This is not going to look like many of the game previews I have written over the years. Instead, I am going to take some time to underscore how special this football season has been, because I really want people to appreciate the amazing ride we have been witness to for the past 11 weeks.
I want people to store this season in their memory, because 30 years from now in coffee shops and café's across the great state of Iowa, people will still be talking about the year that Kirk Ferentz's embodied the spirit of the people of the state of Iowa; hard working, immeasurable character, close-knit people with a never say die attitude.
Before the year began, every Hawkeye fan knew that the month of November was going to be one tough cookie and likely provide one heck of a ride.
Many of us felt that this year would be one heck of a ride, period…A Tums-Special, a white-knuckle express, filled with closely contested games, predicated on defense and a ‘scratch it where it itches' offensive approach.
It has been true to form, and then some. In fact, I don't know that I can remember an Iowa team that has ‘scratched it where it itched' any more than this team, save perhaps the 1981 Hawkeye team. That club was not an offensive juggernaut, and it relied on stellar defense and solid special teams to carry the day.
23 years later, it has been the same blueprint, though this year's team has had to overcome some amazing odds to be where it is today, at 8-2 overall and 6-1 in the Big Ten prior to its last game of the year against 9th ranked Wisconsin.
This team has overcome more adversity than any Iowa team of my lifetime; I don't think that is hyperbole.
NOTE: To take a look 'Inside the Numbers' as we evaluate and examine the future of Iowa's offensive line, CLICK HERE. You might be surprised at our comparisons and conclusions
Iowa has won six straight league games, one of just three Hawkeye teams to accomplish that feat.
Three of Iowa's last four wins have been by two-points. Iowa has managed a total of 91 rushing yards in those three two-point wins, and two of those games were road games. Chew on that one for a second.
Those things don't happen in the Big Ten. They just don't happen. Yet, we have seen it happen with this year's Iowa team. I would almost guarantee that we won't see it happen again, ever, in this conference.
We probably won't see another Big Ten team lose as many running backs in the first half of a season than Iowa did this year.
I know, we have been talking about these things for weeks now. The reason I continue to bring these things up is to underscore the fact that we are witnessing one of the most amazing seasons in the history of this football program.
Gary Dolphin talked about Iowa's ‘improbable run to glory' back on November 16th, 2002, as the Hawkeyes had clinched the Big Ten championship.
As the Hawks enter their final game of this improbable success of a season, they have a chance to tie for the Big Ten title. At worst, they will finish alone in third place at 8-3 (6-2) and they could also finish alone in second place at 9-2 (7-1).
Only the most incurably optimistic among you could have possibly believed this team would be where it is right now, after the Arizona State football game.
Only the biggest dreamers in the Hawkeye Nation could have possibly believed this team would be where it is right now after Marques Simmons went down with a serious ankle injury in the first half of the Ohio State game, just the sixth game of the season, leaving Iowa with Sam Brownlee and Damien Sims to carry the running load.
In a season that seems straight out of Hollywood, I will quote Willy Wonka: "We are the music makers. We are the dreamer of dreams."
The Hawkeyes are the music makers, and you, the fans, are the dreamers of dreams.
Well, if the Hawkeyes can beat Wisconsin on Saturday and should Michigan fall at Ohio State, they will have indeed found their golden ticket, and it will be off to Willy's Chocolate Factory…which is Orlando's Disney World, off celluloid.
There have been several of images from this season that we will remember for a long, long time.
Chad Greenway's Superman-like dive to score a touchdown on an interception return against Kent State in the Throwback Game to start the season got it started off right.
The remnants of a hurricane that delayed the start of Iowa's game against Arizona State, in the desert, won't be forgotten.
Drew Tate's helmet being ripped off, and then Drew continuing to compete until the whistle might well be the play we will always think about when we remember Tate at Iowa. When you think of Chuck Long, you think of the naked bootleg against Michigan State. When you think of Chuck Hartlieb, you think of his pass to Marv Cook at the horseshoe. Right now, when I think of Tate, I think of that one play at Michigan.
I think it's somewhat fitting that the other two plays came in an Iowa win, while Tate's came in a loss. Why? Because Tate has improved in every single game since then, and that has been another one of his calling cards.
We will remember the thrashing that Iowa gave Ohio State, and we'll recall Sam Brownlee's 10-yard run on third and nine that helped eat some clock and got the crowd back into the game.
We will always remember the raw emotion displayed by Kirk Ferentz at the conclusion of the Penn State game just days after he had eulogized his father at his funeral. The shot of him sharing tears and hugs with his two younger sons still chokes me up, and I suspect it does that to you as well.
We will remember how Aaron Mickens was carted off the field in an ambulance at Illinois, and how the Hawkeyes did not buckle.
We will remember Tate's Houdini-like escapes against Purdue, as well as the two blocked chip-shot field goals in a game where Iowa wound up winning by two-points.
We will remember Minnesota's Rhys Lloyd missing the 51-yarder at Minnesota, and the fact that Iowa was outgained 337-6 on the ground that day, and still won the game.
We will remember the Hawkeyes forming a single line and slapping five's with their fans who ringed the lower level of Kinnick North.
There is one more story to be told in this regular season, and that takes place on Saturday against Wisconsin on the hallowed grounds of Kinnick Stadium.
When the final seconds tick off the clock, the ‘wheels of progress' will jump into action.
The Kinnick Stadium renovation project begins on Saturday night and it includes the demolition of the South endzone and tennis courts. Seriously, work begins on Saturday night and it will continue each and every day up to September 3rd of 2005, when Iowa hosts Northern Iowa.
That means that Kinnick Stadium, as many of us have come to know it, will never be quite the same as it will be this Saturday. No one knows if the new South end zone and the wider pavilion area that is to be in the southwest corner will have any impact on the noise level in the stadium.
I know that might sound like picking nits, but my point is this; Saturday is the last sure-fire chance to experience the amazing atmosphere many of you have enjoyed this season at Iowa home games.
I am sure Kinnick will be rockin' with the changes and renovations. A wider press box (that project will start in November of 2005 in time for the 2006 season) and the overhang that is proposed might make it even louder.
But things will be different in Kinnick Stadium after Saturday's game. To the fans that will be in attendance on Saturday, you have certainly been a part of Iowa's success story in recent years. That 17-game home win streak is something that belongs to you, as well as the players and coaches.
It's YOUR streak, too. You participate in the outcome of home football games.
If this game lives up to its billing, then I think you are about to be a part of perhaps the best game day environment in the history of the stadium. I am talking Iowa-Michigan 1985 electricity.
The Hawks are not going to leave anything on the table come Saturday; follow their lead and be as loud and into the game as you have ever been.
I fully expect that will be the case, as the home crowds this season have been the best they have ever been, according to a little straw poll I recently conducted.
Last week, I joked with my father, saying that my game preview this week would be very short.
It would say something like this:
I don't know how Iowa will win this game, as they should be significant underdogs in several categories. I don't know how they will pull it out. I don't know how they will spit in the face of adversity yet again, but I think they will. Until someone beats Iowa in Kinnick Stadium, I just don't believe it's going to happen.
This season began with the Throwback game and Iowa wearing uniforms that were like those worn by the famed 1939 Ironmen team. That team featured Nile Kinnick, Iowa's lone Heisman Trophy winner and one of the greatest people the state has ever produced.
His life was extinguished far too early, but his star continues to shine each and every home football Saturday in September, October and November on the stadium that bears his name. His likeness is also on the coin that is tossed before each and every Big Ten football game.
Notre Dame talks about ‘waking up the echoes' in their fight song…Iowa has done for the last three years.
Therefore, it will not surprise me to see Ohio State beat Michigan on Saturday. It will not surprise me to see the 2004 Iowa Hawkeyes beat Wisconsin for a share of the Big Ten title, even though on paper, it should surprise me.
Its just been one of those magical seasons on the corner of Melrose Avenue and Hawkins Drive, and the specter of #24 has been in the house.
Its been a year where we are no longer surprised when the Iowa Hawkeyes do things they should not be able to do and win games they should not be able to win.
IOWA 13 – WISCONSIN 10
If that happens, if Iowa wins the game, I will not be surprised…But I should be.
JON'S IN SEASON GAME BY GAME PREDICTIONS
Week One: Iowa 48, Kent State 10 (Iowa 39, Kent State 7, actual score)
Week Two: Iowa 24, Iowa State 6 (Iowa 17, Iowa State 10)
Week Three: Arizona State 23, Iowa 17 (ASU 44, Iowa 7)
Week Four: Michigan 26, Iowa 10 (Michigan 30, Iowa 17)
Week Five: Iowa 23, MSU 13 (Iowa 38, MSU 16)
Week Six: Iowa 23, Ohio State 19 (Iowa 33, OSU 7)
Week Seven: Penn State 17, Iowa 15 (Iowa 6, PSU 4)
Week Eight: Iowa 23, Illinois 9 (Iowa 23, Illinois 13)
Week Nine: Iowa 23, Purdue 17 (Iowa 23, Purdue 21)
Week Ten: Iowa 29, Minnesota 27 (Iowa 23, Minnesota 13)
Jon's Game Week predictions since the start of the 2001 season: 42-6 (87.50% accuracy) Losses: 2001: Iowa State & Michigan; 2002: USC; 2003: Michigan State & Ohio State, 2004: Penn State.
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Listen to Jon Miller & Jim Zabel, the legendary voice of the Iowa Hawkeyes, after the game on ‘Sound Off', exclusively on 1040, WHO. The show will begin approximately an hour after the game ends and we will break down the Saturday games as well as take your phone calls for three hours If you live in Des Moines, tune into WHO-TV 13 and watch ‘Sound Off' Sunday nights after the newscast for more Hawkeye insight from Jon Miller. Visit www.kgan.com for Jon's weekly, ‘State of the Hawkeye Nation' column. And stay right here at HawkeyeNation.com to read all you could possibly want to read regarding your Iowa Hawkeyes.
If you are in the Des Moines area, you can stop by Off Campus Apparel and Novelties next to the Merle Hay Mall and pick up a copy of Hawkeye Nation magazine. The November Issue also includes Scout.com's Annual Football & Basketball Recruiting Special, more than 100-pages worth. And if you are looking for the best place to watch a Hawkeye game in Des Moines, then stop by Pal Joey's on the SE corner of 63rd and Grand. In the KC Metro area, The Other Place just west of Metcalf on 80th Street is also another great spot to watch the Hawks play, and I will be there this Saturday with a few hundred copies of our latest magazine.