Key stretch: Iowa

Fútbol might have the world's focus right now, but we're still writing about football. As we continue to count down toward the season, we're taking a look at the key three- or four-game stretch in the schedule for each Big Ten team.

Today, let's examine the make-or-break schedule section for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Key stretch: Wisconsin (Nov. 22), Nebraska (Nov. 28)

Breakdown: OK, so we said in the intro we'd be looking at the key three- or four-game stretches, and this is only two. Iowa is unique in the league in that regard because of its schedule. If the season started today, the Hawkeyes would likely be favored in every one of their Big Ten games, with the possible exception of the Nov. 8 road trip to Minnesota (though Iowa did win handily in Minneapolis a year ago, so even that is highly doubtful). Of course, Kirk Ferentz's team actually has to take care of business on the field, including its nonconference games against Pitt and Iowa State. But the fact remains that Iowa was handled a dream schedule -- on paper, at least -- where the top two teams it must face both come to Kinnick Stadium in a seven-day stretch to end the regular season. Who knows what will transpire in the first 10 games. Still, it's highly likely that success in 2014 for the Hawkeyes will boil down to these final two contests.

Prediction: First, we're glad to see the Heartland Trophy game go back to an annual affair. Secondly, the Heroes Game might have finally become a thing after Iowa won last year in Lincoln. There doesn't appear to be a lot separating the Hawkeyes, Badgers and Cornhuskers this season, and health and late-year motivation will play a big role in these two games. Barring a slew of injuries a la 2012, Iowa should win at least one of these games with the Kinnick advantage. We'll say the Hawkeyes go 1-1, just because the teams seem so even that it's virtually a toss-up. But if Iowa wins both, there's a good chance Ferentz's squad will be playing again a week later in Indianapolis.