I know a guy who has watched Iowa football games for a long time. Over the last half-century or so, he has observed the good, the bad and the ugly.
He's seen some very strong Hawkeye teams and some not-so-strong Hawkeye teams.
He has watched Iowa play in Rose Bowls, he has watched Iowa go 0-11.
The important thing is that, although the guy is a fan, he is a sensible fan. He can be a critic, and often is. He calls things the way he sees them. If there's something he doesn't think is so good, he says so.
He's not the kind of guy who, in November, summarizes a 1-10 season by saying, "Hey, our backup offensive tackles weren't bad and our recruiting class was decent.''
I don't get to Iowa City as often as I did in my earlier writing life, so I occasionally like to pick the brains of people closer to the scene to get an idea about what's going on over there. Knowing I'd get some answers that weren't sugar-coated, I asked the guy to tell me what he thinks of the 2002 Iowa team.
The Hawkeyes play their intrasquad spring game Saturday at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, and August two-a-days in preparation for a 12-game regular season will be here before you know it.
"I took in the scrimmage last Saturday morning,'' the guy said. "My take is that Kirk Ferentz will have a pretty decent team this year, with an excellent chance to get to another bowl game. "He is moving the program forward. Was I one of the guys who predicted three years ago that he wouldn't make it?''
Keep in mind that this guy isn't on the coaching staff, isn't in the ticket-selling business and isn't in the public relations office.
But, after reading what the guy said, the ticket office may want to add him to its list of employees real soon. Whether Iowa goes 12-0 or 0-12 won't have any bearing on whether the guy's coffee tastes good or bad in the morning—or if he has enough money to buy the coffee.
Obviously, Ferentz didn't start his stint as Iowa's coach as the second coming of Forest Evashevski or Hayden Fry. Ferentz's 1999 team went 1-10 and his 2000 team went 3-9. And, yes, the wolves were howling after that, wondering whatever happened to that contract Bob Stoops was never offered.
But Ferentz turned things around last season with a 7-5 record that included a 19-16 victory over Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl. Iowa lost for the fourth consecutive time to Iowa State, but that's a column for another day.
So the rags-to-riches story in 2001 is why there's some optimism this spring. That's why the ticket office early this week said there was a 250 percent increase in general public season ticket sales.
"Obviously, the success our football team experienced during last year's regular season, paired with the exciting victory at the Alamo Bowl, has energized our fans,'' ticket manager David Sandstrum said. "There is no doubt that our friends and fans are excited about the 2002 Hawkeyes and the upcoming season.''
Now back to the guy who was assessing the team for me.
"The thing I was impressed with in last week's scrimmage was the hitting,'' he said. "Kirk has kids who really like to hit. It looks like the defense will be good again.''
I wondered, as a lot of others are wondering, about the quarterback situation.
Fans won't have Kyle McCann to kick around, or boo, this season. I knew that Ferentz recruited Nathan Chandler out of junior college, and before spring practice began I assumed Chandler would be the likely starter—just as Seneca Wallace, another junior college transfer, immediately got the Iowa State quarterback job last season in the spring.
But that didn't happen at Iowa. Brad Banks, who was McCann's backup in 2001, is the starter. I'm trying to figure out if that's a good thing or a not-so-good thing. Banks played little in the final two games last season—against Iowa State and Texas Tech—and there were some interesting rumors circulating among fans (Iowa City is a great place for rumors, of course) concerning the reason.
One was that Banks had been wearing a wristband with plays written on it to help him remember. The story went that the coaches would signal in what number to look for on the wristband. But Banks took the field once without wearing the wristband, so when the coaches signaled in, he didn't know what to do and just started calling plays he couldn't remember.
Maybe there was no truth to that one. Whatever, Iowa fans are hoping Banks knows the plays now. "Banks looks like the No. 1 quarterback now,'' my source said, "but the juco kid is big and reasonably athletic with a good arm.''
So maybe Chandler isn't out of the hunt yet.
The guy added that Iowa "has a number of running backs and wideouts who are out with injuries (none serious) and that has been detrimental to the offense.''
Iowa's Football Budget in Fiscal 2000 Was Last in Big Ten
Maybe we're starting to learn why Iowa has had so much trouble winning consistently in recent seasons.
According to the St. Paul Pioneer-Press, Iowa's football budget for fiscal 2000 ranked last in the Big Ten.
Iowa's budget was $5.5 million. Ohio State led the conference with a $10.35 million budget.
The Big Ten rankings, with football budget figures in mllions for fiscal 2000: