IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Penn State was supposed to be too depleted by player defections to be a factor in a Big Ten title race it is not eligible to win. Iowa simply wasn't supposed to be good enough in 2012, even though the Legends Division appeared to be wide open.
Well, surprise: The Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes meet Saturday night in Iowa City playing much better than many thought they were capable of, each with wins in their first two conference games.
Penn State (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) has rallied from the most turbulent offseason in the history of the sport and an 0-2 start to post four straight wins. Iowa (4-2, 2-0) has overcome a terrible passing game and a pair of home losses by displaying the mental toughness that's become familiar under longtime coach Kirk Ferentz.
In a league filled with disappointing seasons, Penn State and Iowa both have hopes of a standout conference season.
"Penn State has had great players and they have still got great players and they have had great success and they are having great success now. So that part doesn't shock me," Ferentz said. "I was hoping we would be undefeated totally, but we are not. I'm an optimist every year."
If Ferentz sounds loose, it may be because he has had some of his greatest moments at Iowa against the Nittany Lions. Ferentz is 8-3 against Penn State, and the Hawkeyes ruined Penn State's national title hopes in 2008 and '09.
But Penn State has begun to assume a new identity in the past month under first-year coach Bill O'Brien.
The Nittany Lions lost to Ohio and Virginia to open the season and the thinking was that the team was going to struggle all year after transfers following the NCAA's sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal.
Then came wins against Navy, Temple and Illinois, and a stirring rally to beat Northwestern 39-28.
"What's impressed me about this team and this coaching staff through six games and training camp and spring practice ... is the poise, is the ability to focus, is the ability to understand the task at hand and don't worry about all the things that you can't control," O'Brien said.
For the Hawkeyes, the biggest question is whether running back Mark Weisman will play. Weisman, who was virtually unknown a month ago, has emerged as Iowa's main source of offense with 631 yards rushing and eight touchdowns in essentially just four games.
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