You're torn. Since 1999, Iowa is a combined 1-10 at Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes haven't won at Ames in six years, haven't won at East Lansing in 14, and haven't won in Columbus since Caesar crossed the Rubicon.
On the other hand, the Big Ten Conference is shaping up to be a sack of wet garbage. My words, not Gerry DiNardo's.
"Well, I don't think there's a national championship contender," the Big Ten Network football analyst says. "I think last year, there were two - we started with Ohio State and then we went to Penn State, before (it) lost to Iowa. I don't see a national championship contender. I certainly don't see two."
So if you're an Iowa fan trying to take some kind of stab at the autumn futures, there's that. The Hawkeyes look stronger, on paper, in a league that somehow figures to dip down another notch. Ricky Stanzi is a year wiser. Even without tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul, nearly 75 percent of one of the most bloodthirsty defenses in school history returns intact.
Trouble is, you can't shake that schedule, which promises more bunkers than Bethpage Black.
At Iowa State? You think Paul Rhoads doesn't know what this game means?
At Penn State? The Lions haven't dropped a home conference opener in five years.
At Michigan State? Since 1996, the visitor in the series has lost by an average of more than two touchdowns.
At Ohio State? Kirk Ferentz's teams have been outscored 91-27 in three trips to the 'Shoe over the past decade.
It's the itch you can't reach, the stain that won't come out. The 2009 Hawkeyes could actually be better than the 9-4 edition of last fall, and their record might not show it. Take the hype with several grains of salt.
"It's going to be hard just because of their schedule," offers Ed Cunningham, the fine ESPN analyst and former Washington Huskies lineman. "It's just brutal. If you (switch) that up and have two of those (road teams) at home, it could be a 10-, 11-win season. That's the tough part, even if they are as good as some people think they are."
Left tackle Bryan Bulaga has already been anointed as the second coming of Robert Gallery, big shoes to fill on a couple of levels. An assistant Big Ten coach recently referred to Stanzi as "a young Tom Brady" in the latest Athlon college football preview magazine, so it turns out your uncle isn't the only one out there with an unhealthy man-crush on the Hawkeyes' signal-caller. But can you really call yourself a darkhorse for a Bowl Championship Series berth if you've already been tabbed as everyone's darkhorse?
"From a national perspective, I would say, 'No,' " says Shaun King, Cunningham's colleague at the Worldwide Leader. "And I think that has more to do with the Big Ten than Iowa, per se. Just right now, the Big Ten, nationally, is perceived as not that good of a conference from top to bottom. So anytime you talk about the four best teams in a conference that people don't see as elite, that works against you."
Fair enough, but when Michigan's down - and Big Blue went over the falls without a paddle last October - it actually makes the league a heck of a lot more interesting, in an any-given-Saturday sort of way. There's Ohio State and maybe Penn State at the top - and neither is flawless - with Purdue and Indiana at the rear. The rest is one giant crapshoot.
"Iowa's got the toughest schedule of my three contenders," DiNardo says. "I just think they find a way to get two guys in there (to replace King and Kroul). And they've got (eight) of 11 starters (on defense) coming back. I think they've got a chance."
Which, in June, is all you can ask. It's OK to keep drinking the Kool-Aid. Just make sure to find someone who can drive you home at the end of the night.
Date I Opponent I Time
Sept. 5 I Northern Iowa I TBA
Sept. 12 I at Iowa State I 11 a.m.
Sept. 19 I Arizona I TBA
Sept. 26 I at Penn State I 7 p.m.
Oct. 3 I Arkansas State I TBA
Oct. 10 I Michigan I 7 p.m.
Oct. 17 I at Wisconsin I 11 a.m.
Oct. 24 I at Michigan St. I 6 p.m.
Oct. 31 I Indiana I TBA
Nov. 7 I Northwestern I TBA
Nov. 14 I at Ohio State I TBA
Nov. 21 I Minnesota I TBA