Hawkeyes Back in National Picture

Two years after hitting rock bottom, the Iowa football team ascended back to the Top 10 of college football with a win against Georgia Tech in Tuesday's Orange Bowl. The dark has been replaced by light and the future looks bright.

MIAMI - Outsiders doubted them until the end. They never questioned themselves. That played a huge role on a glorious trip that culminated in victory here Tuesday night.

From blocking back-to-back field goals to clinch the season-opener to miracle comebacks throughout the season to continually being in an underdog role, the 2009 Hawkeyes finished up as one of the most resilient teams in the history of the program.

They capped it with a 24-14 victory against Georgia Tech here in the Orange Bowl Tuesday night. Their first BCS-level victory in 50 years wasn't flawless, but the result was once again beautiful.

Hawkeye fans might remember quarterback Rick Stanzi throwing his fourth pick-six Tuesday. They could recall a disappointing loss to Northwestern at home that represented the first setback in their first 10 games. Maybe they'll ask what might have been if there hadn't been an overtime loss at Ohio State.

That's fine. They all are a part of the ride.

The lasting memory should be how a program with very little margin for error showed that it could overcome mistakes and injuries with chemistry and belief.

The point spread climbed to six points Tuesday, up from the 4.5 favorite at which Georgia Tech opened and the 5 points where it stood in the morning. The bettors lost money again going against Iowa. They've no one to blame but themselves.

"We just line up and play," Senior Linebacker A.J. Edds said. "I think people are quick to throw us under the bus because we're not the most glamorous team. We don't do it with five-wide or a bunch of DBs out there. We don't have the new uniforms every week.

"We pride ourselves in lining up and playing fundamentally sound football. If that's means we're going to be the underdogs and we have to do it the old-school way in people's eyes, that's fine. A win is a win at the end of the day."

When Iowa was running out to a 9-0 record, it seemed like each week someone in the national media predicted its demise. The work "lucky" was thrown out there a lot and you still heard rumblings of that heading into Tuesday night.

Outside of handily beating Iowa State in Ames early in the season, Iowa's games were nail biters decided in the fourth quarter. Tuesday was no different.

Georgia Tech positioned itself to come back from an early 14-0 deficit in the final period, but the Hawkeyes made the plays. Edds picked off a pass. Trey Stross came up with a big first-down catch. Those guys haven't received a lot of ink this year, but both were invaluable.

"For us, this was a rout," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We were all breathing a sigh of relief.

"That's just been the nature of our team this year. We've played an awful lot of close ballgames. Again, I think it's a real credit to our players. They just stay the course out there on the field. They don't get too high, too low. No matter what happens, they keep playing, and I tell you, they're a mentally tough group, and that's what it takes to finish games."

It's amazing to think that this program walked off the Kinnick Stadium field at the end of 2007 a beaten and battered group with a future up in the air. Few people would have bought into the Hawkeyes winning a BCS bowl two years later.

Ferentz and his coaching staff have pulled off one of the toughest things to do in modern-day sports. They rebuilt, crashed and rebuilt again. You should give the Iowa administration some credit for sticking with the coach and his crew after off- and on-the-field issues cast the school in such a poor light in ‘07.

Ferentz deserves most of the credit, however. He fixed a problem with player entitlement in his program. He kept around an old, ailing defensive coordinator who critics felt had fallen behind the times in Norm Parker.

Parker's simplistic approach turned out to be just the right remedy for a Georgia Tech triple option attack that many felt was unstoppable. The Yellow Jackets came in second nationally in rushing yardage per game and only managed 143 against Iowa.

"I think I walked into Norm's office probably three and a half weeks ago," Ferentz said. "You know, it struck me. He was talking about the option and how they used to play it all the time in the 60s and 70s. A couple of years ago, everybody thought Norm was too old. Now, maybe it's good he had that wisdom."

Like last year, Iowa will lose some key seniors in Edds, Pat Angerer, Tony Moeaki and others. The Hawkeyes also return a lot of key players.

You got the feeling leaving here Tuesday night that the program looked a lot closer to the three Top 8 finishes it experienced from ‘02-03 than what happened a few years ago. The mentality to win at a place like Iowa where the population is small and success is steeped in hard work and not cutting corners had returned.

"We try to go out and compete as hard as we can," Ferentz said. "If we lost tonight, it wasn't going to be the end of the world. I would have been disappointed and our players would have been disappointed, too, but it wouldn't have been the end of the world.

"You take it a week at a time. If you do everything you can and play well, that's a good thing. We're thrilled to get the win. The big picture stuff? I don't get too hung up on that. We'll just take it as it comes."

That seems to be the right approach around here.


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