And just like that, the Iowa Hawkeyes football regular season is over. Not with a bang (well, kind of with a bang), but with a whimper as Iowa’s Championship Week (lol) game against the Michigan Wolverines was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns within the Michigan program for the second week in a row.
Interestingly, this news broke shortly before Kirk Ferentz met with the media, which, given the recent news (and the lack of a game to preview) dominated the conversation. Check out the full transcript here and my highlights below.
Let’s start with this bland statement from Gary Barta, just so you know it’s out there:
BARTA: As has been the case throughout our current pandemic environment, we have known this is a possibility. We are disappointed the game is canceled, but the safety and well-being of our student-athletes is paramount. We look forward to Sunday’s bowl selection announcements and preparing for that opportunity.
I guess there is one bit of news in there: a bowl game is in Iowa’s future...COVID permitting, of course.
KIRK FERENTZ: First of all, first and foremost, we are disappointed we’re not able to play Saturday. I think all of us were looking forward to this game, this challenge. Unfortunately it is not going to happen.
We were really close. Felt great about getting those eight games in, really close to getting a ninth. These kind of things happen.
I want to take a minute to congratulate our players and staff for the job they’ve done during the course of the year. We’ve been barely affected by the virus - fortunately - over the last 10, 12 weeks, whatever it’s been.
I think a lot of it’s just everybody being very, very diligent about what they’re doing, being aware of the protocols that are in place, everybody paying strict attention to it. Also a little bit of luck doesn’t hurt at all.
I want to compliment everybody on the job they’ve done, especially those on our medical staff here, the doctors and the trainers. The trainers are really on the front line, and Dr. Andy Peterson. The trainers have been on the front line back to June when everything got going here. I can’t say enough about the job they’ve done. Absolutely phenomenal. Just a shame here we didn’t make it to the finish line.
Lastly, I want to take a minute to just wish all the Michigan players, staff and coaches all the best, speedy recovery certainly from this thing.
I wanted to cut this down a bit but I also want to echo Kirk’s sentiment here. It’s clear that everyone in Iowa athletics has taken this seriously since the new, shortened season began. Getting through all those games was surely not an easy feat, and I’m sure it took a lot to get us those 8 games. So bravo to everyone involved.
Some injury news:
KIRK FERENTZ: Something we didn’t touch on Saturday, we did lose Ivory last week, last Tuesday specifically. He did have an injury, a knee injury, that’s going to require surgery. When he finishes his finals, he’s going to get that addressed.
Welp! Wishing a speedy recovery to Ivory Kelly-Martin.
Q. It sounds like there will not definitely be any sort of replacement game Saturday? Bowl game is next for you guys?
KIRK FERENTZ: Yeah, if there is any talk of that, I’m certainly not aware of it. I’d certainly be against it. This isn’t baseball, with all due respect to basketball or baseball, where you play multiple games during the course of a week. We learned the news here this afternoon, I don’t know if it’s been an hour yet, 75% of our preparation had already been done, maybe 80%, I don’t know.
Our staff has been working hard since Sunday morning getting ready for this ballgame. To try to flip it over and play somebody else this weekend, it wouldn’t be fair to the sport. Most of all it wouldn’t be fair to our players. Wouldn’t be representative of the kind of team we want to put out on the field.
I know it’s been done. Someone did one earlier in the year. We have late games, so I think that would be a really regrettable thing.
For all I know, it may still happen. I don’t know. If it does, I won’t be real pleased about it.
I second this as well. Let’s not do this, Big Ten. It doesn’t sound like there’s any real traction on it, but let’s just not even give it any traction.
Q. The bowl game, I don’t know what kind of leverage the Big Ten has with their contracts, just will you definitely accept the bowl invitation if one is tendered? How do you feel about all that?
KIRK FERENTZ: ...Our goal is to play the eight games that were scheduled. We had that ninth game, the concept was alive and well. We were hoping that would materialize. It just didn’t work out. So be it. Now you move on to the next thing, which is announcements on Sunday.
I know there’s some bowls that may hold out. I would assume hopefully things have settled now. I would assume the bowls that are still standing are still going to push forward.
As long as they do that, as long as one of them will take us, that’s our plan. We want to play another game. I can only speak for me right now. We’re going to meet at 5:05. I assume the team still feels the same way.
I think our guys have had a lot of fun being together, I think they’ve had a lot of fun practicing, preparing. We’ve had a lot of fun in the locker room the last six weeks. Our goal is to try to push it to another game. If we could do that, that would be wonderful.
It will become a little clearer later in the press conference as well, but the gratefulness Kirk expresses in this press conference feels really genuine. Calling another game opportunity “wonderful,” talking about having fun in the locker room...while this summer was one of, if not the, darkest hour for the Iowa football program, maybe it was for the best. It’s hard to say how much culture change resulted in this season, but I’d guess it at least played a factor, and that can’t be overlooked.
Q. I assume you would like to get maybe one more measuring stick to kind of gauge where you’re at? Is that the hope as we approach bowl selection on Sunday?
KIRK FERENTZ: The idea is to play and compete. That’s why you schedule games ...
I think we’ve taken a step forward each and every week this season. That’s easier said than done. The staff has done a really good job. But most importantly, our players have been outstanding. They’ve worked hard, they’ve played with pride and competed.
I’m really proud of our guys. I can’t say enough about what they’ve done. The leadership we’ve gotten, the camaraderie I’ve witnessed with everybody in the building. It’s been gratifying.
It would have been great to play one more game, knowing there’s no guarantees. That’s not going to happen. Now we move on to the next one. Hopefully there is a next one.
Another example of the gratitude here. Maybe it’s because it was a successful season, maybe it’s because 2020 has been awful, but I feel like we do not see this kind of language at the end of the season from Kirk and frankly, it’s refreshing.
Q. Other data point, a potential victory, maybe a decisive one. Most of them have been that for you over the last six weeks. Might have elevated you into the New Year’s six competition. There’s a prestige with those. Is that something that enters your mind at all?
KIRK FERENTZ: I mean, it’s always good. I think this year you have to put an asterisk next to everything that happens this year quite frankly..
We live in a world right now, this playoff stuff is great, but I think one of the downsides if you’re not in that conversation of four or five, you’re chopped liver. I think we’re really missing the boat, missing an opportunity as to what college football is all about. So many stories across the board...
We’ve seen way too many good things this year, way too many good stories from our players on the field, off the field, right on through. That’s what my focus is right now. I hope we get one more game.
To play in bowls, it’s exciting. The downside of the playoffs is we’re minimizing a lot of good stories, a lot of good trips. You guys have heard me say before, I mean, winning in San Antonio in 2001, you don’t think that was a big game for us? Holy smokes, that’s as big of a game as we’ve had in 22 years. To minimize that, I’m not doing it. It’s all about the players. It’s all about them and their experiences.
Just another really good example of Kirk’s gratitude here, but also, honestly who cares about a bowl this year? Whoever wins the College Football Playoff (if it gets played through its entirety, who knows!) will be the champion, sure, but anyone who spends more than a second looking at the CFP Top 25 realizes quickly that this season is just a disaster. Teams that have played 4 games are higher ranked than teams that have played eight or nine. I for one, am just grateful we got to watch this Iowa team eight times and see some victories and complain amongst ourselves on the way. Anything beyond that is just the extra point after a touchdown for me, and I think Kirk Ferentz agrees.