Culture Club, Pt. 1. We've discussed the "culture shift" in Iowa football this season for two months, going back to comments from Austin Blythe and Jordan Lomax at Big Ten Media Days and continuing through the season. The short version of it: The guys who are leading the team now -- Blythe, Lomax, Beathard, Ott, etc. -- didn't much care for the leadership in the program over the past few seasons and went about changing it, basically from the moment that Beathard was installed as the starting quarterback in January.
Obviously, it's working. Iowa is now 5-0 and playing with confidence not seen in half a decade. It's leading to a round of articles examining just what changed. The answer: A self-help book?
A personal development book called "The Slight Edge" became a reading assignment shortly after Iowa's 45-28 loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl. The thrust of the book is executing daily disciplines to achieve long-term success, a fitting parallel to the "Break the Rock" rallying cry Kirk Ferentz instilled upon becoming Iowa's head coach after the 1998 season.
But with the raw disappointment of 7-6 and the way that it happened, players were hungry to consume a new approach to a familiar message.
Credit the team's Leadership Group — composed of 13 seniors, two juniors and one sophomore as voted on by players — for not only executing the post-TaxSlayer homework but for spreading the message upon returning to campus for the spring semester.
I'd normally be skeptical of the effect that any book could have on a group of college-aged men, but the quotes from Chad Leistikow's piece are no joke. And if it took a book to clarify the issues that needed to be addressed to get over the hump and start winning again, then let's buy 1000 copies.
Culture Club, pt. 2. There's another side to the culture shift, of course: The one that took place in the coaches' offices around the same time. ESPN's Mitch Sherman has the most comprehensive look at what brought on New Kirk that we've seen yet:
But hidden by the cloudy exterior, Ferentz seethed at the manner in which Iowa blew a 17-point, second-half lead in the regular-season finale last year with a bevy of blunders and lost 37-34 in overtime to Nebraska.
Bad football, as Ferentz described it.
"I know a little something about Iowa," he said. "And to win here, we don't have that margin for error."
The results, from a renewed look at (and commitment to) special teams and a revamped running game to practice-free Thursdays, morning practices and highlight reels at lunch, are both long overdue and working. It's not just that these changes are working in conjunction with the renewed commitment of his team, either; the chances of Ferentz embracing such a revolution without complete buy-in from the team are virtually nil, if his past is any indication. The team's renewed commitment to do the little things well has only reinforced the effectiveness of the things that changed, because Ferentz is clearly confident that his team can handle those changes. And that combination saved his career.
Obsess Much? Everyone who has read this site or followed Northwestern football in the last decade knows that Pat Fitzgerald has a hard-on for Iowa, stemming from two things: Former Northwestern coach and everyone's favorite disgraced coach Gary Barnett invented a one-sided rivalry with the Hawkeyes during Fitzgerald's playing career based on an offhanded comment from Hayden Fry after a ritual shitkicking in 1992, and Fitzgerald broke his leg in the 1995 Iowa-Northwestern game, which forced him to miss the 1996 Rose Bowl.
Fast forward 20 years, and look what Northwestern is doing when Iowa comes to town in two weeks:
We spent five years hearing from certain corners of the Internet how Iowa-Northwestern was a rivalry. Much of that talk died in the last four seasons, when Fitzgerald finally farted out the horseshoe that had been shoved up his ass since 2005 and Iowa won three of four. But with Northwestern already geared up over the ritual shitkicking it received in Kinnick Stadium last year and the increasing likelihood that it could virtually decide the Big 10 West, the last thing this game needs is 85 Wildcats playing "Dress Up Like Coach on the Day Iowa Broke his Leg and Crushed his Dreams." And if they are going to do this, at least they should all wear a neck roll the size of a Volvo.
This ridiculous gambit would be like having a fifth anniversary party for the 2009 team during last year's game, the team whose perfect record was derailed when Corey Wooton rolled up on Ricky Stanzi's leg...
Actually, that's exactly what we should do. Someone make some Stanzi patches and sew the Orange Bowl logo on everything.
Ross will probably comment more on this later, but Iowa re-upped wrestling coach Tom Brands through the 2019-2020 season, setting up a STEEL CAGE LADDER MATCH between Brands and Kirk Ferentz for who will get all the money when both of their contracts run out in 2020. They can hang a briefcase above the ring with the lifetime contract extension that both of them want and let them have at it. And then Brian Ferentz will Shane McMahon his way into the match and steal the extension from both of them, igniting a feud that will end in a WrestleMania match where Mary Ferentz kicks Kirk in the groin and Brian hits him with a drop kick from the top turnbuckle while there's a trash can on his head. That, or they'll both get extended for reasonable amounts of money for their relative positions. Probably the latter, actually.
From the pile of postgame odds and ends: Our own Jason Kirk has Iowa in the Holiday Bowl against USC, a scenario that would have the Hawkeyes finishing somewhere between third and fifth in bowl order; given how lopsided the divisions are, that's not out of the question even if Iowa wins the West. BTN's Tom Dienhart has moved Iowa into a fourth-place tie with Northwestern in his power rankings. Fox Sports personality and licensed Big Ten troll Clay Travis has Iowa 10th overall, which Clay gave the Hawkeyes less out of respect for Iowa and more to piss off Ohio State fans. And did you hear that Iowa has a bunch of guys who played eight-man football?
BT Powerhouse ranks Jarrod Uthoff as the ninth-best player in the Big Ten this season. I'm going to go out on a limb and say we don't have anyone in the top eight, but if they rank managers, Jay Bilas hints that Iowa might have numbers one through seven:
Iowa baseball is progressing through its fall season, but Coach Rick Heller has an eye on the future of a program that had unprecedented success in 2015. The Hawkeyes might take a step back this year as it tries to replace a solid group of seniors, but a recruiting class ranked among the country's best will help quickly. That Heller can put together a class of that acclaim in Iowa, which has the triple whammy of bad weather, questionable facilities and summer high school baseball that makes recruiting extremely difficult, is a great sign moving forward.
Brian Ferentz's move away from pure zone running and into basic old-school running with pulling guards and misdirection has been one of the most underreported stories of this season. If you haven't watched Wisconsin run them for the last 20 years and need a primer on what Iowa's doing differently now, Chris Brown's explanation of the Power and Counter concepts is as good a place to start as any.
In another example of why you shouldn't tweet at players, DON'T TWEET AT PLAYERS.
There's nothing better than Big Game Dabo Swinney, a man who went so nuts after Clemson's win over Notre Dame that ESPN cut away to the Sportscenter desk just to make sure everyone at home didn't punch through their walls.
And things are not going well in Lincoln. Smile emoji.