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Iowa, we're on to you

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  • Iowa, we're on to you

    Iowa, we're on to you
    Hawkeyes too good to hoodwink nation once again
    Posted: Wednesday August 3, 2005 10:26AM; Updated: Wednesday August 3, 2005 12:40PM

    CHICAGO -- For three straight seasons, the Iowa Hawkeyes have won at least 10 games and finished in the top 10 of the final polls, each time after the preseason pollsters declared, in a nutshell, "There's no way can they do it again."

    No more.

    Various preview magazines and Web sites (including this one), apparently tired of being duped, have definitively declared the 2005 Hawkeyes to be a preseason top 10 team, in many cases ranking them ahead of Big Ten stalwarts Ohio State and/or Michigan (against whom Iowa has gone 3-2 and shared two of the past three league titles). Hawkeyes receiver Ed Hinkel is a tad perplexed about the timing of such predictions. "If anything, we should probably be lower than we have been in the past," the fifth-year senior said Tuesday at Big Ten media days. "I don't think we're as far ahead now as we've been in the past."

    Nice try, Ed, but you're not going to be pulling another fast one on us this year. Four new starters on the defensive line, two of whom have to replace All-Americans Matt Roth and Jonathan Babineaux? No proven running back? Injuries and inexperience at safety? Boo hoo. After watching Iowa go 10-2 last season despite losing two of its first four games, including an embarrassing 44-7 blowout at Arizona State, and despite losing a staggering four running backs to season-ending injuries and finishing 116th (out of 117) in the country in rushing offense, it's clear by now that no hurdle is too great for a Kirk Ferentz-coached team to overcome.

    In fact, each of the past three years has followed virtually the same script in Iowa City. Following a breakthrough, 11-2 season in 2002, the Hawkeyes had to replace Heisman runner-up quarterback Brad Banks, All-America tight end Dallas Clark and four starters off a powerful offensive line. What did they do in 2003? Go conservative on offense, make big plays on defense and special teams and beat Florida in the Outback Bowl to complete a 10-3 season.

    Last year, same story. Seven new starters on offense, no more Robert Gallery pancaking helpless defensive linemen, no more Bob Sanders making big plays in the secondary. And that was before all the running back injuries. Yet after struggling early, Iowa managed to finish the season on an eight-game winning streak, as first-year QB Drew Tate capped an All-Big Ten season with a game-winning, 56-yard touchdown pass to beat LSU as time expired in the Capital One Bowl.

    "I really don't know how we did it," Hinkel said of last year's improbable season. "One of our mottos we have posted all over our [football] complex is 'Find A Way.' That's what we did. It wasn't pretty; we weren't really a stats team. The only stat that mattered was the score at the end of the game."

    Compared to this time a year ago, the Hawkeyes seem loaded. Tate, a junior who threw for 2,786 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, and who Purdue coach Joe Tiller recently labeled "the closest thing to Drew Brees since he left Purdue," marks the program's first returning starting quarterback in five years. Hinkel and Clinton Solomon, the Big Ten's top returnees in receptions, are back to join him, as are three starters from a much more experienced offensive line. And while the defensive line is green, All-America linebackers Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge are back for what seems like their 18th season, as are senior cornerbacks Jovon Johnson and Antwan Allen. Even the low-key Ferentz doesn't pretend his team won't be among the Big Ten's top contenders, though he knows, as his own team has proven recently, that nothing is certain.

    "Every season has its own personality," said the seventh-year head coach and former Hayden Fry assistant. "In 2002, internally we felt very good about that team, and the way it turned out was not a total shock. The last two years were a little different, and last year may have been one for the books. It will be an interesting race, and hopefully we'll be right in it ... but certainly, a lot of things can happen between now and September, or now and November."

    That Iowa is even being mentioned in the same breath now as perennial giants Ohio State and Michigan is a testament to Ferentz's acclaimed coaching abilities. Having inherited a program that had slipped from being a consistent bowl team for most of the 1980s and '90s to one that went 7-27 from 1998-2000, the Hawkeyes, at least until recently, have not been able to recruit elite players, yet Ferentz and his staff have been able to develop untapped gems like Gallery (a converted tight end who wound up winning the Outland Trophy) and Greenway (whose only other offer was to be a walk-on tight end at Nebraska) into NFL-caliber prospects and, in doing so, lessen the talent gap."Our bottom 20 to 30 [players] are not going to match up with [Ohio State's and Michigan's," said Ferentz. "We don't usually have freshman phenoms. Typically our guys get better in their last three years in the program, and typically our teams get better as the season goes on."

    Such was clearly the case last season, when the Hawkeyes were a virtual disaster in September. After eeking out a 17-10 win over then-struggling rival Iowa State, Iowa went to Tempe, Ariz., and fell behind 27-0 to the Sun Devils by halftime, getting outgained 511 yards to 100 on the night. Things began to turn the next week at Michigan, however, when Tate threw for 270 yards and kept his team in the game for three quarters. Within three weeks, Iowa had evolved into a team capable of routing Ohio State 33-7.

    "You saw just how good a coach [Ferentz] is by bringing us back from [the ASU debacle]. That could have completely ruined our season," said Greenway. "He has an uncanny ability to be the calmest person at the strangest times.

    "He has an insane detail for fundamentals. When you're 2-2, coming off two bad losses, that's when you go back to fundamentals, back to the kickoff drill you did the third day of fall camp. He keeps us focused on the little things it takes to win."

    Chances are, there will come a time again this season when Ferentz will have to go that route. With an inexperienced defensive line and a rigorous early-season schedule that includes trips to much-improved Iowa State, Ohio State and Purdue in the season's first four weeks, there will inevitably be a loss or two from which the Hawkeyes must recover, and inevitably, there will be many observers once again ready to count them out.

    "We've come a long ways [the past three years], but we still have some respect to earn," said Hinkel. "That's the way we like it. We like being the underdog."

    There you go again, Ed. We've already learned rule No. 1: Never count out the Hawkeyes, even after a slow start. And rule No. 2? They're never truly an underdog.

    Stewart Mandel covers college sports for

    But they havent caught onto Iowa. Iowa is its won breed. Hawkeyes will be national champions!!:bling:

  • #2
    Re: Iowa, we're on to you

    Iowa has a monster early schedule and will be tough this year, but I wouldn't be surprised if Iowa State knocks them off this year.


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      Lawrence, KS (U-WIRE) -- Iowa State was the surprise of the Big 12 Conference last year, taking advantage of a weak division to earn a piece of the Big 12 North crown.

      Last season, the Cyclones were picked to finish near the bottom of the conference. They hadn't captured a football trophy since 1912.

      This season, Iowa State coach Dan McCarney said he was hopeful the Cyclones would continue to improve and contend for the Big 12 Championship again.

      "We have rewritten the history books at Iowa State," McCarney said. "We have done things the school and program has never done in football, and yet we have lots and lots of room to improve. I am proud of what we have done."

      Iowa State finished the season winning five of its last six games, including a victory against Miami of Ohio in the Independence Bowl. The only game the Cyclones dropped during that stretch was a 17-14 match against the Missouri Tigers in the final regular season game of the year.

      A victory in that game would have given the Cyclones sole possession of the Big 12 North division, and would have sent them into the Big 12 Championship game against the Oklahoma Sooners.

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      McCarney said in order for the Cyclones to have another successful season, Meyer would have to continue to improve.

      "There is a tremendous upside to Bret Meyer," McCarney said. "It is just a matter of improving, doing the little things right, and picking up where he left off last year."

      Meyer will be joined in the backfield by junior running back Stevie Hicks. Hicks ran for more than 1,000 yards last season and will take the pressure off Meyer on offense.

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      Most Overrated – Glen Mason, Minnesota – Mason has done a nice job making Minnesota a perennial bowl team, but could we be giving him a little too much credit these days? The Gophers have long bulked up on weak out of conference opponents and have yet to get over the mediocrity hump the way Iowa has in recent years. In nine seasons under Mason, Minnesota is 29-7 in September and just 26-40 in October and November, when Texas State and Troy are no longer on the schedule. In some circles, Lloyd Carr is still living off Michigan’s 1997 National Championship. The Wolverines lose at least one game a year they shouldn’t and are too deep to drop three games a year like it’s a bodily function.

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      WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Just over two weeks ago, Purdue was undefeated and looked to be shifting the balance of power in the Big Ten.


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      The Boilermakers had Bowl Championship Series aspirations heading into their two-game homestand against the Badgers and Wolverines, but those hopes were dashed after two losses by a combined five points.

      Purdue (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) has slipped from No. 5 in the AP Top 25 to No. 17 and now is left looking for answers.

      "Things haven't really gone our way lately," running back Brandon Jones said. "We've made a couple key mistakes in key situations. We just have to look past that and bounce back as a team."

      The Boilermakers lost 16-14 on Saturday to streaking Michigan (7-1, 5-0). The Wolverines have won six in a row and every week look more like the most complete team in the Big Ten.

      Michigan kept pace with Wisconsin as the only teams with perfect conference records.

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      Tell Dennis your opinion!

      Something to do over beers as the season draws near: Put together a list of the top 10 football factories. You know, the schools that get their very identity from football excellence.

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    • DJRamFan
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      Tell Dennis your opinion!

      Rutgers coach Greg Schiano is happy to create the barstool argument.

      Was the Scarlet Knights' 19-14 victory over Michigan State on Saturday maybe the biggest upset of the season to date? Judge for yourself: Rutgers opened the season at home before a packed house coming off a five-win season. The heat, that used to be focused on Schiano and his players, instead took a lot out of the Spartans in steamy Piscataway.

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      For years, the reps of Rutgers and New Jersey were both a challenge for the tour and convention bureau. Without going into a lot detail, suffice to say there aren't many states featured in a cable series about a ruthless crime family.

      At least The Sopranos has been a hit. Rutgers had hit bottom with 11 straight sub.-500 seasons going into this season.

      "The state could really use something to get behind now," Schiano said.

      Rutgers football might be it. After three mostly down seasons, under Schiano (9-27 overall) the Scarlet Knights are hotter than the weather. Anyone who checked into their personnel and 5-7 finish in 2003 knew this might be coming, but c'mon, it was still Rutgers.

      In its 135-year history, the program has been to one bowl -- the 1978 Garden State Bowl, a postseason game that was created just for the school and no longer exists.

      Its own fans were booing the school that played in the first college football game in 1869. Saturday became a coming out of sorts with a sellout of 42,612 packing Rutgers Stadium to see if the hype was true.

      The game wasn't exactly artistic -- Rutgers did not score an offensive touchdown -- but it did lend hope. The victory was the program's first over a Big Ten team since 1991. Since then there have been 46 victories, 16 of them over Navy, Temple or I-AA schools. During the Schiano regime, Rutgers has lost to Buffalo and Villanova.

      So, go ahead Rutgers, celebrate.

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