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Throwback Thursday: Iowa Football Nearly Crashes the College Football Playoff

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Nobody thought Iowa belonged, but the Hawkeyes were inches away from the only CFP in program history.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Iowa
Perhaps the high point of Hawkeye fandom came when CJ Beathard connected with Tevaun Smith in the 2015 Big Ten title game.
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

It was a moment of pure joy and bewilderment. The building erupted despite half the fans there rooting for the other team. As the ball fell in slow motion, more than 50 yards from where CJ Beathaed had heaved it, everyone in the building could feel the implications.

Iowa and Michigan State had been in a rock fight. Offense was at a premium all day and both teams had left points on the field. Now, as the fourth quarter was just getting underway, Iowa had landed a dagger to the heart of the Spartans. Tevaun Smith reaches up over the outstretched arms of a Michigan State defensive back and hauled in the bomb. The defender fell to the ground and there was nothing but green in front of the Iowa receiver.

With 14:49 standing between the Hawkeyes and the College Football Playoffs, Tevaun Smith dabbed in utter elation. Iowa went up 13-9 and the lead felt insurmountable for a Spartan offense that had mustered just three field goals after being gifted the ball at the Iowa 22 on their opening possession. As a Hawkeye fan, the feeling was surreal. Despite all the talk all season about the schedule and the fake ID, it all seemed to have fallen into place on that big play and a championship was within reach.

It was the high point in an incredible year. For the first time in program history, Iowa was 12-0. The Hawkeyes had run the table in the regular season and were ranked 4th in the nation - just inside the last College Football Playoff rankings before the committee made their official selections.

At that moment, nothing else about the season mattered. It didn’t matter that Iowa had played just two ranked teams to that point. It didn’t matter that a slew of games against subpar opponents had been one-score wins. It didn’t matter how untested or lucky or anything else that team was. All that matter was the Iowa Hawkeyes were 14:49 away from a Big Ten Championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff.

That 2015 team wasn’t the most talented Iowa has had. Sure they had some star power. George Kittle was on that team, though he finished with only 20 receptions. The aforementioned CJ Beathard has more moxie than almost any Iowa QB under Ferentz. There was a quality RB tandem with Jordan Canzeri and Leshun Daniels and a young Akrum Wadley was in the mix some. Tevaun Smith has a cup of coffee in the NFL, as has Henry Krieger-Coble. Austin Blythe is making some money for himself, as are James Daniels, Josey Jewell, Josh Jackson and Ben Nieman. But a lot of those guys were young, in limited roles at the time. As a whole, it was a vastly inferior roster to anyone they would have faced in the CFP.

But that team had heart. They had a will to win. And at that moment, when Tevaun Smith dabbed on em, it felt like it had all come together.

Of course, it hadn’t. A 22 play drive, some questionable calls (yeah that was not defensive PI) and an incredible effort by LJ Scott later and the dream was dead. The best down in the Rose Bowl added insult to injury as the national talking heads got to take their victory lap. But nothing will ever take away the feeling Hawkeye fans everywhere had the moment Smith made that grab at the 33 yard line.

Other Iowa teams were better. Some were a few plays away from a chance for a national title game. This one willed their way to within an inch of the College Football Playoff.