Big Year Ahead

As summer moves closer to fall, it won't be long before college football season is upon us. Not long after it, we'll tip off another basketball campaign. It sets up to be a pivotal year in both sports at the University of Iowa. HI Publisher Rob Howe examines it.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - As July 4 moves deeper into the rearview mirror, we inch closer to the college football season, which then leads to a winter of basketball. Unfolding before our eyes will be the things we've talked about since hoops closed down in March.

Opinions and views are either proven prophetic or false. Iowa rises from a gridiron failure to rescue Kirk Ferentz's legacy or continues to fall and tarnish how he will be remembered. The Hawkeyes continue their ascent on the hardwood with a return to the NCAA Tournament or it's a bust for Fran's Clan.

There really isn't a lot of gray area when you look at Iowa's big money sports. Not reaching a bowl game or the Big Dance would rock Hawkeye Nation. If both sports fell short, why we could have a fan mutiny on our hands.

You might believe that discussing Ferentz's legacy sitting in the balance is a gross overstatement. It's not in this day and age of big time athletics where everybody has an opinion and the ability to share them through social media, talk shows and other public avenues.

It's more wrong than right, but Ferentz isn't afforded the luxury of resting on his accomplishments like his predecessor. Hayden Fry resurrected a dead program and set a bar his pupil must reach on a regular basis to be deemed a success.

Ferentz has enjoyed one of the best runs of any Iowa coach in the more than 100 years of the program. His 100 wins rank second only to Fry and he's racked them up with class.

Yes, there are off-field issues through his 14 years at the helm but they're comparable to what comes with mentoring college kids no matter where you are in the country. Ferentz plays by the rules, graduates athletes and represents the university very well as its face to many people. Hopefully, he always receives credit for that in a world where it's far from a given.

The deep thinkers understand Ferentz's overall value to the school. Sports fans are proud of wins. That's what allows them to pump out their chests with the Tigerhawk on them while losses seem like a personal affront.

If Ferentz were paid $100 a game, fans would expect victories. That he makes almost $4 million a season demands success. Fans shell out a lot of cash to help foot that bill.

Ferentz performs at his best when skies seem their darkest. He's the architect of two Iowa rebuilding projects, when he arrived in 1999 and again overcoming a poor stretch in '06-07 to reach an Orange Bowl to close out the last decade.

As he appearoaches 60, this reclamation project likely will be Ferentz's last and the one followers most remember. Along with his legacy, he could be coaching for the right to help name his successor. Offensive line coach, Brian Ferentz, his son, could be a candidate, adding to the intrigue.

Once we have a handle on this fall's football fortunes, Fran McCaffery will tip off his fourth season in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Anything less than the school's first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2006 would be viewed as failure.

McCaffery inherited a train wreck from Todd Lickliter. He's been afforded time to rebuild. Now, his first recruiting class has entered its final season and his mulligans have evaporated.

Iowa steadily has improved in McCaffery's first three seasons. The Hawkeyes reached the NIT Title game in '12-13 and racked up 25 wins. The fans have become fond of saying Fran is the Man.

McCaffery's star is rising in part for what he's accomplished. Also tied to it are expectations of the next step and beyond. Stand still or fall back and it flames out.

Iowa's season also will help shape recruiting with McCaffery having at least three scholarships to hand out in each of the next three classes. The Hawkeyes' resurgence plays well with in-state prospects. The talent outside of the boarders needs to see more.

Iowa experiencing another down season in football or falling short of expectations for basketball won't signal an apocalypse. The programs will continue on the following year.

Perception is reality, however. With an increased number of activities competing for our time and attention, college sports teams benefit a great deal from positive momentum. Opposite results create empty seats resulting in lost revenue.

Iowa relied for years on being the only game in town. People showed up, win or lose, to cheer on their Hawkeyes.

Those days are gone. Basketball suffered through a recent attendance drop which played a role in falling behind in the facilities arms race.

In its proper context. it's a very important upcoming year for Iowa athletics. The time for talk is drawing to a close. Let the games begin.

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