To underscore the significance of the effort and character we just witnessed during the 2004 Iowa football season, I have chosen to dedicate this space to a sort of question and answer session.
QUESTION: How in the heck did Iowa just win a Big Ten title by having the nation's worst rated rushing offense?
ANSWER: That's right, Iowa did finish 117 out of 117 among division one schools in running the football. Or at least, that is where they are ranked right now. Other schools still have some games to play, but the Hawks are safely ‘in the clubhouse' at 117. So are the three teams nearest them in slots 113-116. Rutgers has a chance to ‘unseat' Iowa for #117, but with a final game against Connecticut, it looks like the Hawks will wear this badge of honor.
And I love it…well, at least I love it now that the season is over and Iowa is 9-2 and Big Ten Champs.
We all know the injury situation that affected Iowa at the tailback position this year. With a healthy…wait a second; why bother? This year, given the adversity, Iowa is what it is.
Jon, answer the question? How did Iowa win the Big Ten title by ranking last in D-1A in rushing? That has probably never happened in Big Ten history?
OK, take it easy. You might be right in that no team has ever won a Big Ten title by finishing last in D-1A in rushing. Ohio State's last two teams, including their national title team, were not great in total offense. Iowa ranked in the 90's in that category last year, come to think of it.
The answer is simple, yet a bit complex.
First and foremost, Iowa had a defense that was as good as the running game was poor. The Hawks are ranked 5th nationally in stopping the run and 9th nationally in total defense. Yes Virginia, defense does win championships. (Virginia as in 42nd street, not Cavaliers, as the Cavs are ranked 12th in total defense nationally.)
FYI: The Greatest Defense Known to Mankind, aka the Wisconsin Badgers (allegedly), are 8th. Erasmus THIS.
QUESTION: Jon, what was the most impressive thing about this season?
ANSWER: Wow, that is a tough one. The aforementioned defense has to rank right up there, but without Drew Tate, this team would have been lucky to go to a bowl, much less their third straight New Year's Day bowl game in the state of Florida.
I know, it sure seems like I worship at the Altar of ‘Teflon' Tate each week. But this kid had a remarkable season. If he throws two touchdown passes in Iowa's bowl game, he will join Chuck Long and Brad Banks as the only Iowa quarterbacks to do that in a single season.
Long turned that trick twice, in his junior and senior years, his fourth and fifth on campus. Banks did it as a senior; Tate is a true sophomore. This is Tate's second year on campus. In Long's second year on campus, he threw 11 TD's and 11 INT's.
But here is what separates Tate's accomplishments from Long and Banks: In 1984 & 1985, Long's junior and senior years where he threw for more than 20 touchdowns passes, Iowa averaged 161.9 and 158.0 rushing yards per game. In 2002, Banks 26 TD pass season, Iowa averaged 214.2 rushing yards per game.
Through this regular season, Iowa has averaged 74.91 rushing yards per game. Their leading rusher is Sam Brownlee with 214. FOR THE SEASON.
THE POINT: In Big Ten play, every team on Iowa's schedule knew that the Hawkeyes had to throw the ball to win. An old defensive adage is to make a team one-dimensional; Iowa was one-dimensional when it got off the bus.
With all due respect to Long, Chuck Hartlieb and Brad Banks, we may have just witnessed one of the most amazing seasons an Iowa quarterback has ever had, given what he had in the running game and therefore what opponents did to prepare for Iowa.
Iowa's ability to change their offensive paradigm on the fly was also very impressive. If Kirk Ferentz wins Big Ten Coach of the Year, which he should unanimously, Kirk would gladly cut that trophy into pieces and give a chunk to each one of his assistants. They did a remarkable job.
FOLLOW UP QUESTION: Jon, those responses are all fine and good, but they seem a bit obvious. How about peeling a few more layers off of the onion for us? Throw a Hawk a bone, here.
ANSWER: Well, since you mention it, and I am glad that you did…
Kyle Schlicher was huge. Before the season began, I felt that the offensive line, the quarterback and the kicking game were three huge questions.
Kyle Schlicher is no Nate Kaeding…and by the time he is done at Iowa, Nate Kaeding might not be Kyle Schlicher.
Kaedo played as a true frosh, so it's unfair to compare his first year kicking numbers with Schlicher's. But their sophomore numbers match up well; Kaeding missed four kicks all year and Schlicher has missed five. Schlicher was tops in the Big Ten in field goal percentage…not the C-Bus City Madman, Mike Nugent. To date, Schlicher's 20 field goals made is 6th best in D-1AA. Schlicher has had two separate streaks this season where he connected on eight straight kicks, including his current streak of eight and counting. He made a school best five field goals against Minnesota; Kaeding never did that.
It's very likely that the two best field goal kickers in Iowa history might be playing back to back. If Kyle can get a couple of game winners under his belt, he has set a pace to where he will be no worse than the second best kicker in Iowa football history.
The Hawkeyes were able to get penalties under control, and their kickoff coverage unit wound up being tops in the Big Ten; both of those areas were less than stellar to start the year.
Also, Iowa is 7th in the nation in turnover margin. I probably should have mentioned this much earlier, but this statistic was huge. Over the course of its last four or five games, the Hawks were forcing turnovers at a pace that was mind-boggling.
Next year, Phil Steele will tout Iowa in his ‘turnovers equals turnarounds' segment of his magazine. He will then say that Iowa will be a team that is likely set up for a drop off in the W-L department. One out of two ain't bad, I guess.
QUESTION: Who will Iowa play in the Capital One Bowl?
ANSWER: The Cap One folks would like either Auburn or LSU. If Cal takes care of business against Southern Mississippi this week on the road, they are likely going to finish in the Top Four of the BCS standings. Utah is likely a Top six finisher. Both of those marks would guarantee the two BCS at large bids to those teams.
If Auburn should lose the SEC title game, they would then be shut out of the BCS mix, and the Cap One folks will take the Tigers.
If Auburn wins, and if LSU beats Arkansas on the road this week, the Hawks will likely be matched up against a different set of Tigers; The Bayou Bengals.
That would be an interesting match up, as both Kirk Ferentz and Nick Saban were assistant coaches to Bill Belichik at one point.
QUESTION: What was your favorite moment in your role as co-host of Soundoff this year?
Wow, I was not expecting that question, but it would have to be the time that Tommy from Des Moines called in and said ‘Duh' a couple of times to some point that I had made. Tommy can keep you grounded.
The funniest thing I heard on ‘Soundoff' this year was during a break, when the host of the show, the legendary Jim Zabel told me that Tommy once called in to the program and said ‘Jim, this is Tommy. You might not recognize my voice, as I have a cold.'
QUESTION: If I want to go to the Capital One Bowl and cheer on the Hawkeyes in person, what is the best way to get there?
ANSWER: Thanks for asking that question.
The answer is to check out Hawkeye Nation's Third Annual Bowl Charter, linked here. We will have at least one plane, maybe two, departing from Des Moines. We will also have a flight available out of Cedar Rapids, and we will have more information on that on Tuesday.
We at Hawkeye Nation feel that it is not only important to travel on our chartered flights, we look forward to it. We enjoy meeting so many new people and traveling amongst the best fans in the world. Be sure to compare and contrast all available bowl packages that are out there, and ask those types of questions before making your final decision.
Any more questions?