The Iowa Hawkeye football program is 9-0 this year, and currently holder of the second longest current winning streak in college football. Second only to the ever-popular Florida Gators. Slowly but surely, the Hawks have crept from obscurity to the #4 spot in the BCS rankings. The fan polls from last week, courtesy of ESPN, had them ranked 2nd. All the sportswriter polls had them ranked much lower. Sports commentators constantly speak of the luck Iowa is having in their victories. Other teams, engineering comeback drives, are being credit for their tenacity and persistence in a "strong showing" of why they are winners. Sure, Iowa has had to put together a lot of come from behind wins late in the game, more often than not this season.
Some critics have a few reasons for Iowa not getting the respect they deserve. Some say Iowa hasn't had a strong schedule. To that I say consider this: The Big Ten has more teams in the Top 25 BCS rankings than either the SEC or the Big 12, and as many as the Pac-10 conferences. The Big Ten is, and always has been, one of the most competitive conferences in division 1 football. Take the likes of Ohio State and Michigan, who despite any adveristy, are always tough teams to play for any opponent, and always stand a chance to take the BCS rankings by storm on any given year. Penn State, led by the coaching legend Joe Paterno, have joined them as Big-10 representatives for the BCS. Ranked #3 in the country earlier this year, they found themselves trampled by an explosive Iowa team.
Nonetheless, those "sports gods" we call professional commentators, no matter the network they represent, still play the popularity game. The SEC (think Florida, LSU and Alabama), the PAC-10 (USC and Oregon), the Big East (West Virginia and Cincinnati), the ACC (Miami and Virginia Tech), and the Big-12 (Texas and Oklahoma) always get automatic hype and all the love in the world for being the premier conferences with the best teams week in and week out. Not to take away from these teams and their records, many years, even with losses, they wil outrank other teams with perfect records. Take for instance, Boise State and Utah. The last few years they have put together phenomenal records. Even in their perfect seasons they were snubbed by BCS officials when it came time to talk Championship Games. All because they weren't affiliated with one of the "big 6" premier conferences. And in their sub-Bowl games, they embarassed their opponents from these supposed good conferences.
Back to Iowa. In the past they held the wrap from critics of not being a second half or 4th quarter team, and blowing leads they built in the first half to lose the game in the end. It seems Coach Ferentz gave them the pep talk to correct this. Only problem is, while playing great 2nd halfs, they forgot to include the first half as well. Once they solve this problem and decide to play quality football all 4 quarters, they will be one of THE teams in the nation to beat.
However, the media still has to overcome their preconceived notions. When it comes to Iowa, it is always described as more of a Cinderella season, the exception as opposed to the rule. Nothing short of a couple consecutive BCS championship game appearances, and/or victories will change this in their eyes. Many commentators as I mentioned call Iowa "lucky" with their comeback victories. Others say they aren't showing much for style. In the end, while I love a flashy game with lots of highlights, the mark in the WIN category is all that matters. It doesn't matter if the victory is by 1 point or 100, a win is a win. Iowa and their coach understand this. That being said, I think Coach Ferentz and the Hawkeyes, have specifically engineered a response. It may be subtle, and only certain sports fans with a greater understanding of the game of footbal itself can spot it.
Take these 3 instances:
Against Division II opponents Northern Iowa: UNI has to kick just one field goal to win the game over the Hawkeyes. The Hawks block the field goal attempt, but commit a penalty giving UNI one more chance. The Hawks dial it up and block a SECOND attempt. 2 Blocked field goals in a row to secure a victory???? If that isn't a stylish defense
In Iowa's 28 point 4th quarter against the Indiana Hoosiers, after throwing 5 interceptions (4 of them in the 3rd quarter alone), QB Ricky Stanzi throws back to back TD passes, one for 92 yards the following for 66 yds. Two plays (including one of these touchdown throws- #10, the other an 86 yd pinballed interception return for a touchdown- #1) made it into ESPN's Top Ten plays from Saturday. There's some style for you.
The week before, Stanzi throws a winning touchdown pass as time expires to beat Michigan State. any game that comes down to the last play is a good game, and being a necessary touchdown instead of a field goal, is only more exciting and a display of those "Style" points everyone wants shown.
Calling Iowa's playing style "ugly" may be partially true. But I think Ferentz is cooking up his own conspiracy to counter that of the media's. Screw around for 30-45 minutes, maybe score a a few points, but play half speed, rest up for the second half. Fumble the ball or throw an interception deep in your own territory. Then, show the other team your defense owns them anytime and anywhere. Let them have their field goals. We'll answer with a show of what touchdowns from a lot further away are all about. Wait awhile, then show the media, it isn't about ugly play, but giving the team some hopes and dreams of winning, and then using some style and flare to crush those dreams without mercy at the end. Iowa's opponents go from pure excitement to EPIC FAILURE!
And to answer the charge that the SEC is the conference. The last 4 bowl games Iowa played against an SEC team, Iowa won 3 of them. The hawks are guaranteed a bowl game this year. Just which one it is, is still up for debate. Ferentz isn't looking into his Bag o' Lucky, but his Bag o' Style this year, in hopes that sooner or later those yahoos from ESPN and everywhere else will realize that Iowa is for real. And in a national championship game, if not the victor, Iowa isnt a team that would lay down for any of these "powerhouses" they might face.