It was evident as the Iowa Hawkeyes football team walked off the Rose Bowl field in Pasadena, California. They were just beaten like a drum, 45-16. The defense had been stifling all year but they had no answer for Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey from the jump. The offense found a way to make things happen all year but not in Southern California. The running game thrived all year regardless of who carried the ball, but not against Stanford. One thing did remain the same, the fan support.
As the players left the field after being dominated on the field, they were still greeted by a loud ovation from the Hawkeye faithful that dominated the greater Los Angeles area for a large portion of the week. Though they were obviously disappointed by their lackluster performance, the players did take notice.
"We saw that," said linebacker Josey Jewell. "Looking back at the end of the game, and soaking everything in, we know that we have the best fans in the nation. It was great to see them stay even though we were getting our butts literally kicked. It's great to have that background of people staying behind you and that won't give up on you."
It's also a sign of the correct perspective that should be placed on this team. It was a disappointing end but it was a team that made Iowa football history and exceeded expectations. Not too long ago, many were hoping for eight wins at best. Losses against Pittsburgh, Nebraska, and Wisconsin seemed imminent. The Northwestern game appeared to be an unlikely win due to the lack of health going into the game. Everyone knew the trip to Bloomington would be particularly tricky.
The Hawkeyes defeated all odds and won all of them for the first 12-0 season in school history. Despite losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, they went toe to toe with the Spartans who advanced to the College Playoff National Semifinals.
Everyone wants to shoot even higher and achieve even more. The results could have been better, but they were also better than anyone anticipated, and better than anything in the past. The players are seemingly proud of all of their accomplishments.
"It's something every player dreams of having," linebacker Cole Fisher shared. "12-0 doesn't happen or come around every year. It's a disappointing way to finish the season but we didn't quit fighting the entire time."
"It's been amazing," explained senior fullback Macon Plewa. "I'm so blessed to get this opportunity from Coach Ferentz. I'm forever thankful to them. This coaching staff is a class act. To leave it on a 12-0 season and get to play in the Rose Bowl, it's an awesome experience. I'm happy that as a team we raised the bar of Iowa football even though we fell short the last two games. It hurts, but we talked all year about leaving the jersey in a better place. I hope that this senior class definitely did that. I hope the next one next year raises it even higher and that we continue to find success."
The preseason predictions all anticipated, at most, 8 or 9 wins for the Hawkeyes. They won 12. They re-claimed all four rivalry trophies. They won the Big Ten West. They played in their first Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. They played in their first Rose Bowl in 25 years.
Iowa football defeated the odds and exceeded expectations.