Good morning and good football to those of you in Hawkeye Nation and Wildcat Land! High off your respective emotional home win and hard-nosed, grind-it-out Power-5 road win, I can understand why things are seeming rosy in Iowa City and Evanston. Both the Hawkeyes and ‘Cats are 3-0 with lesser teams approaching in Week 4, setting themselves up to take 4-0 records into a Big Ten West with more questions than answers.
But give me a damn break.
Iowa fans (in comment sections, not written pieces) are talking about playoffs (PLAYOFFS) after being taken to the wire—at home, under the lights—against a rebuilding ACC team and needing a 57-yard FG to escape. (Again, Marshall Koehn, holy shit what a kick.)
Northwestern fans and blogs are revising expectations as high as 9-3 after catching Stanford in an early Week 1 game and still having shown no semblance of an offense besides "Run Justin Jackson 30 times and hope the other team wears down."
What's more, reading Iowa fans saying "They can finally believe in Kirk Ferentz again" because he's shown the exact same tendencies of ill-advised special teams calls (that's TWO failed fake FGs for those of you keeping score at home) and vanilla offense as before, only now having a defense (and what a monster Desmond King is!) that can bail him out again. You can finally believe again? Because he, like any competent coach, ran the ball to get in position for a long FG when he had nothing to lose? Really needed to poke your finger into the gaping wound on the sides and touch the ol' palms, huh? Alright, Thomas.
Oh, but I forgot. Kirk took a selfie with a player. THAT MEANS IT'S NEW KIRK.
Congratulations to the Hawkeyes on an incredibly touching moment when Pat Angerer and Brett Greenwood led the team onto the field against Pitt. None of this is to diminish the emotion that was that moment.
But congrats on beating Pitt and getting goosebumps at a seven-minute iteration of the Johnson County Spelling Bee breaking out to start the fourth quarter. Congrats on shaking the monkey of Paul Rhoads off your back for a year by scoring 14 unanswered late in the fourth quarter to stave off yet another embarrassing loss to Iowa State. Forgive me if I remain unconvinced. Gerry DiNardo can claim the Hawkeyes as the most surprising team in the Big Ten—that's just fine. But it shouldn't be a surprise that Iowa can beat rebuilding Pitt and horse-manure Iowa State: it should be an expectation, regardless of "How bad the last two years were" or whatever. These were games in which Iowa was favored and met expectations. Congrats, Iowa: you're meeting expectations. WHAT A SHOCK.
Lest this turn into a dick-swinging "Who had it worse?" argument, Iowa and Northwestern fans, I'll stop you right there: you've both had terrible on- and off-field runs in the last two years. No one cares. Better programs move past that.
And speaking of Chicago's Big Ten Team: get over yourselves. Predicting 10-win seasons because you sprung a surprise on a quality PAC-12 team and supposed playoff contender in Stanford, then doubling-down on that because of a road win over a ‘meh' Duke club? You're king of the nerds—no one's denying you that (except people bitter at you picking and choosing who your peers are).
But you know those self-assured "Well, the offense will start improving!" claims? Those "Thank goodness for our defense!" reassurances? They're just that: claims and reassurances. Northwestern is the S&P+ #119 offense. That offense, for your own edification, is almost identical to that of Minnesota—that's right, the same Minnesota that everyone is pointing and laughing at.
The defense, for its strengths, pounced on average Stanford and Duke offenses but showed weaknesses against the zone-read against Duke, something which the ‘Cats will need to shore up immediately before facing the Big Ten schedule. I'm sure someone will be along, as well, to claim that Stanford essentially beat Northwestern because of the number of passes they dropped. While I find that argument facile, it nonetheless begs the question of whether better offenses (and I'm not counting Duke in that) will be able to get separation or move the ball against the ‘Cats.
I understand Northwestern fans want to be quick to give ourselves the pass and the pat on the back for "turning it around" and finding ways to win just a year after 5-7 happened for the second consecutive season, but there's a difference between excitement over a win at home against a ranked team and a good road win against a fine P5 team and losing your minds and talking conference championship appearances or taking it to Wisconsin.
This is a fine team; probably a 7-5 or 8-4 team. But this offense could continue to sputter. Against Nebraska, against Iowa, against Wisconsin, a sputtering offense is going to give way to a defense that will get pounded down by better teams and bigger offensive lines than Duke. And then we turn from conversations of "Can Northwestern make it to Indianapolis?" to "Let's just beat Purdue and get bowl-eligible, OK?"
So, Northwestern and Iowa fans, can we cool it? Just for a second? It's not that you shouldn't be optimistic, it's not that you shouldn't feel good about starting 3-0, and it's not that you shouldn't wonder whether or not Pat Fitzgerald and/or Kirk Ferentz have turned a corner in their coaching and playcalling.
But anointing your teams contenders after half-inspiring starts? That's how #perspective becomes a thing around Off Tackle Empire. Falling back on those wins after an upset loss to Minnesota or Illinois won't do your respective team a bit of good; it'll just remind us of the silly predictions you made before you played a snap of Big Ten football.
(Indiana fans, feel free to celebrate as much as you want. I realize how novel this concept might be.)