Continuing our look back at the decade that was in Iowa football, celebrating the highs and the lows -- and, hopefully, distracting us from the ongoing disaster that is Iowa basketball. This series looks back at Iowa's results across the entire decade against every Big Ten foe, as well as Iowa State. And now we move into the rest of the teams Iowa played in the Aughts, in a multi-part look at Iowa's non-conference foes (including bowl games). First up in our look back at the non-conference foes: those plucky little underdogs from non-BCS leagues and the I-AA ranks.
Iowa vs. Non-BCS Teams in the 00s: 17-2
2001: Iowa 51, Kent State 0
2001: Iowa 44, Miami (OH) 19
2002: Iowa 57, Akron 21
2002: Iowa 29, Miami (OH) 24
2002: Iowa 48, Utah State 7
2003: Iowa 21, Miami (OH) 3
2003: Iowa 56, Buffalo 7
2004: Iowa 39, Kent State 7
2005: Iowa 56, Ball State 0
2005: Iowa 45, UNI 21
2006: Iowa 41, Montana 7
2006: Iowa 24, Northern Illinois 14
2007: Iowa 16, Northern Illinois 3
2008: Iowa 46, Maine 3
2008: Iowa 42, Florida International 0
2009: Iowa 17, UNI 16
2009: Iowa 24, Arkansas State 21
2001: Western Michigan 27, Iowa 21
2007: Western Michigan 28, Iowa 19
BEST WIN: Iowa 21, Miami (OH) 3 (2003)
Let's be honest: these games mostly blur together into a haze of blowouts and "hey, who's that guy" scores. The ones that stand out do so because they break away from that norm... and when you break away from that norm in games against minnows like this, it's usually a Very Bad Thing. Best case, it leads to the dreaded Close Call Game (i.e., UNI 2009, Northern Illinois 2006, etc.). Worst case, it leads to a Ugly, Season-Scarring Loss (i.e., Western Michigan 2007, or Appalachian State 2007 if we were the LOLverines, etc.). But this game fits neither of those two categories... it represents an even rarer sight: a game against a minnow team that was actually good.
The Big Ten and the MAC have long had a symbiotic relationship: MAC schools need big fat paychecks from cash-rich Big Ten schools to prop up their athletic budgets and Big Ten teams need cupcake wins (and this was especially vital before the NCAA allowed you to count one win over a I-AA victim every year). As such: willkommen, Directional Michigan! Bienvenidos, School Named After A Random Town in Ohio! And unlike their uppity neighbors in the mountains to the west, or a certain group of Smurt Turf rogues, or those upwardly mobile cads in the blandly named Conference USA (motto: "If Louisville can do it, WHY CAN'T US?!"), the MAC has largely settled for being an also-ran conference. Let those Mountain West teams try to bust up the BCS; the MAC teams will shamble along at 8-4 or so and await their post-season trip to Detroit, thank you very much. But every now and then a MAC team casts off the shackles of mediocrity and strives for a bit more.
The 2003 Miami (OH) team was one such team. Granted, no one knew it at the time, or even immediately after the fact. They were acknowledged as a better-than-average MAC squad, one led by a good senior quarterback whose name rhymed with "Slothlesberger" (who had some dark horse Heisman buzz from what I can faintly recall, although my seven-year old memories should probably not be trusted that much on this point). In short, they were a decent enough team that if Iowa failed to pound them into wood chips (a definite possibility, given that the 2002 offensive blitzkrieg team only put them down 29-24), it could easily be rationalized away by saying, "oh, they're not really a bad team, not like those other MAC teams" and so forth. Except, as it turned out, that rationalization wasn't even needed; they actually were a good team, and not just MAC-good, either. They didn't lose a game after the season-opening loss to Iowa. A week after losing to Iowa, they went into Evanston and massacred just Northwestern, 44-14. Their lowest point output in a MAC game was 33, and they topped 45 points seven times. Their smallest margin of victory all season was a five-point win over Cincinnati; no MAC team got closer than eight points and six lost by 20+ points. It's damning with faint praise to call them the best MAC team of the decade (the only other real contender is probably the '08 Ball State team that imploded in spectacularly gruesome fashion at the end of the season or perhaps one of the Fightin' LeFevour outfits at Central Michigan), but, well, that's exactly what they were. They ended the season on a 13-game winning streak and found themselves ranked in the top 15 -- dizzying heights indeed for a MAC team.
As their plucky, not-yet-double-chinned quarterback went on to the NFL and had just a wee bit of success there as well, the 2003 game with Iowa took on even more importance as Roethlisberger's last loss as a starting QB in over a year. The game itself wasn't really a classic; the Iowa offense was not particularly sharp (which would be a recurring theme throughout 2003), although Nathan Chandler was fairly efficient (12/19 for 129 yards and two touchdowns) and Fred Russell gobbled up a lot of yards on the ground (167, to be precise, as well as one touchdown, on 22 carries). But the story of the game was the Iowa defense stymieing Big Ben in a way that no other defense could that year: the defensive line harassed him all game long and he threw four crushing interceptions (two to Jovon Johnson) that prevented the Red Hawks from mounting a serious charge in the game. The game (and the Iowa players' tongue-in-cheek reactions to it) were immortalized in a NFL Countdown piece by Kenny Mayne a year later. Most games against MAC teams are instantly forgettable, and the ones that don't usually inspire heartburn. But the 2003 Miami (OH) game lingers not just for the lockdown efforts of the defense, but because that Red Hawk team was no ordinary MAC victim.
WORST LOSS: Western Michigan 28, Iowa 19 (2007)
I wrote about this game extensively roughly three months ago, and there's not much new to say about it now.
Two years ago today the Iowa football team suffered arguably its worst -- or most humiliating, at least -- defeat of the last decade. Oh, there have been more lopsided defeats and there have probably even been defeats to teams worse than the 2007 Western Michigan Broncos (who were a pretty middling outfit). Many of those defeats happened during the formative years of Kirk Ferentz's tenure, when his Iowa teams played hard but frequently lacked talent and/or experience. Or they happened against bitter in-state rivals or hyper-motivated conference rivals, so it was easy to rationalize the loss by saying "they wanted it more."But the November 17, 2007 loss to Western Michigan didn't fit any of those easy categories. It was far from the most talented or most experienced squads of the Ferentz Era, but it wasn't completely lacking in those departments, either. It featured Albert Young and Damian Sims, who had been a dynamite combination in years past. The defensive front seven was pretty well-stocked with talent and experience, too, between Kenny Iwebema, Mitch King, Matt Kroul, Bryan Mattison, Mike Klinkenborg, and Mike Humpal. It wasn't as if the team had nothing to play for, either -- beyond the standard pride of Senior Day, they needed one more win to ensure themselves a trip to a bowl game (Western Michigan didn't even have that to play for; they were just acting as spoilers).Since that loss to Western Michigan, Iowa has gone 18-6. ... The 2007 Western Michigan game was the fourth game that year that Iowa lost by nine or more points -- none of the six subsequent losses have been by more than seven points.
It sucked then, it still sucks now, and it's always going to be an ugly blemish on the KF Era. Western Michigan was a mediocre (if not outright bad) MAC team and teams like that should never beat an Iowa team in Kinnick, not even the unimpressive 2007 outfit. The only redeeming quality of that loss is that its ugly memory seems to linger on in the minds of the players and coaches in the Iowa football program -- and they've done their damnedest to ensure that we never see its like again.
Flying white running back? HA! Schnoor was there way before Wegher...
PLAYERS OF NOTE
Way too many guys played in these games and put up decent stats to bother singling anyone out, really. Plus, since the games were usually well in hand by the third quarter (or sooner), guys rarely got an opportunity to put up mind-boggling stats in any of the games. On the other hand, that did mean that we got to see plenty of rarely-used backups. Marcus Schnoor, Dana Brown, and Das Pakibomb himself all scored touchdowns in cupcake games. Combined number of touchdowns they scored in games against non-cupcakes? That would be one; Schnoor got a TD against Illinois in 2005 (although, to be fair, they were basically a cupcake team in those days). Or take Matt Melloy catching two touchdowns against Kent State in 2004; despite that hot start, he did not, in fact, become Drew Tate's favorite target. Colin Sandeman appeared to be heading for a career in that same category (he caught two touchdowns against FIU in 2008 and then promptly disappeared), but his touchdown catch in the Orange Bowl gives us hope that he may escape that ignominious fate and embrace his destiny as the next Inexplicably Great White Iowa Wide Receiver.
- In addition to the frankly awesome uniforms the Hawks wore in the 2004 season opener against Kent State (which were an homage to the uniforms worn by Legendary Historic Nile Kinnick's "Ironman" team in 1939), the game was also notable for serving as the proper debut for Drew Tate. He made cameo appearances in 2003, but the Kent State game was his first as the starter. It didn't exactly hint at greatness to come: 13/22, 136 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT. In fact, the one interception led to Kent State's only points of the game, as they ran it back 100 yards for a score. Then again, pick-sixes turned out be to be a very good omen for America's Own Ricky Stanzi, so perhaps Tate was just (way) ahead of the curve. The man of the match in the game was undoubtedly one Chad Greenway, though, as he snared two interceptions (and ran one back thirty yards for a touchdown, the lone TD of his Iowa career) and blocked a punt. That this came on the heels of The Sporting News declaring him the most overrated player in the Big Ten in their 2004 season preview only made it even sweeter.
- The 2007 opener was also notable, not just for being the official beginning of the Jake Christensen Era at Iowa, but also for taking place in Soldier Field. One of those things wound up being a lot more fun than the other. Despite the fact that the field was a joke, the byzantine parking lots complicated the tailgating process (as well as the process of finding anyone if you got separated), and the fact that Northern Illinois PA guy's cries of "That's another Husky first down!" made me want to shove an ice pick in my ears... well, it was still a hell of a lot of fun. The game itself turned out to be a sobering harbinger of things to come from Jake and the offense, though: 12/29, 133 yards, 1 TD. Yeesh. Curiously, Jake's first two starts -- and wins -- were both against Northern Illinois.
- Oh, and we blocked two field goals at the end of the game to beat UNI in 2009, which was like kind of a big deal or something, I guess.
- Whatcha got?