Iowa football: 30 greatest players in Hawkeyes history

Ricky Stanzi, Iowa Hawkeyes. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
Ricky Stanzi, Iowa Hawkeyes. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images) /
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Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa Hawkeyes. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images) /

Before there was Randy Duncan, there was Ken Ploen.

Despite starting just one season for the Iowa football team, Ploen led the Hawks to one of the greatest seasons in the history of the program. Iowa went 9-1 with Ploen under center and advanced to their first-ever Rose Bowl bowl game where they beat the No. 10 Oregon State Beavers. The Iowa native was named the Rose Bowl MVP for his performance.

At the conclusion of his senior season, Ploen was named the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player and was named a consensus All-American. He also finished ninth in the 1956 Heisman Trophy race.

While looking at the stats and longevity may sway the argument significantly in Duncan’s favor to be ranked higher here, the legacy of winning the first-ever Rose Bowl and claiming Iowa’s first Big Ten Conference title in 34 years is too important to me.

Prior to that point, the Iowa football team was stuck in a rut of mediocrity having not won more than six games since their last Big Ten Championship back in 1922. More concerning, they only won between five and six games 10 times in that 34-year span. There’s something to be said for changing a culture, and that’s why Ploen makes the top 10.

After college, he enjoyed a successful stint in the CFL and was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame and the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame.