If it feels like Iowa’s season has kind of come out of nowhere, that’s because it has.
The Hawkeyes lost four of their final games last year, including a 45-28 bowl loss to Tennessee, to finish 7-6. This year, however, No. 12 Iowa is 7-0, beat then-No. 19 Wisconsin in Madison and absolutely throttled then-No. 20 Northwestern in Evanston this past Saturday, winning 40-10.
Where is all this coming from?
“It’s interesting,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “It’s my 17th year and 26th overall. I was an assistant here for nine years too back in the ’80s. The reason I bring that in – really since 1981, Coach (Hayden) Frey did a great job of revitalizing this program. We went to the Rose Bowl in ’81. Really since that time, for the most part, we go into camp in August with the potential of having a good football team. Our margin for error is maybe a little thinner than some places, and for us to have a championship-level football team, things really have to fall right. We usually need a couple good stories, we need to stay injury-free, and our team really has to develop and improve during the course of the year. If you look at our championship teams, that’s what’s happened.
“So long story short, that’s really what’s going on right now,” Ferentz continued. “I thought we had the potential to have a good football team. You just never know how the leadership is going to develop, and we have broken one of the rules this year. We have had a lot of injuries to contend with, and fortunately we’ve had a lot of guys really step up and respond very favorably when opportunity came their way. So I think that’s really the reason we’re siting here right now with a good record, and hopefully we can continue.”
Ferentz spoke this offseason about getting back to basics: about running the football and stopping the run. He also instituted a new change: no practice on Thursday.
That’s quite a shift for an old-school guy like Ferentz.
“I’m old school in a lot of ways. No. 1, I’m old,” Ferentz said, laughing. “I’m 60 now so that puts me in a unique club. But I think if you’re doing your job, you’re always paying attention – or at least trying to. And the neat thing about football is there’s so many people involved. The power of teamwork is really critical. Whether it’s your football team, your staff and team working together. Part of the offseason, what you do is you really go back and try to reassess what you did, really study it, and (determine) what (you could) do better. Go out and research and talk to people, look around, just kind of keep your eyes and ears open. And then we did, I think, a really good job as a staff pulling together our thoughts and just coming up with some suggestions that might be workable for us. There’s always a million good ideas out there, but what fits for what you do and the people that you have – I think the staff did a great job of that. . . . So a lot’s going on. You’re continually evolving, you’re continually learning and with that comes change.”
The Hawkeyes should be favored in their five remaining Big Ten games, so the thought of running the table and having a chance at the College Football Playoff isn’t lost on Ferentz.
“Yeah, yeah I do (think about it),” Ferentz said. “And I actually encourage our players to take a couple days and think about that. We’re on them pretty hard about just staying focused, living in the moment. You can’t be successful in anything that’s competitive when you’re looking down the road. That’s when you get knocked right in the face. So the guys have done a good job of that for seven weeks. That’s something we really try to emphasize and it’s easier to talk about it than really do it, and our players have done a great job. But yeah, on Sunday I told them – we normally have a 24-hour rule – ‘You guys are off until Wednesday. Take some to enjoy it. appreciate what you’ve done.’ They’ve accomplished a lot in seven weeks. I think they should feel good about that and I want them to feel good about that. You don’t take much time to admire your work, but this is one little opportunity, a window where they can. I’ve encouraged them to dream and think big. That’s how things happen. But tomorrow we’ll start turning the screws again.”
Iowa, which has a bye this week, hosts Maryland (2-4) on Halloween at 3:30 p.m. ET.