Here's your math lesson for Friday: If x is the number of losses suffered by your favorite college football team and y is fan expectations, y = 1/x. If you graph the level of fan expectations based on that simple equation, you get something like this:
There is no loss more significant to the fans than the first loss. Before it, expectations approach infinity. After it, they collapse. The chances of a 'magical' season, the kind that makes it possible to reference a team based solely on the year -- 1985, 2002, 2009 -- are so reduced, the hopes so quickly dashed, that it takes time to recover.
One week ago, we said that the outcome of the Iowa State game has little actual effect on the season, and we still believe that today. Iowa is still undefeated in the Big Ten, just as it was after the 2002 loss. In theory, Iowa could win every game from Saturday's trip to Pitt until the Big Ten Championship. In theory.
The anger at the Iowa State loss stems in part from the opponent, to be sure. But most of the anger and frustration is due to Iowa's problems. At this moment, 2014 Iowa does not look like a good football team. The offensive line, the running game, the defensive secondary, and the specialists have particularly struggled, but nothing has been especially great. And even though we knew all of that after three quarters of the Ball State game, last week's loss crystallized it. It knocked those expectations down to the floor. It brought us low.
The response from Kirk Ferentz has been underwhelming, to say the least. We've used it as a joke for the last two years, but "good job, good effort" is not what a fanbase wants to hear after that first defeat. Saying we will do the same things, only better, sounds like a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem. The issue, evident to anyone watching Iowa's first three game objectively, isn't with the team's execution of the coaching staff's gameplan. It's the gameplan itself. And if Iowa runs out the same old gameplan -- frankly, the same gameplan it's used for every game against non-OSU, non-Michigan opposition for the last half-decade -- it will likely lose to Pitt this week.
But Iowa has previously shown that it is capable of changing the offense on short notice. Last season, Iowa installed a wholly new offense for its trip to Ohio State, an offense that caught the Buckeyes by surprise and nearly did enough to knock them off. Iowa adjusted its offense on the fly against Michigan the next week, coming back from a dreadful first half to defeat the Wolverines. Three years (and one offensive coordinator) ago, Iowa shifted to a de facto air raid for a quarter against these Pitt Panthers, leading to an improbable comeback. It can be done.
Of course, that doesn't mean it will be done, and given the principals, it likely won't. Ferentz used the last trip to Pittsburgh to give a clearly overmatched quarterback one more chance to win back his starting position despite copious evidence to the contrary. He lost that game in the process, falling behind on a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and failing to respond in any meaningful way. Iowa learned nothing from that game, leading to further losses at Michigan State and Illinois before the offense finally found its November footing.
At this point, just acknowledgement of the issue is all we can ask. If Ferentz replays 2008, if Iowa relies solely on 'execution' again to fix an offense that has far bigger schematic problems than anyone on the staff appears willing or capable of acknowledging, then last week's loss and this season's disastrous start will be for nothing. But if Iowa can show its infrequent but important ability to change the offense, to truly comprehend its incompetence of seven days ago and build something better, we can at least find some hope in the collapse of our highest expectations.