Iowa's senior class first saw the field in a 4-8 season. It's now welcoming itself to Hawkeye history: 11-0, No. 3 in the polls, No. 4 in the Playoff, and (barring utter insanity) two wins away from officially being in the playoffs. It's a hell of a thing.
So as we approach Thanksgiving, we give thanks to the senior class, the guys who were hailed at midfield before their last appearance in uniform at Kinnick Stadium last Saturday. Every single one of them was an important part of this run the Hawkeyes are on, and every single one of them deserves our thanks. So here we go.
Thank you, Austin Blythe. The offensive line needed work over the previous couple years, no doubt about it. But there was also no doubt that it started with building around you, and now that it's mashing again, it's no surprise that you've been the rock at the center of it all. You embody the ethos of the Iowa offensive lineman and if we always had an Austin Blythe, I'd always assume the line would be solid. Let's get you to 50 career starts (!) by making the National Championship.
Thank you, Jordan Canzeri. They said you were too small, too slight, then too injury-prone. You stuck with it, got your turn, earned your way into a crowded backfield and busted out probably the most phenomenally badass performance by a running back in Iowa Hawkeyes history, and that is saying a lot. Oh, and as for the "injury-prone" part, Northwestern tried to ruin your ankle and you were back in a month. You're getting what you worked for this year and it's awesome to see.
Thank you, Darian Cooper. Knee injuries are cruel, and they robbed you of a chance to let people know how good you could have been. We're proud that you stuck with it as long as you could, and that you got to not only be recognized on Saturday, but get that one snap back, that validation for everything you went through in rehab. Whatever your future holds for you is great, but if you can cut a promo, just remember that you wouldn't be the first or even second former Iowa DT to make a name in pro rasslin'.
Thank you, Adam Cox. There's nothing cooler than going from a walk-on to a starter, especially a starter who goes out and erases defenders for a living. Coming back from an ACL is not a sure thing, but you did that this year and it's been impossible to keep you off the field. We hope you get that sixth year and an opportunity to be that rockstar in the backfield that fullbacks are around here, but if not, way to make the most of an opportunity to put on the black and gold.
Thank you, Sean Draper. There's been no more fiercely contested position on this team over the last few years than cornerback, and if you hadn't been there from the word go, earning your way onto the field as a true freshman, Iowa would have been in serious trouble at times. Also, you picked off C.J. Brown, and that's great, because everyone should have the opportunity to get an interception against Maryland.
Thank you, Jake Duzey. If you had any doubt how much you mean to Iowa fans and how much your spring ACL tear sucks, look no further than the running gag fans' interest in your availability has become. It's no wonder: ever since you torched the entire Ohio State secondary in 2013, it's been obvious what a unique talent you are, and how much fans have wanted to see you succeed. Even with your senior season effectively robbed from you, you've been an absolute credit to the Iowa program on the field and in the classroom, and you have so much to be proud of.
Thank you, Cole Fisher. If all you'd done was hang out on the peripheries of the depth chart for four years and collect Academic All-Big Ten honors year after year, that'd have been fine enough. Instead, you earned a starting spot from an incumbent starter, you're on pace to rack up well over 100 tackles and you've helped revamp the Iowa linebacking corps into one of the strongest and most productive in the Big Ten. Don't be surprised if they don't need to add "Academic" to your end-of-season All-Big Ten honors this year (though I'm guessing your grades will be awesome once again).
Thank you, Jacob Hillyer. There's no place where an offense can't afford an incomplete pass more than inside its own 20 yard line, so it goes to its most trustworthy receivers. And wouldn't you know it, here in 2015, you've got the second-most receptions inside the 20, and 80% went for first downs. That's a testament to the faith this team and these coaches have in you.
Thank you, Jordan Lomax. Not everyone can handle a position change after losing a depth chart battle, much less totally reinvent their style of play and earn freaking all-conference honors in the process. You're not "converted cornerback Jordan Lomax" anymore, you're "reigning second-team All-Big Ten safety Jordan Lomax," and you're also an active agent of demolition against anyone who feels like waltzing through your territory. The defense needed leadership as it rebuilt, and you are one of those leaders. Hell yes.
Thank you, Dillon Kidd. There might be no single player who has improved more from last year to this year than you, as you've added more than four yards to your per-punt average, more than doubled your 50+-yard punt rate and raised your inside-the-20 rate by a solid 50%. Iowa's at its best when it can count on its special teams to be better than the opponent's, and you're making a case for all-conference honors when this is all said and done. Not too shabby.
Thank you, Marshall Koehn. Coming into the season, there were two greatest field goals in Iowa history: Rob Houghtlin over Michigan in 1985, and Daniel Murray over Penn State in 2008. Now there are three. Your 58-yard bomb to beat Pitt is the single most enduring moment of Iowa's 2015 season so far, and it's one we'll never, ever forget.
Thank you, Henry Krieger Coble. You've gone from the situational blocking TE to one of C.J. Beathard's favorite targets, second on the team in receptions and a perfect six-for-six on converting third down receptions to first downs. Also, you can still block like a pickup truck.
Thank you, Nate Meier. When Wisconsin was on the brink of retaking the lead in the second half in Madison, mere feet away from the end zone, it was you who blew the entire play up, forced a fumble and preserved the Iowa lead that would eventually hold up for the massive victory. If that's not the single biggest defensive play of the year, it's certainly in the highest echelon, and with not a lot of company. You're the rock of the pass rush now and a terror to right tackles, and we have a feeling you're not done changing the complexion of games this season.
Thank you, Drew Ott. We hope you get that extra year of eligibility, but if not, damn, dude. You were a badass in the black and gold, and showed the world what Midwestern football is all about: tossing hay bales, eating raw eggs whole, shrugging off jacked-up elbows and absolutely ruining quarterbacks' days. You set the tone for this defense and helped turn it into the raging deathbeast it has become. Nothing short of superhero status.
Thank you, Travis Perry. Not only did you join this team as a walk-on, not only were you on the field your redshirt freshman year, but you even started a game that year, in the Big House. You finally earned that scholarship for your last two seasons, you've been a key reserve and a spot starter for your whole career here, and you'e been racking up team awards and Academic All-Big Ten honors in the process. We are both glad and lucky that you turned down those FCS scholarship opportunities to be a part of the Hawkeye family.
Thank you, Macon Plewa. It's a little upsetting that we didn't think of calling you the Plewiathan until right now, as opposed to the several seasons ago when you began earning that nickname by absolutely obliterating opposing linebackers in the gap and clearing the way for Iowa's tailbacks. It's a joy to watch, and it's Iowa football at its finest.
Thank you, Eric Simmons. First of all, your hair is glorious. Second of all, you helped shore up a line that needed it and didn't have the luxury of waiting around for another high school kid to spent the years necessary to build that old man strength. You balled out on special teams and if Iowa can replace your presence next year with one of the kids who's currently redshirting, it'll be fortunate.
Thank you, Tevaun Smith. I can't remember the last wide receiver who was as flat-out FUN to watch as you—maybe Mr. Dwight himself. The best wideouts play like they're out to embarrass someone, and you not only talk the talk, but you back it up. If someone in the NFL doesn't take a flier on you, it'll be criminal neglect. Or maybe you want to go closer to home and ball out in the CFL for the next decade or so. Up to you.
Thank you, Melvin Spears. There are plenty of guys who would have packed it up, quit or transferred once they saw themselves hopelessly behind in the depth chart. Maybe it gets you playing time at some rinky-dinker, but even if so, odds aren't so hot that the FCS or D-II school where you end up will give you as good of an education as the University of Iowa. It's awesome that you stuck with this the whole way through, and that you'll carry the Hawkeye banner forward with you in life.
Thank you, Andrew Stone. It takes a lot of guts to walk on at Iowa, but especially when you're an "undersized" JuCo player and don't have the luxury of five seasons with the Iowa S&C program to get yourself on everyone else's level. And still, you not only made your way onto the field but got to play 13 games (and counting), catch four passes and even score a touchdown for the black and gold. Now you're not just a walk-on, but a need Iowa's going to have to fill next year.
Thank you, Jordan Walsh. Whatever concerns existed about Iowa's guard play last season are now 100% gone, thanks to your emergence as one of the top five linemen and a worthy starter. The offensive line has been asked to do so much more this season as the run game diversifies, and you and your teammates have been more than up to the task. That's not something to be taken lightly or for granted. Like so many of your fellow teammates in the class of 2015, Iowa wouldn't be 11-0 right now without you.
Thank you, seniors. This team wouldn't be here without everything you've done. Now, what do you say about four more wins?