Howe: Iowa Slipping

Iowa ended another average regular season with a 20-7 loss in Lincoln on Friday. If it's not one thing, it's another for the Hawkeyes, HI Publisher Rob Howe writes.

LINCOLN, NE - Micah Hyde is a glass-half-full kind of guy. Even after losses, the Iowa cornerback doesn't outwardly show the disappointment inside of him. He looks forward to a brighter day.

It's an admirable approach until you run out of tomorrows. And that's where the Hawkeyes sit after a demoralizing, 20-7 loss here at Memorial Stadium on Friday.

Yes, there's a bowl game to be played. That could be in Texas against somebody like Tulsa or SMU.Pretty exciting, huh?

There will be Hawkeye fans excited for the postseason and a chance to get to a locale warmer than is Iowa City around the holidays. And, hey, at least it's not Indiana football.

If you're OK with mediocrity, this Hawkeye team is for you.And squads like this are becoming more the norm than the exception under Head Coach Kirk Ferentz.

"There's no doubt in my mind that we've gotten better since the first game," Hyde said. "The other teams got better, too, though. This is the Big Ten."

It's almost as if Iowa fans saw this one coming. After a summer filled with excitement surrounding this new rivalry with Nebraska, this game lacked much pregame hype. It had more to do with it being a holiday with people traveling and no chance for either to win the Legends Division.

The distance between Ferentz's glory days run of 2002-2004 fades more into the distance with each passing year. For the sixth time in seven years, Iowa will finish a season with at least four losses and five times during that stretch the total has hit five setbacks in a campaign.

Iowa's last Big Ten championship came in '04. The Hawkeyes competed for one title during that time frame, back in '09, when they had a shot and lost at Ohio State.

Iowa is not Indiana football. It pays its head coach very well and supplies him with facilities to compete in the Big Ten. Is that what has to be in place for the Hawkeyes to finish with seven or eight wins most seasons or should people expect more?

"Our focus today was to come in here and get our eighth win and that didn't happen," Ferentz said. "Now, we shoot for that in our next game and we can see what we can do about improving in the areas we didn't play well enough in today."

Will they? Can they?

Shaun Prater said it was a young team that didn't make enough plays to win. Mike Daniels said it was still the little things that hurt the team right through Friday's regular-season finale.

The problem the last two seasons is that there's always something. One phase is lacking. The developmental program is not developing enough.

Iowa had a great run in 2009 and the ball bounced its way time and time again. That's what the Hawkeyes have become - a team that plays so conservatively that it needs breaks.

"We didn't win the close ones," Ferentz said. "Typically when we've had success, we win the close ones."

Iowa's offense was anemic on Friday. The cosmetic touchdown in the closing minutes kept the Hawkeyes from being shut out for the first time in 11 years. The defense played OK, but Nebraska's Rex Burkhead (38-160) probably still would be running had the clock not expired.

The Huskers held a 37:47-22:13 advantage in time of possession. Like Ferentz said, his players played hard and tried. They just were outclassed.

Iowa lost to a better team. Iowa wasn't prepared. Iowa didn't execute. Iowa just needs to get better. Please. Enough.

And let's not talk about the Hawkeyes being bowl eligible for each of the last 11 years. More than seventy teams go to the postseason, not to mention that the Hawkeyes play seven home games, two of which are against cream puffs.

Iowa enjoyed a very favorable schedule this season.It failed to do much with it.

Ferentz won't admit that things are slipping with his program or that his teams are underachieving. He has to keep believing in his system. He's used it to accomplish a lot in his career.

However, things are becoming stagnant in Hawkeye Country. Being average can sometimes be worse than being bad. Ferentz and his staff ae testing that theory.

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