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ESPN: Iowa Is Big Ten's 'Under The Radar' Playoff Contender

Kirk Ferentz congratulates his Iowa players during game.

PISCATAWAY, NJ - SEPTEMBER 24: Head coach Kirk Ferentz of the Iowa Hawkeyes congratulates his players after a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at High Point Solutions Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Piscataway, New Jersey.The Iowa Hawkeyes defeated the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 14-7. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Iowa football survived a big, weird road game this weekend, outlasting Iowa State and some rolling storms in Ames for a dramatic win for the Cy-Hawk Trophy. The Hawkeyes have climbed up to No. 18 in the AP Poll.

How high can the Hawkeyes climb? We're not too far removed from Kirk Ferentz's team playing for a Big Ten title and heading to the Rose Bowl.

The Big Ten West may be a bit deeper this year than it has been. Wisconsin looks incredibly strong, and while Nebraska didn't look super sharp out of the gate, they have plenty of potential.

Iowa has its supporters as well, though.

In an article for the ESPN+ subscription service, Adam Rittenberg outlined his sleeper College Football Playoff contenders from the Power Five conferences.

Ahead of the paywall, he revealed that Iowa is his first inclusion on that list:

The Hawkeyes (3-0) completed their job under adverse conditions. The game's unique circumstances could make it an outlier to some, but not Ferentz, who will use the Cy-Hawk as a reference point.

"This is a conference game," Ferentz said. "You're on the road, you're playing in a tough environment against a really tough football team. There was going to be nothing easy about this week. ... It sure can't hurt for us to weather it, push through it and fight through it."

Iowa, ranked 18th this week, is among the under-the-radar teams with the right ingredients to push for a conference title and shake up the College Football Playoff race. In selecting one such team for each Power 5 conference, I eliminated those not picked to win the conference (official poll or media) and those not appearing in the top 15 of the AP preseason poll.

The Hawkeyes may not have quite the raw power of Wisconsin, or the potential flash of the Huskers. They'll probably be a decent underdog against whichever Big Ten East team emerges, should they make it to Indianapolis.

That path includes cross-division games against Michigan and Penn State, so it would certainly be earned if Iowa makes it through the year unscathed. If that happens, it would be hard to keep the Hawkeyes out of the Playoff discussion.

The full ESPN article is available with an ESPN+ subscription.