Iowa prepares for the rough road ahead

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Here's a potentially sobering thought for Iowa fans, courtesy of tell-it-like-it-is head coach Kirk Ferentz:

"It's really conceivable that we have a better team than last year and have a record that doesn't indicate that," Ferentz said Friday.

A look at the Hawkeyes' 2009 schedule reveals exactly what Ferentz is talking about.

No team in the Big Ten and few BCS teams nationally has a tougher conference road schedule than the Hawkeyes, who were ranked 21st in the preseason Coaches' Poll.

Sept. 26: at Penn State
Oct. 17:
at Wisconsin
Oct. 24:
at Michigan State
Nov. 14:
at Ohio State

Those four teams had a combined record of 37-15 last year and went 24-4 on their home fields. When a trip to Camp Randall Stadium looks like the easy game, you know it's a rough road.

"We know every one of those environments will be tough," Ferentz said. "You factor in two night games [Penn State and Michigan State] on top of it, makes the difficulty a little bit more, incline's a little higher. We're just going to have to be ready for it. It gets down to details, really having a great focus."

Despite its strong finish last fall, Iowa's focus wavered at times away from Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes went 2-3 on the road in 2008, losing by a combined seven points.

Iowa figured things out nicely in its road finale, crushing archrival Minnesota 55-0. But this year's Big Ten tour doesn't figure to be nearly as easy.

"It's a challenge, but it's also a great opportunity," All-Big Ten linebacker Pat Angerer said. "We have the opportunity to play a lot of great teams in a lot of great stadiums. We're going to have to work very hard in order to experience success."

It all starts for Iowa on Sept. 26 at Penn State, a place where the team has enjoyed some success. The Hawkeyes are 3-1 at Beaver Stadium under Ferentz, including the infamous 6-4 triumph in 2004.

Penn State has scheduled a whiteout for the game, hoping to get revenge against Iowa after last year's last-second loss at Kinnick Stadium.

"They're an unbelievable team," Angerer said. "Last year, I don't think I got my butt kicked as much as I did in that game. Their O-linemen were unbelievable. We're talking about how they got to get back at us, but I need to redeem myself for that."