So here we are, at the end of another season. Excuse me a moment.
*weeps in corner
Ahem. Before we get to this week's game, got any thoughts about how your team's season went? Satisfied? Disgruntled? Got enough swag in the trophy case to make the Foster Farms Bowl worth watching?
WhiteSpeedReceiver: I'M GOING TO DETROIT! WOO! Because 2015 Minnesota football wasn't frustrating enough already, we're going to get rewarded for the kids being good students with a trip to Detroit. I just hope that if the 5-7 Gophers do go to a bowl we don't have any more injuries. This team doesn't deserve that.
Alnamiasav: As an Iowa fan, I'll skip question 1.
Thumpasaurus: I don't care. Go Iowa awesome. Fuck everyone.
[Thumpasaurus leaves, presumably with double-bird salute]
Jesse Collins: We're going bowling, and I find that hilarious. We're 5-7, the fanbase is splintered, our crowning achievement is the scalp of Sparty on the mantle, and well, we like to turn the ball over. Am I happy about 2015? Not really. Am I more sad that 2015 is gone? Yes.
MNWildcat: Ecstatic. I get to go to a bowl game on NYD in Florida (/knocks on wood), the 'Cats took back HAT, Notre Dame still sucks, we beat Stanford, and all is right in the world. Well, all on the defensive and results sides of the ball is right. But I can't dwell on that, because there's still more fun to be had. Instead I'm looking at the potential Clayton Thorson has showed to be a good passer and a great runner, Justin Jackson's monstrous utility, and AnthonywlakerDeanlowryNickvanhooseMattharrisIfeadiOdenigboGodwinigwebuike's fucking top-notch defense. That's a damn good season. Would Mick McCall graciously bowing out and riding off into the sunset make the off-season even sweeter? Yes, but that's extra icing on top of what is already a very moist cake. Go 'Cats.
Stewmonkey13: 12-0, bitches! WOOO!!! This means if our teams played against each other, my team beat your team. SUCK IT! Won all the trophies, won the division, and everyone hates us. All is right in the world.
Candystripes: Given that we could have easily had a much better season, the fact that we needed to win both of our last two weeks to become bowl eligible is a bit disappointing. That said, Indiana going bowling at all is a reason to celebrate, as is finishing the year still in possession of the Old Oaken Bucket.
Tspeth: This season has been a gigantic pile of meh. It hasn't been a lot of fun to watch sometimes, but 9-3 is 9-3 and it's hard to be too disgruntled with that. Ask me after the bowl game. Win the bowl game and I'll consider this season a success. Very similar to last year.
LPW: I'm very happy with how the season went, minus the ass kickings to Iowa and Michigan and the Duke fratboys that urinated in the Northwestern section at Wallace Wade Stadium the night before the game. I'll be going to my first Bowl game somewhere warm, hopefully on new years day. I knew Justin Jackson would have a great year, and that Anthony Walker would lead the defense, but if I wouldn'tve believed you if you told me the defense would be the rock of the team. I thought Redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson would bring back the dink and dunk offense that NU used so well in the past. Eh, he's a freshman with room to grow. You really can't quibble with ten wins.
Andrew Kraszewski: Let me first give some props to Thumpasaurus, who as an Illinois fan has basically been swimming in a river of excrement since the Zook Rose Bowl, and every once in a while his school's administration paddles along and whacks him over the head with an oar. But to answer the question, of course I'm satisfied. Division title, with a clear shot at the conference title and playoff entirely within our control? Hell yeah, buddy. All hail the playoff, by the way. If MSU has this same season before last year, sure, we get a Rose Bowl, but we also get to wonder what might have been if not for factors beyond our control. Well, no more. Win and control your own fate. Love that.
Enough about your trash team, let's talk about the ones who actually accomplished something this year. Hawkeyes first: nobody saw this coming, right? 3 months ago, most Hawkeye fans were in some stage of morose grumbling about how Ferentz was going to leave the program in a ditch due to his bad recruiting and retention. Any retractions out there? How did Iowa go from being viewed as the weak corner of the Quadrangle into an undefeated Playoff contender?
WSR: Dead cat bounce. While I cannot state enough just how impressive it is to go out and win every single Saturday during a college football season, this is still smoke and mirrors. They do enough to win every week against middling competition, with the only one worthy of awe being justNorthwestern. But 12-0 is 12-0, and I'm happy for my Iowa friends that they've finally been able to drown out the Minnesota Rouser and Rocky Top that was playing in a nonstop loop in their head since last year.
Al: I thought Ferentz was done. I had the Hawkeyes at 6-6 with an absolute best of 9-3, and I would have considered 9-3 a major success. I agree with many of the detractors in that if Iowa played, for example, Ohio State and Michigan State in the inter-division, they wouldn't be 12-0. On the other hand, I disagree with the detractors that Iowa is a middling team. 12-0 may have an element of smoke and mirrors, but this team is worthy of being in the top 10. Also, among other things, I'm glad that Ferentz righted the ship. That's an obvious statement to make in that I'm ecstatic that Iowa is 12-0, but more specifically, I'm ecstatic that KF is the one that got them to 12-0. I think I, like most Iowa fans, not only wanted Iowa to succeed, we like KF and wanted Iowa to succeed with him at the helm. At the very least, we wanted him to be able to control his own destiny. So yeah, I'm an Iowa fan, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime season.
JC: I don't really know what to make of Iowa. Like I've been saying for a while now, winning every game is worth the hype in and of itself. Not unlike Florida State backing into the playoffs with close win after close win, going out and taking care of business takes some talent. Part of it is the schedule concerns, and although it's debatable on just how charmin soft it has been, it is also fair to say that the crossovers were wonderful. That in mind, I think that this is the Ferentz way. Develop develop develop, take your lumps, and if you can magically avoid the death schedule, get people healthy-ish, and have some leadership, good things will happen. Do I think this is really a new Ferentz? No. I saw an Iowa team squeeze the life out of a Nebraska team that is 5-7 now by almost doing nothing creatively offensively, and leaving wide open receivers in the flat on critical plays. Lucky for them, Nebraska's QB hates wide open receivers. Anyhow, I think there is potential for regression to the mean for Iowa next year, but the fans should enjoy the hell out of this. Let next year be next year.
MNW: Was Iowa ever the _weak_ corner of the quadrangle? Maybe second to Minnesota, but I think people were pretty realistic about the Gophers' chances coming in. Or maybe I wasn't, who knows. Iowa did what good teams do against a weak schedule: they put up, took their breaks as they came, and capitalized on crossover games and a non-conference that would almost make Barry Alvarez blush. Y'know, if his face wasn't already red from his massive impending coronary. I think in a completely realistic alternate world, just like my 'Cats are probably 9-3 or 8-4, the Hawkeyes are 10-2 or 11-1 but still Top 15-worthy. But kudos to Iowa's coaching staff and players for capitalizing and playing mostly solid, fundamental football. You're going to lose to Michigan State if you don't pick up a single third down, though.
Stew: I was on record as saying that I thought Iowa would go 7-5 or 8-4 based mostly on the weak schedule. That 2016 would be Ferentz's last year, mostly due to poor performance. Recruiting has been shit, attrition has been even worse. The OL was starting two walk-on OTs, and the interior didn't look very good last year. The defense was a bit of a mess last year, Ott and King looked to be the only sure things there. I'm absolutely stupefied as how we got here, 12-0, the most wins in school history before any post season.
A few things jump out:
1. The change from Rudock to Beathard. Rudock isn't terrible, far from it, he's a capable QB at the B1G level. However, his weak arm combined with Greg Davis' horizontal passing just didn't mesh. Beathard gets the ball out much faster, and apparently has been a much better leader for this team (not speculating how he's doing in this role at MI).
2. Installing Brian Ferentz (OL coach) as the running game coordinator has been a bit of a revelation. Instead of just inside/outside zone and stretch play, Iowa is also running counter plays, straight power, and pulling guards and center.
3. Having actual running backs playing running backs. Mark Weisman was fun, and he was an amazing fullback, but he had no business playing fulltime RB. This year having a stable of actual running backs has been beyond necessary.
4. Retooling the LB corps. Jewell moved to middle, Fisher won the starting WLB, and RS FR Niemann won the OLB, consequently the edge has been set much better this year, coverage has been better, and tackling has been better. The LBs really are about the biggest key to the success of Iowa's defense.
5. In a LOT of interviews with players this year there's been talk about how great the leadership on this team is. I'm generally not much one to buy too much into intangibles, but this really seems to be a pretty big factor this year with guys like Beathard, Ott, Canzeri, and Blythe.
6. Little organizational things. In the offseason the coaches just changed a lot of little things to get an edge. Opened the new, beautiful football facilities to increase the efficiency of practices. Went from afternoon to morning practices, changed the rest day to Friday. Changed how special teams were done (punting has been vastly, vastly improved).
7. A Wisconsin level weak schedule.
8. Not an insignificant amount of luck.
Candy: Actually accomplished something? You realize we very nearly beat BOTH Iowa and Michigan State this year, right? Anyway, how Iowa got where they are is pretty simple: they beat Wisconsin, and didn't derp up against anyone badly enough to throw a game away. That's really all you need to win the West most years.
Tspeth: Fuck Iowa. I hope MSU blows you guys the fuck out of the water. I've already decided I'm using MSU-Iowa to repair all the damage Packers-Lions on Thursday is going to do to my relationship. Words of wisdom- Never date a woman who knows football and doesn't cheer for your teams. GO GREEN GO WHITE
LPW: I thought Iowa would rebound, but not to this extent! Damn, they're having a magical season, and I hope they continue to have fun. I'm still not sure how the hell it happened.. Did Kirk Ferentz's hypnotist die in the middle of a session ala Office Space and New Kirk emerge with a devil-may-care attitude? Iowa at a rough glance appears to do what it needs to do to win games, and that's commendable.
AK: I certainly did not see it coming, no. Beathard never seemed to be anything more than just a guy to me, and I thought this would be the year when Ferentz's crap recruiting caught up to him because so many guys had left. But maybe he likes it that way, just taking raw physical objects and crafting them as he sees fit. Good on him.
Now for everyone's favorite team to talk about, the Spartans. Most of us, myself included, buried them after that ridiculous Nebraska loss, yet here they stand. Are we still going to hear about their 'window closing' this offseason, or is this the 11-win season that changes some perceptions?
WSR: Good work, Sparty. You did a great job of doing what we couldn't in overcoming an inexplicable loss to Nebraska. Will this playoff run be enough to keep the cupboard stocked in spite of the real mastermind of your program running Pitt now? We'll just have to wait and see, but at least you'll have another B1G Championship Trophy to console you if things do go awry.
Al: I'm not sure what changes the perceptions re: Sparty. Dantonio is an incredible coach and he went 11-1 without Narduzzi. Something I've often wondered about is if there is room in the state of Michigan for two elite teams. Michigan isn't Florida or Texas or even Ohio. It doesn't produce talent to sustain two elite teams. I don't think it's a coincidence that MSU's ascendance has corresponded with Michigan's descent. I am curious to see what happens over the next few years now that Harbaugh is in Ann Arbor. Isn't that the most MSU thing ever--Michigan has hijacked my bit about MSU. But in answer to the question, no, 11-1 won't change the perception around Sparty; only a national championship will change that perception, and they do have that opportunity this year. Either way, I'm excited about the Iowa-MSU championship matchup. Those two teams are always like two bears in a phone booth, and for fans of old school football, like me, MSU v Iowa is always a treat.
JC: I don't know... You lost to Nebraska guys. But seriously, Sparty has proven to be a really strong contender, but one has to wonder if some of the shine is starting to wear off not unlike how people feel about Oregon this year. Does that put MSU in that Top 10-15 range for the foreseeable future? Probably, but with a resurgent Michigan who is hellbent on winning that game, a recruiting juggernaut in Ohio State, and stronger crossovers, I got to wonder what the future holds for them.
MNW: Both, I'd combine WSR's and al's answers into one. It's an excellent run, but an inexplicable win over Michigan coupled with a narrow win over Ohio State? Good programs find a way, yes, but I worry that we've _seen_ the window starting to close this year on Sparty's run of dominance. Don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with 9-3 seasons, and I can see Michigan State comfortably slipping right back to that position, in which they, Michigan, and Ohio State eat each other on a yearly basis. But I think we're going to see that Michigan has room for two good-to-great teams, but not two elite ones. I also really hope that those two teams are Western and Central, respectively.
Stew: I don't think MSU will ever be awful under Dantonio. He's undeniably a great coach, one of the best in the sport. However, losing that senior class is going to be hard. I would expect MSU to take a bit of a step back next year, though they should still be good.
Candy: It's kind of hard to say. If you can reload fairly easily this offseason, you're still the cream of the crop in the East, and that means 11-12 win seasons are going to be within reach for a while. If you have a couple key missteps at any point, though, you probably fall back into the 8-10 win range, and have to duke it out with PSU and Michigan for "team that's good, but not Ohio State good".
Tspeth: I don't think the "window closes" on MSU. There's no reason to think that they're going to completely fall apart. Michigan's on the rise with Harbaugh and Indiana's bowling but they'll have a new QBs too. Rutgers and Maryland are still Rutgers and Maryland. Penn State has a garbage coach. Are they going to be national title contenders? No, but they're not going to go full SPARTY NO.
LPW: I think Dantonio's got MSU to the point where it can reload and be fine next year.
AK: Living in the Detroit sports media market, I can tell you that no, we will never hear the end of the window closing talk, because no one under the age of 65 can remember when MSU was last this good for this long, so it'll take some getting used to. Next season figures to be a bit of a step back, but if 2012 is now the floor, I'll take it. I mean, not that exact season repeated because got damn did that blow, but something a little better than that while reloading? Works for me. Or we could just win 11 more games, contend for another title, leave all you haters in the dust. That would work too.