A look back on the Iowa Hawkeyes' only winless season

The Hawkeyes have had a few rough seasons in program history, but nothing compares to the only season in which they failed to win a game.
Minnesota v Iowa
Minnesota v Iowa / Matthew Holst/GettyImages

Since 1973, the Iowa Hawkeyes have finished the season with a losing record 14 times. Half of them happened in consecutive seasons following the worst season in program history.

The 1973 season saw the Hawkeyes finish with an 0-11 record. Let's just say that if you were disgusted by the Hawkeyes' lack of offense in 2023, imagine if the defense was just as bad.

The Hawkeyes were led by head coach Frank Lauterbur, who was entering his third season. He took over the Hawkeyes after turning Toledo into a MAC juggernaut that finished undefeated in 1969 and 1970. After a 1-10 season in year one with Iowa, a 3-7-1 record would point to steady improvement, but that proved far from reality.

Unfortunately for Iowa, they'd be forced to start the season hosting the No. 5 Michigan Wolverines. Looking to start the year with a bang, the Wolverines thumped Iowa 31-7. Things didn't get any easier as the Hawkeyes would then hit the road to face No. 18 UCLA and No. 6 Penn State.

UCLA scored a whopping 55 points against Iowa while the Hawkeyes only managed 18 of their own. Iowa didn't fair much better against Penn State as the Nittany Lions featured the next Heisman Trophy winner, John Cappelletti, losing 27-8.

Week 4 provided Iowa its best opportunity to grab some momentum as they returned home to face WAC program Arizona. The Wildcats edged out Iowa 23-20. It's the closest Iowa would come to victory for the remainder of the season.

The following weeks saw losses to Northwestern (15-31), Minnesota (23-31), Illinois (0-50), Purdue (23-48), and Wisconsin (7-35). In the 10th game of the season, Iowa would travel to Ohio State to play the No. 1 Buckeyes, where they lost 13-55.

Michigan State had a tumultuous season themselves at 4-6 heading into the final week of the season. Their offense was even statistically worse than Iowa's. Unfortunately, the Spartans' defense was considerably better, proving to be the difference in a 6-15 loss for the Hawkeyes.

The Hawkeyes struggled to do much of anything correctly all season long, finishing with an offense that scored just 12.7 points per game (113th in the country) while the defense let up 36.5 points per game (126th in the country). To put everything in full perspective, Iowa's offense averaged 247.8 yards per game; the defense allowed 350 yards per game on the ground alone.

The Hawkeyes deployed three quarterbacks throughout the season who combined for five touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. Butch Caldwell threw for the most yards (549) while adding another 312 on the ground and four touchdowns.

Only one receiver caught more than 15 passes: Brian Rollins. He had 408 yards and one score with 33 receptions.

Jim Jensen was the lead tailback with 509 yards and five scores.

Unsurprisingly, Lauterbur was fired after the season. Just 14 years after winning a national championship, the Hawkeyes were as low as they could possibly be.

After five more seasons of mediocrity under Bob Commings, Iowa hired Hayden Fry to coach the Hawkeyes. In his 20 years heading up the program, Iowa returned to relevancy and has been steady ever since. Naturally, Iowa has had the fewest head coaches since 1980 with Kirk Ferentz entering his 26th season in 2024.

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