It has been obvious that Kirk Ferentz is one of the better coaches in the Big Ten. His team went to a BCS game following the 2002 season and won a New Year's Day bowl in 2003.
However, not much was expected this year after the loss of a number of key players -- most notably QB Nathan Chandler and RB Fred Russell. Disaster seemed to be on the horizon when running backs started dropping like mosquitoes on a humid summer night. By the time Iowa got to the midpoint of the season, the sixth-string running back was in the lineup.
So, the Hawkeyes limped along to an eighth-place finish in the Big Ten, right? No way.
After losing their final non-conference game to Arizona State and their conference opener to Michigan, the Hawkeyes reeled off seven straight wins and ended up with a share of the Big Ten title.
QB Drew Tate emerged as one of the most effective and consistent quarterbacks in the country, and WRs Clinton Solomon and Ed Hinkel proved downright dangerous. Throw in a dominant defense and Ferentz knew he had something to work with. He was named the Big Ten coach of the year for the second time in three years. Ferentz joined Hayden Fry as the only Iowa coach to win the award twice.
Athletic director Bob Bowlsby moved to keep Ferentz in Iowa City for a while, as the coach signed a three-year contract extension on Nov. 23.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: With more than five weeks to get ready for the Capital One Bowl, the Hawkeyes have a chance to get somewhat healthier. No. 1 RB Jermelle Lewis is gone for the season, but backup Marques Simmons (ankle) should be healthy enough to play. If Iowa can put a competent running game on the field, that should make life much easier for QB Drew Tate. Even if the running game struggles, look for Tate to put on a show in the postseason. He has arm strength, poise and accuracy ... and is improving every week.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Hawkeyes have a complete defense, with strength on the line, at linebacker and in the secondary. DE Matt Roth and DT Jonathan Babineaux are a dynamic duo. Roth has eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss, while the ever-charging Babineaux has eight sacks and 20.5 TFL. Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge are one of the best LB duos in the country, while CB Antwan Allen has a team-high four interceptions and six passes defensed.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We sure as heck didn't do it with any one person. This year really illustrates the importance of teamwork. I am really honored and flattered, but this year more than any other I have been associated with, you have to give the credit to a lot of people here." -- Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, on being selected Big Ten coach of the Year.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
NEXT GAME: As Big Ten co-champs, the Hawkeyes have accepted an invitation to play in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day, perhaps against LSU. If the Hawkeyes meet the Tigers, the coaching matchup between Kirk Ferentz and Nick Saban will be mighty interesting.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Drew Tate -- It's been a fantastic year for Tate as he completed 213-of-343 passes for 2,499 yards with 18 TDs and 12 interceptions. Those numbers are good, but his leadership skills and his ability to come up with a big play at a key moment make him special. He was selected the Big Ten first-team quarterback, as chosen by the coaches.
LB's Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge -- These two received a ton of hype before the start of the season and then they went out and played like stars. They combined for 205 tackles, nine tackles for loss and nine passes defensed.
DT Jonathan Babineaux -- The Big Ten defensive player of the week after recording seven tackles, including two sacks, and a fumble return vs. Wisconsin
ROSTER REPORT: Offensive lineman Mike Elgin (ankle), linebacker Mike Humpal (knee) and running back Marques Simmons (ankle) are day-to-day. OL Pete McMahon will be sidelined three to four weeks with a foot injury, but Ferentz said he should be ready to go for the bowl. Marcus Paschal's CT scan on his knee was negative, and Ferentz seemed very optimistic about him being available for the bowl game.
Running backs Jermelle Lewis (knee), Albert Young (knee) and Marcus Schnoor (knee), fullback Champ Davis (knee), wide receiver Calvin Davis (knee), tight end Mike Follett (back), offensive lineman David Walker (arm) and defensive back Jonathan Zanders (collarbone) will miss the bowl.
BOWL CHARTER: If you are thinking about heading to Iowa's bowl game in Orlando, then HawkeyeNation.com has you covered. Join us on our third annual bowl charter flight. We are taking reservations right now! One plane has already been sold, and a second plane is filling rapidly, so do not delay and join our incredibly popular trip. For more information, CLICK HERE