Iowa has won again, and this time it may just be the biggest statement to date, in a year when there is a renaissance of sorts occurring in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes have done it with solid play on both lines, good special teams, and the combination of a game-controlling running game and savvy quarterback play on offense.
It’s just the way head coach Kirk Ferentz likes to build ’em.
But does the program have the momentum and culture to sustain this latest overachieving year, or is it much of the same of what we’ve seen under Ferentz’s watch? The guy who has been known in most circles as the man who can get more out of his players than many others in the profession.
You don’t have to jump in a time-machine to understand what this program has become since Ferentz took over for the Godfather of the program, Hayden Frye, in 1999. It took him awhile to get the engine revved up, but in 2002, it was time to take notice. With Brad Banks under center, Iowa dropped one early to arch-rival Iowa State, but went on to run the remaining part of its regular-season schedule, and tied Ohio State for the Big Ten Championship and a BCS berth in the Orange Bowl.
There was another Big Ten title in 2004, but then the program sunk into an abyss of irrelevance, all the way until 2009. That year, Iowa had another playmaker at quarterback by the name of Ricky Stanzi, who raced the team out to a 9-0 start. The Hawkeyes were a bit snake-bitten because of an injury to Stanzi and fell short of a Big Ten title, but it was another resurgence in Iowa City.
Not so fast.
Where has Iowa been since then? Nowhere to be found in the list off contenders. Despite some years of somewhat positive expectations, the Hawkeyes have failed to be anything resembling a consistent player in the league. There have been a myriad of wacky running back issues, a lack of play at quarterback, and staff turnover that has all contributed to teams that over underperformed and underwhelmed.
Enter stage left … 2015.
Here we go again. We all thought it would be the same Iowa, but boy have they surprised. It hasn’t beat teams into submission, but the wins keep piling up, now one of just a handful of teams in the power five conferences with a 7-0 record, depending on how things play out from sea-to-shining-sea the rest of this college football Saturday. The Hawkeyes are now the hands down favorite to take the West division.
Who would have thought?
Oh, how that hot seat Ferentz was perched upon heading into this year has cooled off like a late Autumn cold-front in the Midwest. It’ll likely heat up again as long as Ferentz is on the job.
It’s just so hard to be an every year conversation piece at Iowa. High school football players aren’t jumping out of the woodwork of barns, and the program doesn’t have the national recognition to attract the big names in places like Florida, Texas and California to supplement solid, but not great talent coming from elsewhere. At least not on a consistent enough basis.
On top of that, Ferentz is an old-school type of coach. That works in places like Alabama, LSU and Ohio State, but it’s hard to go toe-to-toe and athlete-to-athlete without an innovative schematic leveling the teams that have the superior athletes driving U-Hauls to the blue-bloods of the sport each year.
Don’t get me wrong. We shouldn’t take anything away from what Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes are doing this year. In fact, we should all be standing up applauding an ovation of respect. Just know that the sunny skies and excitement will likely see clouds and disappointment in the not-too-distant forecast.
Enjoy the ride Hawkeye fans. Embrace it before they are all memories.
Phil Harrison is a frequent contributor to talking10.com. He is also a the founder of Big10news.com and featured contributor to collegefootballews.com and occasionally campusinsiders.com. You can follow him on twitter @PhilHarrisonCFB or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org If that doesn’t work, you can find him in the doghouse at home.