Happy..... Tuesday? Boy, this feels weird, doesn’t it? But also, kind of good? I mean all of it. The Tuesday thing. The getting back to work after another long weekend thing. The winning a bowl game thing. The, wait what?
I know, I know, it seems like so long ago now and the bowl game struggles of past are now forgotten. But waking up this second day of January in a brand new year, it feels pretty good to not be talking about a sixth consecutive bowl loss.
Yes, another football season has come and gone and like a year ago, we sit here this frigid Tuesday morning (it’s well below zero here in Iowa City) and are faced with an 8-5 record. And despite all the ups and downs and the overreactions in this very place, this 8-5 feels a bit different than the one a season ago.
Now, I’ll grant you that a good portion of the Pinstripe Bowl was not at all satisfying. Parts of it were downright maddening. And at the end of the day, it was the Pinstripe Bowl against a 7-5 Boston College team that also finished fourth in their division of the ACC. But you know what? It was a bowl win.
For the first time in seven years, we are talking about an Iowa football team whose final game of the season was a W. As ugly as it may have been, I’ll take it. And not just for the proverbial bowl win monkey being off the collective back of the Hawkeyes, either.
This win did so much more than just that. As has been pointed out by a number of media members, it also capped a three year run by this program in which the team has accumulated 28 wins and 12 losses - an average record of 9-4. And those 12 losses? All to teams with winning records. Nine of them were to teams with double-digit wins (Chad later corrected his tweet below to note that Florida in 2016 was only 9-4).
Iowa football is 28-12 over the last 3 seasons.— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) December 30, 2017
All 12 of the losses have come to teams that finished above .500; 10 of those opponents won 10+ games.
Now, you could certainly point out that only 12 of those 28 wins came against teams with winning records. You could also point out that one of those “good losses” came at the hands of an FCS opponent. You could likely make the argument that all these numbers may be a stronger indicator that Iowa has struggled to win games against top competition more than anything else.
But, it’s a new year and I’ve resolved to be a bit more positive in my overreactions in 2018. So I’ll instead say this all shows that over the last three years Iowa has been a pretty solid program, winning roughly 9 games a year. Their losses have been to high quality opponents and they’ve managed to pull off some marquee wins in there as well (sup Michigan 2016, Ohio State 2017).
And then there’s the bowl win. There’s no excuse for some of the brutal showings we’ve seen over the last few years so I’m not even going to bother diving in. But I would like to point out that for the first time in quite a while, the Big Ten as a whole was matched up pretty evenly in this bowl season and like Iowa, the conference as a whole had a ton of success. By ton of success, I of course mean they went 7-1 with the only loss coming in mind-numbing fashion from the Fightin’ Harbaughs of Michigan (he’s a weird dude and a good recruiter, but can we finally put to rest the myth that he’s some brilliant football mind? Ditto the myth about him being a QB whisperer). It’s amazing what happens when every team, including Iowa, isn’t bumped up a tier or two in the bowl pecking order.
What else did the Pinstripe Bowl win mean? Well, how about putting the Captain in a deadlock with Hayden Fry? The bowl victory was win number 143 for head coach Kirk Ferentz. It took Ferentz one fewer season and only two more games at Iowa to reach the mark.
The debate around how the two stack up is best left for another day (one has a better winning percentage, one has a better bowl record and more double-digit win seasons), but suffice it to say the success and stability the Iowa football program has had dating back to 1979 is pretty incredible. One of the two has a statue and a street named after him, I expect the other will as well, someday.
And KF is an all-around good person. Say what you want about a lack of emotion in press conferences or on the sideline, but the guy cares about his team. He cares about his players and he genuinely has a respect for the program he’s helped build. Watching him nearly come to tears when asked about catching Fry was pretty incredible.
Kirk Ferentz reaction on tying Hayden Fry's all time Iowa win mark. Watch it. pic.twitter.com/ZdvZAEtNWm— Jon Miller (@hawkeyenation) December 28, 2017
Throw in the work he and Mary do for the Children’s Hopsital and all the money they’ve donated (insert your jokes about his contract here, ya jerks) and I’m all in on as many more years as the guy wants in this fine city.
So why else am I feeling good this freezing Tuesday morning? Well, it’s the future, of course. Maybe it’s the unknown, but the future seems to be another step in the direction I think all Iowa fans are looking for out of the program.
We can all agree there were major low points in the season - points where we were all wondering if Brian Ferentz was the right man for the OC job. But there were also some incredible displays of offensive output and creativity that should give everyone some hope for the future. The Iowa State and Ohio State games were glimpses into what could be.
The emergence of Nate Stanley as a passer is something that Iowa fans should be incredibly excited about. Nobody could have foreseen that at the outset of the year, and it should open things up from a playcalling standpoint as he gains even more comfort with the playbook and reading defenses.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some critical pieces that are walking out the practice facility doors and into the Twitterverse, never to return to the black and gold. The trio of linebackers will be almost impossible to replace. The heartbeat of that defense, the Outlaw Josey Jewell, won’t come close to being replaced. It’s all but a formality now that Josh Jackson will be headed to the NFL and a big time payday. Replacing that level of production should be impossible, though we were wrong about that this season. But suffice it to say, there will be some BIG shoes to fill on the defensive side of the ball next season.
And yet the defense is seemingly always fine. I have faith in Phil Parker getting the secondary in order if/when Jackson goes pro. And as impossible as it may be to replace the departure of all three starting linebackers, there’s some talent on the roster. Add in the majority of a solid defensive line returning and some major newcomers like DTs Daviyon Nixon, Noah Shannon and Army All-American Tyler Linderbaum or DE John Waggoner and there should be few blockers free bog down running lanes for the newcomers at LB.
On the offensive side of the ball, there will likely be some big shoes to fill as well. The offensive line could be little-changed or in some trouble, depending on how the next week or two goes. Right guard Sean Welsh leaves after 5 years at Iowa and that experience is always tough to replace, but outside of the secondary I think the line is perhaps the one place I least worry about this staff identifying young talent.
The one concern here would be if center James Daniels decides to forego his senior year for the NFL Draft. I’m not going to speculate on how likely that may or may not be, but his talent and athleticism is undeniable and like Josey Jewell in the middle of the defense, his loss would be very difficult to replace.
Elsewhere, there’s only one loss on the outside. Matt VandeBerg may not have been the most heralded WR Iowa has had come through the program, but he was damn dependable and he’s been a staple of the receiver group for a long time. That will be tough to replace.
Matt VandeBerg played in his 54th career game in the @PinstripeBowl, more than any other player in school history and finished with 134 career receptions (10th most in program history) | #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/p1kIOH9PAV— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) December 31, 2017
Even more difficult to replace will be perhaps the most dynamic playmaker I’ve seen in an Iowa uniform in my lifetime (I’ll listen to arguments from the guys with more years of fandom than myself). Akrum Wadley is simply sensational and I don’t think there’s any way to account for what he brought to the offense.
He wasn’t the best runner between the tackles and it’s possible the zone run game may actually be improved a year from now. If Daniels sticks around I might actually say that’s probable with the experience along the line and the type of runners both Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin. But his ability to make people miss is something we will likely not see again for quite some time.
Nowhere was that ability more evident than in the short passing game out of the backfield. We’ve yet to really see how either Toren Young or IKM look in that regard. Given their physical statures, it’s a good bet that IKM will fill that role more than Young. What we saw from him this year is reason for optimism. But again, Wadley’s shiftiness isn’t coming back. He was a generational talent.
With 35 career touchdowns, Wadley finished one shy of Tavian Banks’ program record. Wadley was one of only four running backs in school history to post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Wadley has 2,872 career rushing yards to rank fifth all-time at Iowa. His 3,904 all-purpose yards are ninth.
But if I’ve learned anything about this football program under Kirk Ferentz, it’s that you should never count them out. Even with the departure of some incredible talent among the upper classmen, there’s plenty more already on the roster. Add in what the staff is bringing with this recruiting class and there’s going to be as much talent on the roster a year from now as there was this year.
We saw glimpses from the offense that should give us all hope for what could be if we get solid execution and any sort of consistency. The combination of Nate Stanley to Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson is something we should all be excited about. The receiving group is losing a valuable veteran in the Meerkat, but they have a great group of talented young guys and more on the way.
Oh, and the schedule next year? It makes this season look like a murderer’s row. So yeah, I’ve got some optimism heading into the offseason. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next year will bring. And I’m feeling pretty good this morning, looking back on another 8-5 year, this one capped off with a bowl win and some momentum.
Is it September yet? It can’t get here soon enough. Until then, let’s take some time this
Monday Tuesday morning to relive something we haven’t felt since 2010. We’re 8-5 people, and it feels so good!