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THE EPILOGUE 2015: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THAT BOWL DROUGHT

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A look back at the past joy and the recent pain of Iowa's bowl game performances.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

This was the only way to truly illustrate Iowa's bowl game success in the first 10 years of the 21st century. Many of us remember exactly where we were for Kaeding's kick, C.J. Jones's return, Tate to Holloway, Greenway being "offsides", Wegher's 32-yard touchdown run or Micah Hyde's interception return for a touchdown. Good or bad, the first ten years of the 21st century provided vivid memories for Iowa fans.

This success came despite Iowa often being labeled the inferior opponent in the majority of their bowl matchups. The Hawkeyes were supposed to get thrashed by the Florida Gators in 2004, an LSU team fresh off a BCS Championship and sporting names like Russell, Bowe, Addai, Spears and Landry in 2005 and a Texas squad with McCoy, Charles, Young, Ross and Sweed in 2006. How could Iowa's vanilla defense overcome the "decided schematic advantage" of Georgia Tech's triple option or possibly slow down Pinkel's high-powered spread at Mizzou powered by Blaine Gabbert?

Yet, when it was all said and done, Iowa often walked away the victor or could, at least, hold their heads high knowing that they were in the game until the clock struck zero. How good was it? It was good. Some cold hard facts about Iowa's success in the aughts:

From 2001-2010 (Nine Bowl Games):

  • Overall record of 6-3.
  • Iowa went 4-2 against opponents with better or equal records.
  • Iowa went 5-2 against higher ranked or equally unranked opponents.
  • Iowa was an underdog in seven games. Iowa went 5-2 straight up and 6-1 against the spread.
  • Iowa was leading or tied at the half in eight out of the nine bowl games.
  • Iowa was 3-2 in games decided by eight points or less.
  • Iowa beat two teams by 20 points or more.
  • Iowa's three losses were by a combined 30 points. 21 of those points were at the hands of USC in the 2003 Orange Bowl.

Iowa was able to record wins over SEC East Champion Florida in 2004, ACC Champion Georgia Tech in 2010, and Big 12 North Champion Missouri in 2010. They were almost always leading at the half and competitive in the fourth quarter of every game excluding the 2003 Orange Bowl. There were three New Year's Day bowl victories, a BCS Bowl trophy and an impressive overall record of 6-3. In 12 seasons Kirk Ferentz won as many bowl games as Hayden Fry did during his entire tenure at Iowa.

And then came the drought.

Iowa hasn't won a bowl game since 2010 and the cold hard facts are...ugly:

From 2011-2016 (Four Bowl Games):

  • Overall record of 0-4.
  • Iowa lost to a higher ranked or equally unranked opponent three times.
  • Iowa was an underdog in all four games and went 1-3 against the spread.
  • Iowa was losing at the half in all four games and outscored by a total of 98-7.
  • Iowa was shut out at the half in three games and outscored by a total of 63-0.
  • Iowa entered the fourth quarter of the four games down by a combined score of 115-17.
  • Iowa outscored their opponent in the fourth quarter of the four games by a combined score of 55-27 and 28 of those points were scored with less than five minutes remaining in the game.
  • Iowa's four losses were by a combined 70 points.

Ouch.

Now, it would only be fair to point out that despite slow starts in the 2011 Insight Bowl and 2014 Outback Bowl, both were one-possession games in the fourth quarter. Iowa was within striking distance against Oklahoma in the Insight Bowl before giving up a field goal on the Sooners' next possession and then going three and out in less than a minute. OU scored on their next drive, making the game 31-14, and Iowa turned the ball over on their next possession.

The "one-possession" game against LSU should probably have an asterisk next to it as Iowa didn't make it 14-21 until 1:42 was left in the game and the Hawkeyes were left with no option but to try to recover the onside kick as they only had one timeout. Iowa didn't, LSU ran the clock down to less than ten seconds and the game ended with the Hawkeyes desperately trying to score a touchdown off a series of laterals on the punt return.

Now that "being fair" is out of the way, you have to ask what was going so horribly wrong with Iowa's offense that they couldn't score until the second half. In the aughts, they led or were tied in eight out of nine games at the half. In 2011 and 2014 they didn't even score before the half.

This is saying nothing of the TaxSlayer and Rose Bowls that for all intents and purposes were over at the half, if not the first quarter.

And this wasn't Peyton Manning's Tennessee. This wasn't even Erik Ainge's Tennessee. This was against a Volunteer squad that lost six games. Yes, five of those six losses came against ranked teams. But they weren't even competitive in half of those games and lost to Will Muschamp at Florida. Friends don't let friends lose to Will Muschamp at Florida.

Yet, the game was 21-0 after the first quarter and Iowa looked lost. Iowa had lost. If there's a disparaging adjective to use for a football team, Iowa was probably deserving of every one during the TaxSlayer Bowl. Unprepared, sloppy, undisciplined. Whatever. The mind numbing play made by Jonathan Parker during his kickoff return was a perfect encapsulation of the day that Iowa had.

Fast forward nearly a year to the day. Just like in 2003, Iowa was the higher ranked program taking on the Pac-12 Champion (or co-champion if you want to be a stickler). Unlike in 2003, Iowa didn't even make a game out of it. With all due to respect to Stanford, they weren't USC. They weren't trotting out Carson Palmer, Justin Fargas, Mike Williams or anyone on defense who could even hold a candle to Troy Polamalu. Despite all of USC's talent, the Hawkeyes were competitive for at least a half before the Trojans pulled away in the third quarter.

What's so different? Players, obviously, but the schemes haven't changed that much. Phil Parker has kept Norm's 4-3 primarily intact and Greg Davis has added more shotgun but the Hawkeyes remain a run-first team, just like under O'Keefe.

Is it talent or depth? Maybe. Prior to the season, you might remember Pat's piece on Iowa's ongoing attrition or me freaking out about Iowa's prospectus listing four walk-ons and 11 players without Power 5 offers as starters. Regardless, Iowa still went 12-0 and barely lost the Big Ten Championship Game prior to the Rose Bowl debacle. Is it so horrifying to suggest that Iowa's model of player development is enough to succeed in the Big Ten but may no longer be viable against the nation's elite (and Tennessee)?

Now that you're all down in the dumps just remember that only a year ago many a Hawkeye fan were ready to run this coaching staff out of town on a rail. Kirk Ferentz and his staff responded by getting the Hawkeyes to 12-0 and their first Rose Bowl appearance in 25 years. Assuming there are no surprises, Iowa is expected to sign their best recruiting class since 2011. Looking even further down the line, 2017 is off to a great start by getting verbal commitments from the likes of A.J. Epenesa and Juan Harris.

If the 2015 season taught us anything is that Kirk Ferentz and his staff can make positive adjustments. They can continue to evolve, learn from the postseason mistakes and end this drought that has haunted the Hawkeyes for five years. Hopefully, it ends with Ferentz and Co. hoisting a Rose Bowl Trophy very, very, soon.