Is winning a bowl game the only thing that matters this season?
Unlike other sports, college football is different. Sure, every team would love a crack at the College Football Playoff to prove why they’re the best team in the nation. Although, with 128 FBS schools, not every team believes that’s a realistic goal. While it’s obvious that mid-majors feel cheated in the four-team playoff, even Power Five schools know that the Playoff and a national championship isn’t a realistic goal. Rather, a lot of teams set their eye on winning as many games as possible and hoping that they win at least six to make a bowl game.
With Iowa being less than a minutes away from making the College Football Playoff instead of Michigan State last year, the College Football Playoff is a realistic goal for the Hawkeyes. Another 12-0 regular season with a Big Ten Championship is extremely difficult and unlikely, however they have the team that can do it after what they showed a season ago.
Still, a Rose Bowl or another major bowl is more realistic for the Hawkeyes. Another Rose Bowl berth would be the first time Iowa has gone to two consecutive Rose Bowls in their program’s history. Although, that might not be enough for Iowa this season. The notion that the Hawkeyes need to win a bowl game this year is alive and well.
With reports surfacing that Kirk Ferentz and Iowa are working on a contract to keep Ferentz around until he retires, there’s no doubt he won’t be leaving Iowa until he walks away from the game. Through all the success that Ferentz has had since taking over as head coach in 1999, bowl games have been a problem for him, especially as of late.
He has led Iowa to a bowl game in 13 of 17 seasons, however has gone just 6-7 in those games. While he has come a long way from the 1-10 season Iowa suffered in 1999, his first season as head coach, winning bowl games is something that has always been a struggle for the Hawkeyes under Ferentz.
In fact, Iowa hasn’t just lost bowl games in recent years, they’ve been demolished. Of course, in last year’s Rose Bowl, Stanford scored on the first play from scrimmage as they dominated Iowa in a 45-16 win. The previous season, Tennessee took control of the game early and cruised to a 45-28 victory. While they only lost by seven to LSU in 2013, Oklahoma crushed them in the 2011 Insight Bowl, 31-14.
While going to a bowl game in four of the past five seasons, including one of those years being the best year in Iowa football history, is impressive, there comes a point where winning the bowl game is the most important thing. With expectations being higher than normal this season, another 6-6 or 7-5 season to get into a bowl game won’t satisfy. This is Iowa’s chance to continue to prove to the nation that last season wasn’t a fluke, and they can do that by winning a major bowl game.
In order to do so, though, it starts with solid quarterback play and a stifling defense. During 2008-10, the Hawkeyes won all three of their bowl games. They were led by quarterback Ricky Stanzi and owned a defense that ranked top-10 in the nation in points allowed per game each season. Besides one of their four most recent postseason losses, Iowa’s defense has ranked outside the top-20 in that category.
When considering Iowa plays in the Big Ten, and they like to pound the ball, a tough defense is the main component to their success. A lot of their games are close, low-scoring games where one big offensive play could be the difference maker. However, luckily for Iowa, they return eight defensive starters this season – second most in the Big Ten.
For a team that ranked 20th in points allowed per game last season (20.4), that should put them in line for an even more successful season on that side of the ball. Besides, they only allowed more than 25 points three times last season, once in the Rose Bowl where they didn’t look like themselves with all the missed tackles.
Also, they held Michigan State to just 16 points in the Big Ten Championship game. Granted they lost, however the Spartans averaged just under 30 points per game last season (29.8), highlighting Iowa’s stifling defense last season in one of their biggest games.
While Desmond King and Josey Jewell are the obvious names that comes to mind when thinking about the Hawkeyes defense, Jaleel Johnson, Miles Taylor and Aaron Mends all will have important roles on that side of the ball this season, as well.
With C.J. Beathard, LeShun Daniels Jr and Akrum Wadley, and the Hawkeyes defense, Iowa has one of the most well-rounded teams in the nation. While going to a second consecutive Rose Bowl is not out of the question, and would be historic for Iowa, it shouldn’t be satisfying enough. While Iowa has had a historic football program, getting into big games and winning them has never been part of it.
Although, there is a different feel to this team this season. They have a chance to put together another special season, but this time cap it off with a bowl game victory. While making a major bowl and winning as many games as possible is always the regular season goal, it would be extremely disappointing and put somewhat of a damper on their season if they didn’t end their four game losing streak in the postseason, and win their first bowl game since 2010.