Howe: Play for 2013

Iowa's 42-17 loss at Michigan on Saturday ended hopes of a bowl game this season. Now, it's time to work on 2013.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - Kirk Ferentz believes in the now. Win or lose, he asks his Iowa players to move on to the next opponent within 24 hours of their previous game.

The Iowa coach can let go of that approach this week. For the first time since 2000, the Hawkeyes head into the season finale with no hope of reaching the postseason. It's time to look to the future.

The prognosis for next season and beyond is worrisome after Saturday's 42-17 beat-down at Michigan. It'd be nice to win a trophy when Nebraska comes to town next weekend, but it's really not that important in the big picture.

Ferentz would be better served to see what he has coming back in 2013. Play the young guys against the Huskers.

"We always talk that we're building for that next championship," Quarterback James Vandenberg said on Saturday's post-game radio show. "Obviously, at this point in the year, it hasn't gone exactly how we thought, but we're building for that next one. We're trying to get a lot of the young guys a lot of experience."

Ferentz has done that to a point with Nico Law and Drew Ott. He hasn't done enough of it, including Saturday when he played starters into the fourth quarter of a blowout.

Vandenberg has taken every quarterback rep this season for a 4-7 team. He's been a credit to himself, his family and the program, on and off of the field. His time has come and gone.

While sending Vandenberg and the other seniors out on a high note in their final game at Kinnick would be nice, a win isn't going to create enough momentum going into the offseason. The group that's been out there is riding a five-game losing streak into the contest, anyway. Victory seems unlikely.

During Iowa's skid, its allowed 31.8 points per game and scored 18.6. That included close losses to conference doormats Indiana and Purdue.

You can pin Iowa's struggles on a lack of effort at times this season, but that wasn't the case on Saturday. The Wolverines were the superior team with a large advantage in individual talent.

Ferentz has had teams underachieve in his 14 seasons as head coach. The '05 and '10 teams were better than their final records. Outside of a loss to Central Michigan, the Hawkeyes have lost their other six contests to teams that out coached them and players who brought as much or more ability.

Iowa's early October win at Michigan State has lost some luster. The Spartans fell at home to Northwestern on Saturday to go winless in East Lansing this season.

The Hawkeyes other Big Ten win occurred in their opener against Minnesota. The Gophers got pounded at Nebraska on Saturday to match Iowa and Michigan State with 2-5 league marks.

"My first thought is we have a lot of work to do between now and Friday," Ferentz said during his radio interview at Michigan. "We'll start that (Sunday). It will be a busy week; a lot to correct, a lot of things we're going to have to do better."

That sounds a lot like a guy in denial but we can hope he comes to his senses. By all means, show gratitude by starting the seniors who have earned it. If they care about the program, they'll understand that after that it's time to step aside and let the young guys give it a go.

Some folks might say that Iowa owes it to the Big Ten to play its seniors as Nebraska still is competing with Michigan for the Legends Division title. Sorry, in this situation, the Hawkeyes need only look out for themselves.

"It's all about competing," Ferentz continued in his radio interview. "Every time you have a game scheduled, you want to go out and play the best you can…We're playing another team that's extremely talented and every bit as dangerous. We're going to have to make some corrections, make some adjustments and hopefully play sounder so we give ourselves a chance."

A win here just isn't that important. And that's not to say it's time to sit every starter. Play the underclassmen with the backups competing for jobs alongside them next season. Maybe you get a sense about who really wants those spots.

Of course, perhaps coach speak came out of Ferentz on Saturday. Maybe he's already decided that it's time to start working on next season this week with no bowl preparation on which to lean. It would be one of the better decisions he's made this fall.

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