Despite a history-breaking season and a perfect regular season, Iowa never got the respect on a national level this year. Everybody continued to fall back on the fact that their slate was void of Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan State. They went 12-0 and won the Big Ten West ouright but it was not enough to convince the rest of the country that they were a program that belonged amongst the elite even though they knew it all along.
The Big Ten East powers may not have been on the schedule but they did defeat Wisconsin in Madison which is no small task, they annihilated Northwestern 40-10 in Evanston a few weeks after the Wildcats beat Stanford, and they hadn't trailed in the fourth quarter all year leading up to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. Still, the pubilc was not ready to crown Iowa as a national title contender.
The Hawkeyes did not walk out of Indianapolis with a victory over Michigan State, falling 16-13 due to a final drive by the Spartans that sealed the game.
However, competing with Michigan State finally opened up everyone else's eyes. The committee was impressed enough to slot Iowa fifth in their final rankings which paved the way for the Hawkeyes to receive a bid to the Rose Bowl, their first trip to Pasadena since 1991. College Football Playoff Committee Chairman Jeff Long had this to say after the rankings were revealed.
"We felt like we learned more about Iowa's loss in the Big Ten Championship Game than we did at any other point on their schedule."
Not everyone in Iowa City would agree with that statement from Long.
"No (I don't agree," Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz said when asked about that statement during his press conference on Sunday afternoon. "I think this team's proven it week in and week out, going back to our first ball game. Going into the game last night I certainly didn't feel compelled to defend our team for anything. I don't know why we would have to. They have played well. I was talking to somebody last night, I'm not sure I've been around a team that is not only prepared each week, but then shown up and competed about as hard as you can compete 12 times. These guys have done it and then last night was the 13th time."
"So to me, last night I think it's fitting that the two teams played," Ferentz added. "To me I would argue that they're the two best teams in our conference and it came down to a matter of inches or a matter of minutes, however you want to look at it. Credit goes to them, they finished the game. It was really a tremendous battle by two very good football teams."
It's certainly a unique situation that Iowa has been giving more credit for the one game they lost rather than the twelve that they won. They wouldn't totally agree with how that has taken shape but the respect is certainly appreciated and deserved.
"Yeah, definitely (think we earned the respect)," Iowa center Austin Blythe shared. "It's a bit ironic to lose a game to get the respect we deserve. I think it's funny 12-0 doesn't get as much respect as losing to a real good team in the Big Ten Championship Game. There was 12 other opportunities to judge us on before that. We're happy they kept us at number five and gave us this opportunity in a very good bowl game against a real good team."
It may not be the way they desired, or the best case scenario, but Iowa will take the respect and hopes that it will push them forward in the bowl game and beyond.
"It's good," quarterback C.J. Beathard noted. "When you lose like you do, it's tough and it stings, but now we're getting respect from these people and it's nice. We appreciate that. It goes to show you that we're a real team. They've doubted us all year long. When it comes down to it we knew as a team and coaches knew we weren't a fraud. We're a good team and we know that we're a good team. We showed that last night. We didn't get the win but we were right there."
"I think we earned a lot of respect on the national level," captain Jordan Lomax pointed out. "It's a lot of respect we knew internally was there within our program. For us to earn it on a national level was huge. We left it all out there last night but unfortunately it wasn't hte outcome we wanted. We still played a great football team and it was a battle between two great champions."
"It means a lot," Lomax continued. "It means the program is headed in the right direction for future years to come. The guys on this team now know what it takes to earn that respect. Now that they have it, it's on this program to keep it."