Spring is a time of new beginnings. Here in the Midwest, people are finally able to escape their homes and be outdoors for the first time in months. The grass is slowly turning green, flowers are starting to bloom and hope springs eternal.
Around the country, spring is also a time to look to the future. Not just at the beautiful yards just around the corner or summer vacation, but at what will be in store on the gridiron come fall. By and large, college football fans take this time to be as optimistic about the coming season as I am about getting my kids to bed every night.
Unfortunately, like me, most fans are more likely to end up frustrating and pounding a beer alone in the dark than happy and satisfied. This time of year, though, most programs don’t have that as a plausible outcome. Yet.
Except in Iowa City. In Iowa City, that optimism isn’t bursting at the seams. Fans aren’t building up their hopes and expectations quite the way the fans of other programs are. While it’s true Iowans are stereotypically modest and humble, we’re not immune to the hype train that typically leaves the station this time of year. Hell, we might fall victim to it more than any other program, only to have the rug pulled out from under us at some point during the fall.
Not so this spring. That’s in part due to what walked out the doors of the football complex following last season. The Hawkeyes will need to replace a pair of likely first round picks at tight end. They also have to find a new defensive back to play the former “star” now “cash” position created for Amani Hooker. They’ve also got to find some depth on the defensive line now that they’ve lost a pair of Nelsons and Parker Hesse.
There’s a number of departures across the spectrum and several of them are going to prove difficult to replace. On top of the personnel, the coaching staff is unchanged. The questions around Brian Ferentz’s ability to effectively call an offense remain. And Kirk Ferentz is still the head coach.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Big Ten West is moving forward. While Ferentz and the Hawkeyes declined to hold an open practice of any kind this year, the rest of the West was on display for the world to see this weekend and their fanbases all have that spring optimism this Monday morning.
The fans in Minnesota had to deal with snow in April, but at least they got to take in a glimpse of their football team in spring over the weekend. They may not have been there physically, but they could watch on the Big Ten Network along with thousands of other viewers and, perhaps more importantly, recruits.
They got to see a big guy touchdown and they have a coach who is driving enthusiasm. The guy is a walking double espresso and he’s bringing national attention to the program. He had success at Western Michigan and it’s only a matter of time before he does the same thing at Minnesota.
We don’t even hate them.
We do hate Nebraska. We’re about to hate them a whole lot more. Game of Thrones returned last night, but we learned a year ago that winter was coming when the Hawkeyes barely escaped with a win over what is sure to be the worst of Scott Frost’s Nebraska teams.
The Cornhuskers are trending in the right direction. Like Minnesota, they have a fresh, young coach who’s hitting the pavement on the recruiting trail and shaking things up. They have talent at the skill positions Iowa fans could only dream of. All the speed and athleticism is going to be a problem for the Hawkeyes and sooner rather than later.
And it’s safe to say the Nebraska fans are excited for what the 2019 football season is going to bring.
Nebraska spring football game attendance:— CFB Home (@CFBHome) April 13, 2019
That’s right, Nebraska had more fans for their spring game than Iowa will have for any home game for the foreseeable future.
But it’s not just the hot young coaches who seem to be making better progress at their programs than we have in Iowa City. Illinois doesn’t have a young coach, but they have a talented one who can boast his time in the NFL. And he’s selling it like crazy.
The Illini reeled in a pair of very highly rated recruits in the class of 2019 and have turned that momentum into a full head of steam. They’ve locked in a handful of formerly top-ranked transfers from the likes of Georgia and USC. And as we head into the class of 2020, they’ve already landed a pair of 4-stars.
It’s beyond frustrating to watch all these schools building steam both on the recruiting trail and the football field. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes are behind closed doors in their football facility. They’re unchanging and reclusive. They aren’t out there broadcasting for recruits to see and gain interest. They’re barely even out on the trail making noise.
What’s worse, on a weekend when we should have been excited about what’s happening with the football program, thinking about he innovative new ways Brian Ferentz is going to replace Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson or how Phil Parker will unleash A.J. Epenesa on the conference, we’re doing nothing of the sort.
Instead, we’re dealing with this.
It’s really pretty incredible. It makes you stop and think about all the things you read, frankly. There’s so much hype coming out of the local media for every program around the country. Well, almost every program.
Most of it is fluff. Most of these programs our going to be like me at 9pm on a weeknight: tired, frustrated and ready for a drink. The local media is going to do whatever they need to in order to prop the local product and get fans clicking. And it works. Boy does it work.
Just look at Memorial Stadium. Those idiots will gobble it all up. They will lap it up and swallow the Ls that flow from Kirk and Co. because they will always be able to point to their sellout record, their spring game attendance and their recruiting rankings.
None of it matters.
That’s easy to forget this time of year, but it’s important. We shouldn’t get our hopes too high (those poor Illini fans and recruits are in for so much disappointment), but this is spring, there’s absolutely nothing to be worried about. This football team is going to be fine.
What, exactly, fine means remains to be seen. It’s likely to be another 8-4 season, which is the definition of fine. The schedule is definitely tougher than a year ago, but the roster isn’t bad. There are some major bright spots and with a little development, there’s some serious upside here.
So keep your head up today, Hawkeye fans. We may not have a spring game to get us through the summer this year thanks to the turf replacement, but we also don’t have a snake oil salesman running the program. We didn’t force one into our practice facility just so we can get another chance to proclaim our hate for another program. We don’t have to hang our hats on attendance at a scrimmage over actual wins and losses. And we aren’t Illinois. We will never be Illinois.
And if you’re bummed you didn’t get your Hawkeye fix this weekend, buddy I’ve got some Monday morning good news for you. Tomorrow, Tuesday April 16th, is All Hawkeye day on ESPNU. Through a pretty incredible story, which you can read on HawkeyeSports.com, the worldwide leader is dedicating 24 hours of programming to our beloved Hawkeyes. Things get kicked off at 11pm tonight (the 24 hours kick off at midnight eastern time) with a game I’m sure many of us have forgotten - the 55-24 victory over Ohio State from 2017.
Here’s a look at the full schedule.
IOWA DAY ON ESPNU
11 p.m. - 2 a.m. Nov. 4, 2017 Ohio State at Iowa football
2 a.m. - 4 a.m. Feb. 23, 2012 Wisconsin at Iowa men’s basketball
4 a.m. - 7 a.m. Nov. 12, 2016 Michigan at Iowa football
7 a.m. - 9 a.m. Nov. 11, 1995 Iowa vs. Connecticut men’s basketball
9 a.m. - 11 a.m. Sept. 28, 2002 Iowa at Penn State football
11 a.m. - 1 p.m. March 7, 2017 Iowa at Wisconsin men’s basketball
1 p.m. - 3 p.m. March 22, 1997 NCAA Wrestling Championships
3 p.m. - 6 p.m. Oct. 19, 1996 Iowa at Penn State football
6 p.m. - 8 p.m. Jan. 28, 1993 Iowa at Michigan State men’s basketball
8 p.m. - 11 p.m. Jan. 1, 2005 Capital One Bowl
Happy Monday, ya’ll. Enjoy the week. Don’t believe all the BS you read. Especially if it has anything to do with a scrimmage and its bearing on actual football games several months from now with players who may not even be on campus yet.