1939: ‘The Ironmen'. In Iowa City, that says a mouthful. This team featured Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick. Jim Zabel has said that Kinnick wasn't the fastest player you would ever see, but he was a great runner, thrower and kicker. This team went 6-1-1 with a loss to Michigan but a win against Notre Dame.
1956: Quarterback Kenny Ploen led this team, and Zabel calls him one of the best all around athletes to ever play for Iowa. Ploen would later be named to the all century Iowa football team as a defensive back. This team would finish with a record of 9-1, beating Notre Dame 48-8 and losing to Michigan by just three points. They finished #3 in the final Associated Press Poll after winning the Rose Bowl, Iowa's first ever bowl game.
1958: Randy Duncan was the quarterback, and Iowa went 7-1-1 that season. It tied an Air Force team that it did not give as much credit to, it lost to Ohio State but it also beat powers Michigan and Minnesota and eventually won the Rose Bowl. Willie Fleming and Bob Jeter were a dangerous combination in the backfield, and the defense was superb. They won the Rose Bowl and finished #2 in the final AP Poll.
1960: This was Forest Evachevski's last team at Iowa, and one of his best defensive units. This team also averaged 253.8 rushing yards per game and finished with a record of 8-1. It's lone loss was to Minnesota, which won the national title that year. When the two teams met in the seventh game of the season, they were ranked 1-2 in the nation. Iowa finished #3 in the final AP Poll.
1981: Though this team finished with a record of just 8-4, it was a significant team. It had a dominating defense, allowing opponents fewer than 12 points per game. It's offense was nothing to write home about, but this team beat highly rated UCLA, Nebraska and Michigan, all three of those programs being powerhouses of their day. It was Iowa's first winning season since 1962 and they won the Big Ten title and played in the Rose Bowl; it was just the third bowl game in school history at the time.
1985: Some will argue that this is the best Iowa team ever. It scored nearly 37 points per game and allowed fewer than 15 points per game. The offense was tremendous, with one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the college game, Chuck Long, at the helm. Larry Station, arguably the best linebacker in school history, was patrolling the box. This team also had Rob Houghtlin, one of the best kickers in school history. Iowa was rated #1 in the nation for several weeks, and beat #2 Michigan on a last second field goal in what was billed as one of the biggest games of the century when it was played. Iowa later lost to Ohio State, but made it back to the Rose Bowl This team finished 10th in the final AP Poll.
1991: Some may argue with this team being included on this list, but it finished 10-1-1, with its lone loss coming to Michigan, a team that ran the table in the Big Ten that year. This team also beat Ohio State at the Horseshoe 16-9, the week of the Gang Lu murders in Iowa City. Leroy Smith led the nation with 18 sacks that season, but suffered a broken bone in his leg early in the Holiday Bowl against BYU. That game ended in a 13-13 tie, and Smith certainly would have made a difference. That team finished 10th in the final AP poll.
2002: This is another team that can make a case for being the all time best. This team was lightly regarded to start the year, coming into the season unranked. It wound up running the table in the Big Ten, the first undefeated league season for Iowa since the conference played at least eight league games, and finished the year ranked #8 in the nation. It had the most productive offense in school history, the best offensive line in school history, the best tight end in school history and arguably the best kicker and strong safety in school history.
Other Iowa teams of note: 2003, 2004, 1987, 1990, 1921, 1922.
So who is the best? Jim Zabel believes the 1958 team was the best Iowa team he ever saw.
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