CHICAGO — Coaches like to coach. Players like to play.
That’s among the reasons Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz wasn’t straying far from truth Tuesday when he stood behind a podium at the Big Ten kickoff and said, “It will be good to stop talking about stuff and be out there getting ready for the 2018 season.’’
Realistically, the Hawkeyes don’t have much of a choice.
A schedule filled with September challenges awaits.
Non-conference opponents Northern Illinois, Iowa State and Northern Iowa all won at least eight games last season and once Iowa finishes with that, Big Ten West Division favorite Wisconsin arrives at Kinnick Stadium.
That league-opening match-up between two teams mentioned most frequently as the favorites to top this year’s standings in the Big Ten West is a welcomed test by Hawkeyes and Badgers alike.
“I think it’s the type of game that can set the tone for the rest of the season,’’ Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley said. “We know what type of team Wisconsin has. We know that we have to be ready for that challenge.’’
The roots remain unchanged, but the Hawkeyes’ opponent in this year’s Big Ten opener has some differences from the Badgers team which limited Iowa to 66 yards of offense and 25 yards on the ground as it pulled away to a 38-14 at Camp Randall Stadium last season.
Wisconsin returns only four starters on defense from a 13-1 team as it works toward the start of fall camp.
“I think we’re all anxious to see how it fits together,’’ Badgers linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “Going up against a good Iowa team right away in the Big Ten, it’s going to tell us where we are at and what we need to work on. I don’t mind it.’’
Neither does Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse.
The Hawkeyes have beaten the Badgers just once in the past five years, opening Big Ten play with a 10-6 win in Madison in 2015 that sent Iowa on its way to an unbeaten season in conference play and the program’s only appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game.
“Wisconsin is great competition. They play big and physical,’’ Hesse said. “There are a few little differences in our teams, but both of us take a lot of pride in blocking people whether that is pushing the seams on the block or trying to knock guys off the ball. It’s a good test.’’
Hesse said Iowa can’t look beyond any of its three nonconference opponents.
“That’s where it has to start for us. They’re all good teams and we need to take things one game at a time, but it’s always good, no matter who the opponent is, to start the Big Ten off with a win when you can,’’ Hesse said. “That’s especially the case if it’s a team that is going to be a contender.’’
Badgers safety D’Cota Dixon is anxious to find out if that description defines Wisconsin.
With so many new pieces on defense, he sees early-season games much the same way that Stanley does as tone-setting opportunities.
“I think we’re all looking forward to camp and the start of the season to just play football and find out what we’re about,’’ Dixon said.
“It will be good to find our strengths and weaknesses. Every team is different and every year, things come together differently. We feel like we have a chance to be a good football team, but we know that we’re going to have to prove it every week. That’s the way it works in the Big Ten.’’
Iowa defensive tackle Matt Nelson expects one other thing to be a constant as well.
He said the Hawkeyes won’t get caught up in the past, and he doesn’t envision Wisconsin doing that either.
“Whenever you play Wisconsin, you know it’s going to be a physical game. That’s how we’re both built,’’ Nelson said.
“But this will be the 2018 Hawkeyes working every week to become the best we can be. Our goal is to win the Big Ten. I’m sure they have the same thought. It will be a good starting point in the Big Ten for both of us.’’