control of the Badgers. Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz will be back for his sophomore season with a lot more playing time under his belt with a home crowd behind him. If Iowa can take care of business elsewhere, their trip to Indianapolis is all but locked up with a win at Camp Randall the day before Halloween.
2.) @ Iowa State (9/11/21)
According to much of the media, this game has potential Playoff implications. Iowa State is off an incredible year, the best under Matt Campbell and in program history. Campbell has yet to beat Iowa, however, and after not facing off in 2020, he’ll get a chance to show Iowa his top-ranked squad. ABC will be covering this year’s game, and it’s a big one. Iowa enters Ames with a chance to win six in a row against its rival, but as usual, it won’t be easy. Cyclone quarterback Brock Purdy returns alongside Breece Hall at running back and Charlie Kolar at tight end. This season’s Iowa State offense will be almost identical to last year’s.
The Hawks will be challenged, and at the end of the day this will be a typical, hard-fought battle between two top-15 programs. Expect something weird to come out of Ames again this year. In 2019, there was a four-hour rain delay before an Iowa State muffed punt to give Iowa the win. The game in 2017 was a shootout into overtime where Iowa ended up winning by three. The atmosphere will be electric for this heated in-state rivalry in early September.
3.) @ Northwestern (11/6/21)
Following Iowa’s trip to Madison, the Hawkeyes travel to Evanston to take on the Citrus Bowl champion Northwestern Wildcats. Iowa was a point away from winning last year at home, but after three turnovers they couldn’t get it done. It turned out to define the Big Ten West, and Northwestern went on to earn a dominant win against Auburn in a New Year’s Day bowl. In 2021, however, the Wildcats rank near the bottom of the FBS in returning production. With two first round picks going last April, Chicago’s Big Ten team will have some rebuilding to do. This is a prime spot for Iowa’s second biggest divisional game of the season. Northwestern has won four of the last five against Iowa, and two of those wins propelled the Wildcats to Indianapolis. It should go without saying that this away game in early November is very important for the Hawks if they want to return to Indianapolis.
4.) Minnesota (11/13/21)
The Hawkeyes have gotten the best of P.J. Fleck since he took over in Minneapolis five years ago. Iowa has won six in a row, and has a 16-4 record since 2001. The Floyd of Rosedale Trophy remains seated in Iowa City heading into the 2021 season, and will be on the Hawkeye sideline in mid-November. Fleck is building a great program and culture in Minnesota, but similar to Matt Campbell, he has yet to get through Iowa. The Golden Gophers return 10 starters on both sides of the ball for 2021 so a lot of their players will have last year’s defeat fresh in their mind. Iowa went to Minneapolis on a Friday night and blew out the Gophers 35-7. Hawk fans will never forget the stunt Kirk Ferentz pulled with a 35-0 lead. Minnesota was knocking at the door for a late-game touchdown, and Ferentz took all three remaining timeouts with 19 seconds remaining in the game. At the podium following the game he said, “Figured we’d take Floyd with us and leave the timeouts here.”
This border-rivalry, without question, means everything to the players, coaches, fans, and everyone in the facilities. Minnesota travels to Iowa City this year, and it comes right after Iowa’s trips to Madison and Evanston. Buckle up for this three-week stretch after the bye, it could be the foundation of the Hawkeyes’ postseason run.
5.) Penn State (10/9/21)
The Nittany Lions will be one of Iowa’s cross-division opponents for the sixth year in a row. This year, like all other years, it’s a big game. The Hawkeyes won in dominant fashion last season in Happy Valley. The game was capped off with an incredible pick-six by Daviyon Nixon. Getting this year’s game at home will give Iowa a chance to avenge their last two home losses to Penn State in 2017 and 2019. The Nittany Lions were much better than their record indicated last year, and this will be one of Iowa’s toughest games. Penn State’s only major offensive loss is Pat Freiermuth to the NFL, so they should be back on track for 2021. Kinnick will be rocking in early October for this new-found rivalry.
6.) Indiana (9/4/21)
Hawkeye fans are used to seeing a MAC opponent come to Iowa City for the opener, but the first game of 2021 will be against the Indiana Hoosiers. Tom Allen led Indiana to its first eight-win season since 1993. Along the way they beat Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and played the Buckeyes to the final minute. This season, the Hoosiers will return 80% of their offensive production. This matchup will be one of the best week one games in the country, and it will be interesting to watch how defensive coordinator Phil Parker lines up against the high-speed Hoosier offense. Iowa will hit the ground running in this conference home opener, and probable top 25 matchup.
7.) Purdue (10/16/21)
Last season’s opening game in West Lafayette came as a slow start for both the Hawkeyes and Boilermakers. While Iowa had a great second quarter, they couldn’t sustain it in the second half and Purdue controlled the rest of the contest. Boilermaker running back Zander Horvath looked like a Heisman contender with his 129 yard performance on the Hawkeye defense. He’ll be back this year alongside possibly the best wide receiver in the country, David Bell. Purdue isn’t the most exciting divisional opponent, but the game has significance. It will be Iowa’s first divisional game of the year, and they’ll have seen first-hand the capabilities of the Purdue offense. Iowa needs to figure out how to stop the Boilermakers to start the train to Indianapolis.
8.) @ Maryland (10/1/21)
Maryland doesn’t quite feel like a Big Ten program to many, but this game has some intrigue as the Hawkeyes will get to see Taulia Tagovailoa. The nation didn’t get to see his full capabilities at quarterback with a shortened season last year, but he had some gems. In Maryland’s overtime thriller against Minnesota, he threw for almost 400 yards and 3 touchdowns. Head coach and former Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley has a great relationship with Taulia. The program is in an upward trend and great things are ahead for the Terps. Iowa will be challenged on the road for their first October matchup. The experienced Hawkeye Defense will get a great test from a young Tagovailoa passing attack.
9.) Colorado State (9/25/21)
The Hawks got a Mountain West opponent a few years ago with Wyoming, and now the Colorado State Rams visit Iowa City for a great early-season matchup. Rams head coach Steve Addazio is entering his second season coaching in Fort Collins, off a 1-3 record in 2020. The Rams are in a rebuilding scenario, but it’s a good chance for the Hawks to regroup once more before conference play kicks off. It will be exciting to host a fresh Group of Five opponent instead of the usual MAC teams of late.
10.) Illinois (11/20/21)
Spencer Petras played one of his worst halves of football against Illinois last season when the Hawks fell behind 14-0 early in Champaign. Fortunately, he turned it around in the second half and the defense began to get some stops. Iowa racked up 35 unanswered to complete the comeback. This performance exposed two major things for the Hawkeyes. They showed their mental ability to adjust a game plan to stay within a game, and that every opponent is a threat. Illinois is not the strongest team in the Big Ten, but they do have a new head coach, Bret Bielema. In a year where Illinois is rebuilding, Iowa won’t look past this divisional matchup. After a tough three-game stretch, this one in Iowa City should be an opportunity to regroup and move forward with a win.
11.) @ Nebraska (11/26/21)
The Hawks wrap up the 2021 regular season in Lincoln for a game that’s been not much of a rivalry of late. Iowa has won the last six contests against the Cornhuskers, and seven of the last eight. The last three games have all been within one-possession at the end. However, the Hawks have proven to consistently outlast Nebraska on all sides of the ball. Nebraska, like Illinois, is in a rebuilding state. They haven’t had much success since Scott Frost took over four years ago. This season’s matchup will likely look very similar to the past six for the Hawkeyes.
12.) Kent State (9/18/21)
Kent State comes in as the lowest ranked game of 2021, but it’s not a bad game by any means. The Golden Flashes had two 60+ point performances last season, but also gave up 70 in one game to Buffalo. In a crazy “MACtion” season, they ended the year 3-1. Iowa will have just finished a tough two-game start to the season against Indiana and Iowa State. This MAC opponent should be a good game for the Hawks to reset. Although this contest shouldn’t be overlooked, it will probably end up being a nice win for Iowa at home in week three.