Howe: Back Up Off the Ledge, Hawkeye Fans

If we've learned anything in the Kirk Ferentz Era it's that early season games aren't the best indicators of how campaign will unfold. Senior Writer Rob Howe believes Iowa's improbable 17-16 win against UNI should be relied upon as a predictor for what it's worth - not much.

Iowa City, Iowa - Whew. A sigh of relief fell over Hawkeye Nation on Saturday as Iowa escaped with a 17-16 victory over the University of Northern Iowain the season opener for both teams.

The bizarre finish that featured two blocked kicks in the final six seconds was appropriate for a game that surprised a lot of people. It created more questions than it gave answers and opened debate for how this Iowa season might unfold.

Some book makers installed the Hawkeyes as 24.5-point favorites in this one. UNI hobbled into Kinnick Stadium banged up and without a group of suspended players.

On the surface, it appears that Iowa might be a bit overrated when you consider the No. 22 team in the FBS squeaked out a one-point win against a FCS opponent, albeit a good one.

Iowa fans, don't hit the panic button.

Under Coach Kirk Ferentz, the Hawkeyes are not a team to be judged after the first few games, let alone the opener. In 2007, Iowa handled Northern Illinois fairly easily at Soldier Field in Chicago in its first game. It followed a hard-fought loss to Texas at the Alamo Bowl and the consensus was that things were good. The campaign ended with a home loss to Western Michigan and no bowl game.

Iowa suffered one of its most embarrassing losses of the Ferentz Era in 2004 at Arizona State. The Hawkeyes lost the following week at Michigan to fall to 2-2. They ended up winning the rest of their games, including a dramatic triumph against defending national champion LSU in the Capitol One Bowl.

Last season, Iowa stumbled out to a 5-4 start, including a homecoming loss to Northwestern. The Hawkeyes won their last four, which included a thumping of South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.

There were losses to Iowa State in 2002 and Michigan State in 2003. Both of those seasons ended in January.

Northern Illinois came into 2007 on a pretty good run. It appeared that Iowa's win at Soldier Field was a pretty good feather to stick in the cap. The Huskies turned out to be brutal that year. Then, there was the mauling of visiting Syracuse. It impressed. The Orange turned out to be very poor.

The positive crowd will say that UNI is salty or could compete into the upper half of the Big Ten. That's rubbish. Nobody knows that at this point. The Panthers might end up winning the FCS title. They might not make the playoffs. But they were good on Saturday. They played to their potential a lot more than did Iowa.

Ohio State struggled with Navy at home on Saturday. Illinois, a team many folks picked as a sleeper in the Big Ten, got blasted by Missouri. Neither one determined how they will finish.

Positives and negatives came out of Saturday's game for Iowa. Quarterback Rick Stanzi stunk in the first half. He looked dominant in the second. Iowa's running game struggled early, but settled in when it was needed. The offensive line often was porous. The defensive line disrupted UNI.

There is a long way to go, folks. Remember, at this time last year Stanzi wasn't the starting quarterback and Pat Angerer wasn't No. 1 at middle linebacker.

Iowa football, more often than not, gets better as the season advances under Ferentz. It's intriguing. It's like Forest Gump's box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get.

It's a work in progress. Replacing Shonn Greene, Mitch King, Matt Kroul, Bradley Fletcher, Rob Bruggeman and Seth Olsen doesn't happen overnight.

If you need something positive to take out of Saturday's nail-biter, realize that Iowa won a close game, something it struggled with for a lot of last season. Many teams could not come back from the confusion that allowed UNI a second chance to win the game on Saturday. Iowa is resilient. It's a celebratory moment that can be built upon.

It's fun to speculate and predict how this season will play out after a first look. But history tells us that the opener, and even a few games beyond it, doesn't dictate Iowa's fate. It likely won't this season, either.

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