Put Up Time for Hopeful Hawkeyes

Iowa has proven to be one of the better teams in the country in recent years, but the Hawkeyes still lack the respect shown to programs like Ohio State, Saturday's opponent. HN.com Senior Writer Rob Howe looks at where the Hawkeyes are headed and how a win against the Buckeyes could get them there in this premium opinion piece.

You know how they look at you, those high and mighty Ohio State fans. Yeah, they might be saying they're worried about playing your Hawkeyes this week, but really, they feel like they're better than you, Iowa fan.

We'd like to welcome you to life in the college football hierarchy. Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State rank higher than Iowa in the minds of fans on a national scale. Heck, Nebraska rooters consider themselves above the Hawkeye faithful even though their program has been much less successful that yours this decade.

When people put their TVs on for Saturday night's Hawkeye game at Kinnick on ABC, they'll be tuning in to see the No. 1-rated Buckeyes. It's the same reason Iowa fans watch Notre Dame, USC, Miami, Florida State, Oklahoma and Texas. They're among the game's elite, and you're hoping they get knocked off.

On the bright side, a lot of neutral fans from around the country will be pulling for the Hawkeyes. But wouldn't it be nice to be considered among the nation's Goliaths rather than its Davids?

"We're in the middle," Iowa Safety Marcus Paschal said when asked where his program ranks in the college football pecking order.

"We're climbing up the mountain right now. We're building the mountain. Hopefully one of these days during Coach Ferentz's tenure, they'll be right up there."

What will it take? Well, another couple of decades of what has happened the last four years would be a good start. In our what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society, the success would have to be pounded into heads repeatedly.

Miami of Florida serves as a good example of the above. The Hurricanes weren't exactly world beaters until the ‘80s, and they have sustained that success, for the most part, since then. Most fans likely would classify them as a top program, yet, they ranked behind schools like Georgia Tech and Minnesota in all-time wins. The service academies remind us that not all that was once golden remains that way in the college football world.

"We're still climbing up to the top," Iowa Safety Miguel Merrick said. "Those guys have great traditions. They've been doing it for so long. Until we can build a tradition like them and continue winning like they have always done. You can't consider us on that level until then."

Some folks might refute the idea of Iowa reaching the status among the nation's elite because of location. The state has the smallest population among those that hold a Big Ten school. But if you've ever been to Lincoln, Neb, you know that good things can happen in a smaller media market.

Nebraska has built a reputation with winning football and a cult like following among its fans. If you've been to a game at Kinnick or followed the Hawkeyes to a bowl game in Florida in recent years, you know a similar situation is present here.

Believe it or not, Iowa could be on its way to national stardom. The Hawkeyes rank as just one of four teams nationally to appear in four consecutive January bowls. They rank 10th nationally in winning percentage during the last five seasons.

Iowa is knocking at the door, and this Saturday's nationally televised showdown with top-ranked Ohio State could go a long way in the Hawkeyes really climbing that mountain. This would be the marquee win of marquee wins, but it also would allow them to take a huge step in winning a third conference title in five years and (gasp) still have a realistic shot at the big one.

If Iowa wants to be among the nation's elite, it has to make a run for a national championship. It's a great accomplishment to finish in the Top 8 for three straight years, but it's not going to get you enough of the spotlight.

This is a year where the Hawkeyes can make that run. There don't appear to be any dominant teams like USC and Texas of '05. A break here or a break there, and there are probably 10-15 teams that could take home that gaudy crystal football.

Iowa boasts some key components in a senior quarterback and strength on both lines. The Hawkeyes possess an excellent kicker in Kyle Schlicher and coaches that build their team to improve weekly and hit a crescendo at the end of the season.

Nothing will be easy for the Hawkeyes even if they get passed Ohio State. Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin all could pose serious problems, and the game at Michigan could end up being even bigger and have more hype than Saturday's game.

In talking to the Iowa players, I really believe that they would love to be considered among the top teams in the nation even though their head coach likes to play the underdog role. These guys believe they are as talented as anybody out there.

The test will be to keep proving year after year. And to make that happen, you have to beat the big boys when you get a shot. Saturday represents one of those times.

It could be a big step up the mountain or a slip back into the middle.

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