Another Iowa football season has come and gone. Well, technically it’s not fully gone, but the regular season came to a close over the holiday weekend with Iowa’s 27-24 win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Now all that’s left for Iowa fans is speculation over bow destinations and way too early looks at 2020.
It’s a strange place to be as a fan. For months we waited with baited breath, grasping for any bit of football news or notes. And just like that, the season has come and gone in the blink of an eye.
It was pretty standard as far as Iowa football seasons go. There were ups and downs, highs and lows. For the fifth straight year, Iowa City is home to the Cy-Hawk and Heroes trophies, as well as Floyd of Rosedale. The Hawkeyes won their sixth straight against Illinois and lost their fourth straight against Wisconsin.
Iowa won 9 games for the second straight year (okay, so last year it took the bowl to get there) and they won at least 8 games for the fifth straight season. The losses were all close and all to good teams - a combined 14 points to teams currently ranked 10th, 12th and 17th in the most recent AP poll.
That’s really what we’ve come to expect of Iowa. Good, not great seasons. And at the end of the day, we’re left longing for more.
But those good, not great seasons, when repeated over the course of the last five years, might just be great, not good. Only 11 other FBS programs have been able to accomplish that same sustained success with five straight seasons of 8+ wins. Of those, only 8 other programs are power five schools. Three each from the Big Ten and SEC and one each from the ACC and Big 12.
The list? Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Iowa.
The company is impressive. Of the power five schools (the non-P5 schools include Appalachian State, Boise State and Memphis), Iowa and Wisconsin are the only programs you wouldn’t call a blueblood. There’s no birthright to double digit wins each season in Iowa City.
What stands out to Hawkeye fans, however, is that there wasn’t a birthright to those 10+ win season in Madison either. In fact, there was barely a football program. But Barry Alvarez has done for Wisconsin what Hayden Fry did for Iowa, only he did it at a school with loads of inherent advantages over Iowa. Now, the Badgers are on or with those blue bloods.
This weekend, Wisconsin will head to their sixth Big Ten Championship Game, more than any other team in the conference. They’ve won at least 8 games every year since 2008 and all but three times since the turn of the millenium. What’s more, they’ve won at least 10 games 9 of the last 18 seasons and have brought home three Big Ten titles the last decade. Put simply, Wisconsin is where Iowa wants to be.
But the simple fact Iowa is on that list of successful programs over the last five seasons with only blue bloods and Wisconsin should give Hawkeye fans hope. There’s a long way to go, no doubt, but Iowa is as close to making that leap as anyone else. We’ve had our own trip to Indy in that time span on the heels of an undefeated regular season. We were inches away from a Big Ten Championship in 2015.
And we’re building on that success. The talent level in Iowa City is noticeably better. Recruiting since the undefeated season has seen a market uptick. Iowa is about to ink a top-25 2020 recruiting class that’s the highest rated since 2005. In 2021, the staff has a top-10 class as it stands today. Those are the steps that need to be taken to make the next leap.
There are obviously others. The offense simply has to be better on a consistent basis. The defense this season was one of the best in the country. It was good enough to get to Indianapolis. But the offense was a roller coaster. We’ve seen flashes of what it can be. We all had hope after Ohio State in 2017. We just need to see a higher baseline with an improvement in the running game and less predictability. It’s genuinely not far from being good enough.
The question now is whether Kirk Ferentz, the man who’s built this epitome of stability, is the one who can elevate that baseline not only on the offense, but on the program as a whole. Can he find it within himself to keep the foot on the gas at all times? Can he set aside stubbornness and a reliance on ““who we are” to make the most of who we have? Can he go for the jugular against superior opponents? Can he finally add that last rivalry trophy to the trophy case? We have an entire offseason to debate, but I’d sure like to find out.
Happy Monday. Enjoy that first day back from a holiday weekend. Do your best to raise your baseline this week.
Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t take just a second to call out how fantastic Keith Duncan is. The man is a treasure. Be sure to go vote for him in the Lou Groza Award ASAP!
Iowa kicker Keith Duncan says no bowl for you pic.twitter.com/MNJkZ7ZXy1— Max Olson (@max_olson) November 29, 2019
Eat it Huskers and Go Hawks!