Iowa saw its national championship hopes end with a one-point home loss last month. A pair of equally frustrating defeats the last two weeks destroyed its chances of a trip to the Rose Bowl.
The 24th-ranked Hawkeyes will try to end a once-promising regular season on a high note Saturday when they visit Minnesota, a Big Ten rival they've shut out the last two years.
Missed opportunities are the story of the season for Iowa (7-4, 4-3), which was in the hunt for a spot in the BCS title game before a 31-30 defeat to Wisconsin on Oct. 23 on a touchdown with 1:06 to go. The Hawkeyes suffered similar heartbreak in their last two games as losses to Northwestern and Ohio State have eliminated them from the Big Ten race as well.
All three conference losses have come after Iowa gave up the go-ahead touchdown in the final two minutes.
"You definitely look back and think what could have been and what should have been," wide receiver Marvin McNutt said. "Everything happens for a reason."
The Hawkeyes blew a fourth-quarter lead by giving up the final 10 points to the Buckeyes last Saturday, losing 20-17 on a touchdown run with 1:47 left.
The previous week against Northwestern, Iowa allowed the deciding touchdown with 1:22 remaining.
The Hawkeyes are now trying to figure out what went wrong. Their defense, which had been such a strength early in the season, has struggled late in games, and star running back Adam Robinson will likely miss the final regular-season game after absorbing a hard hit against Ohio State.
Marcus Coker, who started last week while Robinson sat out the first quarter due to academic reasons, finished with 70 yards and a touchdown against Ohio State and likely would get the start again Saturday.
"He got dinged," coach Kirk Ferentz said of Robinson, who has rushed for 941 yards. "If there's any good news, (the bowl game) will be weeks away. So hopefully we'll have him back for the last game."
The defense will try to regroup after a pair of surprising fourth-quarter letdowns. The Hawkeyes rank sixth in the FBS in scoring defense (15.5 points per game), sixth against the rush (93.3) and 14th in total yards (311.2).
"It's just something where our best players have to make all the plays we possibly can," cornerback Shaun Prater said. "You just have to play perfect. If you have a chance to make a play, you have to, because this conference is just too tough."
The defense has had no problem shutting down the Golden Gophers (2-9, 1-6) in the last two meetings, with the Hawkeyes winning by a combined 67-0 score.
Iowa has won three straight and eight of nine over Minnesota, but extending that recent mastery won't result in a trip to a prestigious postseason game after it beat Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl last season.
The Hawkeyes haven't lost three in a row since Sept. 20-Oct. 4, 2008.
As tough as the last two losses have been, it would probably pale to how badly a defeat to the Gophers would hurt morale.
Minnesota was off last week and returns to the field for the first time since snapping a nine-game losing streak with a 38-34 come-from-behind win at Illinois on Nov. 13. The Gophers scored 14 points in the final 7:55, taking the lead on DeLeon Eskridge's 2-yard run with 16 seconds left.
Eskridge tied a career high with three touchdowns, rushing for 49 yards on 14 carries.
"It felt like we won a national championship and it should be like that," said interim coach Jeff Horton, who took over after Tim Brewster was fired Oct. 17. "It may be a second win, but those kids deserve it and hung in there. I don't know if people realize how tough the situation is."
The Gophers rank 101st the nation in scoring defense, giving up 33.8 points per game. They allowed 55 the last time the Hawkeyes visited in 2008.