It's long been said that the University of Iowa football team captures the attention of the state the way no other sport does. The lack of a professional team catapults the Hawkeyes to the top of the charts.
It cuts both ways. When there's off-of-the-field trouble or unfulfilled expectations on it, the microscope can burn. When the Hawkeyes are flying high as they have this season, the pats on the back can cause one to lose his head.
"That's a downside. It's easy to find us now," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "But, we just have to be proactive and try to keep everybody filtered a little bit and just be smart about what we do, don't do, that type of thing.
"If we continue to win, I can tell from you experience, it creates more chaos. We went through that in 2002, so that's the downside of winning, but if that's the downside we'll hopefully have to deal with it, we'll see."
Iowa put together a game-winning touchdown drive in the final 97 seconds on Saturday to escape East Lansing with a 15-13 victory against Michigan State. The Hawkeyes have kept fans on the edge of their seats throughout their 8-0 start. And they're the talk of the town…and state.
"A lot of people don't know what's actually going on, on the inside, have the right perception," Iowa Tackle Bryan Bulaga said. "So, you kind of just have to take it with a grain of salt - "Yeah. Thanks. Appreciate it." You move on and know that, hey, I've actually got to go back to work this week. You guys can watch it and say what you want, but we actually have to go back to work and prepare for this next opponent who wants to come in here and win a ballgame. You just kind of take it and move on."
Iowa is 8-0 for the first time in program history. The Hawkeyes are riding a 12-game winning streak, the second longest in the nation behind Florida. They're ranked fourth in the BCS standings (the highest they've ever been) in back of the Gators, Alabama and Texas – college football royalty.
National pundits criticize the Hawkeyes, for the most part, saying they don't belong in the national championship discussion. Jesse Palmer from ESPN is one of the most outspoken detractors.
"A lot of those guys don't really know what they're talking about," Iowa Linebacker Pat Angerer said. "You know what you get when you're fourth in the BCS? You don't get anything. It doesn't matter. It's doesn't mean anything. You get nothing."
One of the dynamics that makes college football unique is that the players are part of a school community. They attend classes with their fans, who also are their peers. The compliments flow freely when you win your first eight games.
"It's nice to get a pat on the back here and there," Defensive End Broderick Binns said. "But I feel like for us to stay humble, we've got to kind of tune it out and know that we haven't had an easy game this whole year. We probably won't have one for the rest of this year. So, we've just got to stay humble."
The critics pound on Iowa for often needing late-game heroics to triumph. The Hawkeyes blocked two field goals in the final seconds to beat FCS member Northern Iowa, 17-16. They edged a heavy underdog in Arkansas State, 24-21. Both of those games were played at home.
"I watched the BCS Show on Sunday night," Bulaga said. "I watched it for about 15 minutes and that was about it. That's all I could really take of it. It is what it is.
"Every one is a critic. Everyone has got something to say. It's just blocking that out. There's still a lot of football to go and those standings really don't mean much. Any of those teams could lose, from one to 25.
"You can't really pay that much attention to that stuff right now. It's just focusing on one game at a time. Every game is important. Indiana is coming in here. They're a good opponent. They've shown that they can score points and they can play defense."
It seems that the common practice among most Hawkeye players is to avoid the media attention, good or bad.
"I try to," Binns said. "I really don't watch TV just because I'm studying and whatnot. When I am watching TV it's usually cartoons or sitcoms. I'm not watching ESPN just because we're ranked high and the analysts are talking about us. I just try to tune that stuff out."