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Postmortem 2015: Iowa Hawkeyes

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The Iowa Hawkeyes had a record-setting year, going 12-0 and winning the B1G Western Division Championship. This was a far cry from where the Hawkeyes and its fanbase were at the end of 2014, still stinging from "that's football" and a dismantling in the TaxSlayer Bowl.

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Imagine it's mid August, 2015. You, Iowa fan, don't expect much from your Hawkeyes. Most of you have gotten used to mediocrity and expect nothing more or less than a mediocre, 7-5-ish team.

Then imagine you are told that senior defensive end Drew Ott will be lost for over half of the season. And quarterback C.J. Beathard will be less than 100% for the majority of the conference slate. And, at one point, the Hawkeyes will be down to their fourth-string running back. And both starting tackles will miss separate stretches of the season, with both scratched for the Northwestern game. And top wide receiver Tevaun Smith will miss the Wisconsin and Illinois games, and will be limited against Northwestern. And top tight end Jake Duzey will never really recover from the torn MCL he suffered at the end of spring practice. And kicker Marshall Koehn will miss five extra points.

Admit it, you would have had Iowa with four wins at best. I would have had them with four wins just knowing that both tackles would be out.

Yet here we are. The quick and easy take is that Iowa went 12-0, a final result which no Hawkeye fan on Earth would have any qualms with. This then led to revised expectations, which led to disappointment when the Hawkeyes lost the B1G Championship and got pummeled in the Rose Bowl.

But what is there beyond the obvious?

An Iowa Fan's Take

12-0! The Rose Bowl! 4-0 in trophy games! 12-0! Yeah, there was that Rose Bowl beatdown, but 12-0!

A Hater's Take

Resident Wisconsin "writer" Thomas Speth's take on why he voted Iowa 14th in the final OTE B1G Power Poll of the year:

A Dispassionate Take

Iowa, despite their undefeated record, was not an elite team, but they were worthy of a top-15 ranking.

A Response to the Schedule Argument

The most notable complaint against what some would call Iowa's overinflated ranking had to do with its regular season schedule, which featured only two teams that finished in the AP Top 25: Wisconsin (21) and Northwestern (23).

In response to the schedule argument, four B1G teams have gone 12-0: Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Iowa (Nebraska did it, but they weren't a member of the B1G).

Yes, Iowa had a mediocre-at-best schedule in 2015, but Wisconsin has had easy schedules (Bama aside, they had one this year). Michigan State has had easy schedules. Illinois has had easy schedules. None of them has gone 12-0. Ever. Good teams take advantage of easy schedules. The weak-schedule argument is a chickenshit argument, and that's all there is to say about it.

What is This "New Kirk"?

In the opener against Illinois State, Iowa lined up for a field goal. faked it and kicker Marshall Koehn was stopped just short of the first down line. The crowd, tired of "old," conservative Kirk, cheered for it anyway.

The next week against Iowa State, on the last play of the half, the Hawkeyes pulled the fake out again. And again fell short.

This was a sign of the new Kirk, as detailed by Mitch Sherman on ESPN.com. Yes, there were a lot of small changes that Ferentz had made to his program including a preseason depth chart; a more friendly, transparent approach to media relations; moving practices from afternoons to mornings; a new weekly schedule; new blocking schemes; and new special teams schemes.

However, perhaps the element that was most indicative of the 17-year-veteran head coach's embrace of a new philosophy came in his end-of-half offense. The Hawkeyes put points on the board in the final two minutes of the half in all but four contests. And one of those four was the aforementioned Iowa State game when Ferentz ill-advisedly went for the fake instead of the field goal. It was exactly the opposite in both 2014 and 2013: Iowa scored in the final two minutes of the half in four contests. The reason was because Ferentz notoriously sat on the ball at the end of the half, refusing to risk a turnover for the sake of points, thereby squandering possessions.

"New Kirk" seems to have faith in his offense, allowing it to do what it is supposed to do, and confidence is contagious. This offense had a swagger that most Iowa offenses have missed.

The Good

  • Iowa went 12-0.
  • Iowa went to the Rose Bowl.
  • The running game was dominant for the first time under four-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis and probably for the first time since 2008.
  • The Iowa offense ranked in the top-third of B1G scoring offenses for the first time since 2008. In fact, this was Kirk Ferentz's second-most successful scoring offense (after 2002). As Ferentz's offense are predicated on a healthy run game, it's a not coincidence that the running game's strong year coincided with a strong scoring offense.
  • It's impossible to say that the running game "is back," but it's also difficult to ignore the probability that offensive line coach Brian Ferentz's offseason promotion to running game coordinator (per Hawkcentral.com) had something to do with the resurgence. Assuming that there was a connection between the promotion and the improvement in the running game, it's also reasonable to assume that the running game will remain healthy as long as Ferentz the Younger stays in Iowa City.
  • Desmond King was Iowa's first ever Jim Thorpe Award winner. And surprisingly, he's returning for his senior season.
  • Quarterback C.J. Beathard's numbers weren't out-of-this-world, but he has that indescribable "it" factor that tends to bring home winners. That is something Iowa hasn't seen at quarterback since at least Ricky Stanzi.
  • Early in the Ferentz era, special teams were an asset. Then they were neutral for a while. Then they were a liability. In 2015, for the most part, they were an asset for the first time since the early oughts.
  • The Hawkeyes were second in the conference in turnover margin and fifth in time of possession. Different programs have different measures of success, but for Iowa, those are winning numbers.
  • Hey, how about that new Kirk, fake field goals and all.
  • Brett Greenwood.

  • This team was fun to watch. That is a quality that often gets underrated, as people often forget that sports is entertainment. 2012-2014—even including 2013, which was a fairly successful team—were boring.

The Bad

  • No. 9
  • Let's face it, this was a once-in-a-lifetime season, and while it's not difficult envisioning Iowa winning the Western Division multiple times in the near future, it is difficult envisioning the Hawkeyes having another legitimate chance at a national title. Making the Rose Bowl was great, and no Iowa fan was hanging his head after the Hawkeyes' showing in the B1G Championship game; however, 12-0 and a shot in the CFP may never come along again.
  • The defense only allowed one team more than three yards-per-carry (North Texas?) in the first seven games. However, in the final seven it was sieve-like, allowing over 3.5 to every team. And okay, Stanford and Indiana were understandable, but 4.59 to Minnesota? 3.61 to Purdue?
  • 30 sacks on the year. Number of sacks in the final six games: six.
  • Oh that bowl game.
  • The bowl curb stomping might be tolerable on a certain level, if it were a one-time thing, but Iowa's got some issues with bowl prep. ESPN tweeted out the following shortly after the Rose Bowl beatdown:
  • In the last four bowls, that is a combined 98-0 before Iowa has managed to put points on the board. That is a trend, not an anomaly, and it is a big, fat problem.

    Looking Ahead

  • Officially, Iowa returns eight on offense and seven on defense, plus multiple players on both sides of the ball with extensive experience.
  • They return five offensive linemen with starting experience, two running backs with starting experience, and the starting quarterback.
  • The defensive backfield returns three, and with King and fellow senior and three-year starting corner Greg Mabin, it should be one of the best defensive backfields in the country, let alone the conference.
  • The schedule gets amped up next year. The B1G will change to a nine-game conference slate, and Iowa's crossovers will include Rutgers, Michigan and Penn State.
  • Most of the toughest games—Iowa State, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan, Nebraska—will be at home.
  • It's impossible to see Iowa running the table again, but double digit wins and a second Western Division Championship are very much on the table.