One question: when was the last time an Iowa athletic squad was on a national stage and did the conference proud? They won the national title in wrestling last year and it felt like a funeral because PSU won every head-to-head match and Hawkeye fans know they’re going to be living off of Spencer Lee stories soon enough. And that is the sport where they’re historically dominant...
Before this continues, let’s take a moment and pour a little out for the patron saint of Iowa’s offensive identity:
I’m older now than Reggie Roby was when he died. [Bites lip.]
He died in 2005 and not even he was alive the last time Iowa won a Rose Bowl.
His time at Iowa correlated with what is indisputably the “high point” of Iowa athletics for anybody not old enough to be retirement age.
Lute Olson took Iowa to a Final Four in 1980. Ronnie Lester, Kenny Arnold, et al. defeated 4-seed N.C. State, 1-seed Syracuse, and 3-seed Georgetown in winning the East regional. [Please note that all three of those teams have won a national title since, while Iowa has yet to make the Final Four again. Syracuse has more subsequent Final Four appearances than Iowa does Sweet 16 showings.]
Since 1980? Iowa ALSO has three wins over top 4 seeds. Total. Let’s count ‘em down!
1983: Iowa upsets 2-seed Missouri, In retrospect, this isn’t that impressive since Norm Stewart spent the remainder of his career losing early in the NCAAs to the lower-seeded teams. He did make the Elite 8 once, in 1994, where he lost to Arizona (and Lute Olson, who left Iowa shortly after the 1983 season ended). Iowa didn’t make the tournament that year.
1988: 5-seed Iowa blows out 4-seed UNLV. Impressive showing Iowa! And cold comfort given that the year before Iowa had blown the biggest lead in Elite 8 history allowing UNLV to knock them off and make the Final Four.* And what did this win get Iowa? A spot in the Sweet 16, where—oh shit—Lute Olson and the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats drubbed them by 20.
*Yes, the vaunted 1987 Hawkeyes (ranked #1 at one point) made the Elite 8 without having to beat a top 4 seed. Beating 7-seed UTEP and 6-seed Oklahoma, each by a bucket, really screams “legendary team” doesn’t it? If you think Ferentz is stubborn, you shoulda watched Iowa full-court press while giving up waves of layups to good teams under Tom Davis.
1999: 5-seed Iowa rides a huge 2nd half past 4-seed Arkansas in a bittersweet victory. Everybody knew Tom Davis wasn’t coming back (can’t remember who replaced him, but I’m sure it went well). No Lute Olson connection this year, so let’s leave it at this: THE LAST TIME IOWA BASKETBALL GOT OUT OF THE FIRST WEEKEND AND/OR BEAT A DECENT TEAM IN THE TOURNAMENT, IT WAS STILL THE 20TH CENTURY. There was no Twitter (much to Frank Garza’s chagrin). Such an innocent time, right Hawkeye fans? Little did you know then what pain awaited:
I can’t believe that 6-point lead with less than 3:00 to play wasn’t safe. Senior-laden squad and all that...
That’s okay though, we all know the ‘06 Hawkeyes weren’t as talented as this year’s squad. Iowa fans wouldn’t shut up about Luka Garza deserving to be NPOY last year, so I can only imagine how far how was going to carry them after putting off the NBA for a year. Joe Wieskamp just got drafted! Sounds like a 1-2 punch that can break Iowa’s first-weekend futility:
Honestly, even though this was just a few months ago, I had already forgotten the contours of this game. It was actually 46-46 late in the first half before the be-shitting began! Somehow master tactician Fran McCaffery was unable to stop Oregon from ending the 1st half on an 10-0 run. [Don’t bother asking about halftime adjustments.] Three Pac-12 teams made deeper tournament runs than the Ducks, but a good portion of Iowa fans will tell you this was just a “bad matchup.”
At least one Iowa school handled Oregon in front of a national audience in 2021.
Iowa State’s recent rise notwithstanding, for the last 4 decades, Iowa has usually been a Hawkeye state when it comes to football, and Hayden Fry has more to do with that than anybody.
The 1981 B1G champs ended the 13 year run where Ohio State or Michigan represented the B1G in the Rose Bowl,* and that Reggie Roby/Andre Tippett-led squad notched non-conference wins over #7 Nebraska and #6 UCLA.
*Iowa tied with OSU at 6-2 in the B1G that year. Everybody else played a full round-robin, but OSU and Iowa didn’t meet (so OSU could have an additional home non-conference game, for those of you who think that chasing-money-trumps-conference-best-interest is a new thing), so it went to the infamous “well, whoever made the Rose Bowl least recently gets to go” tiebreaker, which obviously favored Iowa. If you think Iowa would’ve beaten OSU H2H that year, well, it’s worth pointing out that Hayden Fry’s other two Rose Bowl squads both lost to OSU; he was 3-12-1 against them in his time at Iowa; and one of those wins got Earle Bruce fired. But sure, persist in your beliefs.
Know what really drives home that accomplishment? That Iowa has one (1!) non-conference victory over a top 10 team since. ONE!!! (We’ll get to it).
Since the upset win over UCLA in 1981, Iowa has gone 8-23 against ranked non-conference foes.
Kirk Ferentz has tried his best to reverse this trend...by not scheduling good non-conference teams. His first two years there were a couple of games against Nebraska and one against KSU, but once he got hold of the AD, Iowa has done everything shy of turning down bowl bids to avoid playing quality competition outside the B1G.
On Sept 18, 2010, #9 Iowa went to #24 Arizona, fell behing 27-7, rallied to tie (but missed a go-ahead PAT), before giving up a late drive to fall 34-27.
That game is the ONLY time Iowa has played a ranked non-conference foe in the regular season the last 20 years.
Why would Iowa...
[Seriously, watch the first play, and note that Iowa shifts INTO their chosen punt formation.]
Five losses. Three by 20+. Another where they trailed 33-7 before garbage time. And the last a game where they were favored and gave up 200 yds and 4 TDs to a backup RB b/c UCLA picked up on film that the Iowa NT had a tell depending on how he lined up.
No wonder Barry Alvarez is quick to credit Lou Holtz for teaching him about bowl preparation. Not a Fry forte.
When the B1G votes 13-1 to start a scheduling alliance with the Pac 12, you won’t have to wonder who the no vote is. Iowa loves to pretend to be put out by having to maintain El Assico, but it’s the only excuse they have for their reluctance to play good non-conference competition.
So back to the question I led off with. When, in the last, say, three decades, did Iowa do the B1G proud outside of conference play? Given that you can’t live off a Round of 32 victory over 4-seeded Arkansas forever, there is only one answer: the 2010 Orange Bowl.
The sum total of Iowa making the B1G look good in recent history is having several weeks to prepare for an option team that struggled to beat an 8-4 foe in the ACC title game. This, somehow, was good enough earn Georgia Tech a #9 ranking.
God bless you, Iowa, for all you’ve done for the B1G.
Ricky Stanzi, bring it home:*
*In his defense, fuck off with your bullshit questions, Chris Myers.
Just kidding! There’s only one way we’re ending this shit: