How do you top 12-0 when you’re the Iowa Hawkeyes? As Hawkeyes fans and non-Hawkeyes fans alike have noted, “you don’t.” (Although, not losing the two biggest games to end the season would probably help.) This presents an awkward situation for Iowa, a program that by the admission of its own coach is about “development.” But there is so much opportunity to take the lead in the B1G’s “easy” division. It’s nearly impossible to top last year, but it is possible to build on it, even without equaling it. It is possible to build on to the program and further solidify a foundation that, only one year ago, was pretty wobbly.
I. Case History and Opening Statement
A. Case History
Following the 2009 season, Kirk Ferentz signed a new contract. But the indefinite article here doesn’t cut it. Following 2009, Kirk Ferentz signed The Contract. At the time, The Contract was justified. Iowa had gone 11-2, it had won the Orange Bowl, it had won its first nine games, and if not for an injury to starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi, it would have had a good chance to run the table. Ferentz 2.0 was in full effect. The contract was justified even if the buyout was lousy negotiating on the part of athletic director Gary Barta.
Then 2010 and all its awfulness happened. This was followed by a mediocre 2011. And 2012, ugh. At that point the rumblings started. Iowa blog Blackheartgoldpants asked “Just How Big Kirk Ferentz’s” buyout was. 2013 was a little better, but in 2014, “that’s football” happened and even mainstream, non-football media outlets like Forbes asked if Iowa could afford to fire Ferentz.
But here we are. It’s another contract year, and following a historic 12-0 season, the lion’s share of Iowa fans wouldn’t dream of letting Ferentz go. In fact, Gary Barta, via USA Today, has been vocal that the next contract is meant to tie Ferentz to Iowa until his retirement.
So yeah, right now, everything is rosey in Hawkeyeland.
B. Opening Statement
But we’ve been here before. 2002-2004 saw the Hawkeyes finish No. 8 in the country three years in a row. In 2005, the media finally stopped sleeping on Iowa and what happened? 7-4. Iowa went into 2006 ranked and what happened? “Fat Cats.”
The Hawkeyes were forgotten about again and they had a strong 2008 and 2009. Then they entered 2010 ranked in the top 10 with almost everybody back from the previous year. It ended in a collapse: 7-5. 2013 saw a return to form followed by some national notice in 2014, but the Iowa train was quickly derailed with “That’s football.”
Due to this, you can’t blame cynics like Fox’s Stewart Mandel who, following the B1G writers overwhelmingly picking Iowa to win the West, tweeted
Everyone knows Iowa's best teams are the ones that get picked fifth. 32 of 39 first-place votes? That screams Music City Bowl.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) July 22, 2016
One’s belief in the Iowa Hawkeyes’ ability to build on last season comes down to this: Do you believe that Kirk Ferentz instituted changes in his program such that there is a genuinely new attitude? In other words, do you believe there is a “New” Kirk Ferentz? Or do you believe that last year’s 12-0 Iowa was a mirage; Iowa was a pretty good team that benefited from a weak schedule, a couple of lucky bounces and lucky calls; and the Hawkeyes’ true colors came out in the Rose Bowl?
If you believe the latter then, of course, it makes sense that you expect a seven-win season. If you believe the former, then you are going into the season expecting no less than to compete for, and to likely win, the B1G West Championship. And if you do believe in New Kirk Ferentz, then the reasons to believe in the team are multitudinous.
Iowa returns C.J. Beathard, the best quarterback certainly in the Ferentz era (Brad Banks did finish runner up in the Heisman), but possibly since Chuck Long. It has Desmond King, its first Thorpe Award-winning cornerback, and another cornerback whose only deficiency is that he’s not Desmond King. It has talented veterans on the interior of its defensive line. It’s got Josey Jewell, its best middle linebacker since Pat Angerer, along its best linebacking corps since 2013 and its deepest linebacking corps since 2009. It’s got exciting, if untested, running backs ready to go. Its top receiver, both yards and receptions, is back. Its top touchdown receiving target is back. It’s got rejuvenated special teams. The schedule is still favorable, as all the toughest games are at home. Only two other teams in the West have had their coaches for more than one year, and one of those coaches is probably on his way out after this season.
Though it won’t match last year’s record, this team is more talented than 2015.
The opportunity is there. The West is Iowa’s to lose.
It comes down to what you believe.
A. What We’ve Written About Iowa This Offseason
Iowa Potluck Part 1, Iowa Potluck Part 2, Iowa Potluck Part 3, Iowa Potluck Part 4, Iowa Potluck Part 5
Mornings on Melrose: Gameday Traditions at Iowa
B. What We Can Learn From Pop Culture
Just like Michael McDonald and his smooth yacht rock, Kirk Ferentz had to take his basic philosophy and tweak it a little. As Dr. Dre said, Kirk “don’t got to be all [spread] to make it in the [football] game.”
C. Schedule of Events
|9/3||Miami Hydroxide Redhawks|
|9/10||Iowa State Cyclones|
|9/17||North Dakota State Bison|
|9/24||@ Rutgers Scarlet Knights|
|10/8||@ Minnesota Golden Gophers|
|10/15||@ Purdue Boilermakers|
|11/5||Penn State Nittany Lions|
|11/19||@ Illinois Fighting Illini|
|12/3||Big Ten Championship Game|
III. Emotional Plea
I’ve gone over the changes Kirk Ferentz has made in a previous article. Here’s some visuals. Remember, most of these plays wouldn’t have happened before “New” Kirk.
Old Kirk Ferentz wouldn’t do this. In fact, he probably wouldn’t have been in a position to do this, as the drive started on the Iowa two-yard line with just over two minutes left in the half. Old Kirk would have run the clock out:
Old Kirk also wouldn’t have done this:
Old Kirk likely plays for overtime in that scenario.
He wouldn't have done this:
Old Kirk wasn’t keen on letting his quarterbacks make plays and probably wouldn’t have allowed a draw in that situation. Also, that drive started with just over three minutes left in the first half. As with the previous end-of-half series, Old Kirk probably runs the clock out.
This wouldn't have happened:
Watch No. 65 pull and block Illinois’ middle linebacker, the block that ultimately springs Canzieri. Old Kirk rarely varied from his basic stretch play and almost never had his guards pull. That is an addition of the new run game coordinator, offensive line coach Brian Ferentz.
Nope, this doesn't take place:
This was after King had flubbed two kick returns earlier in the game. One of those flubs ended up on the ground, though King recovered it. Old Kirk probably benches King right there. Old Kirk certainly doesn’t let him return it, and if he is still on the field, Old Kirk tells him to let it bounce.
If you don’t believe these changes matter, then by all means, Iowa’s looking at another seven-eight win season. If you do believe they matter, well, expect more of it, and expect them to result in wins.
IV. The Verdict
Here are the predictions of the OTE staff of “writers,” most of whom, despite hating Iowa, seem to be believers in the subtle changes implemented by New Kirk. Even Speth pegged Iowa for nine wins. I’ll say that again: even Speth pegged Iowa for nine wins.
|Aaron Yorke||11-1 (8-1)|
|Andrew Kraszewski||10-2 (7-2)|
|Brian Gillis||9-3 (7-2)|
|Creighton M||10-2 (7-2)|
|DJ Carver||10-2 (7-2)|
|Candystripes for Breakfast||10-2 (7-2)|
|Graham Filler||10-2 (7-2)|
|Jesse Collins||8-4 (5-4)|
|Thomas Speth||9-3 (6-3)|
|OTE Staff Average:||9.8-2.2 (6.9-2.1)|