An eye on the Hawkeyes

Iowa City Press-Citizen columnist Pat Harty answers a few questions about the Hawkeyes. See what he had to say about the mood in Iowa City in the midst of this nutty season, whether or not the lack of respect is irksome and what is on Kirk Ferentz mind these days.

The email exchange that dealt with national title aspirations was supposed to be last week, when preseason No. 8 Penn State came to Evanston. Instead, it's this week, as Northwestern travels to preseason No. 21 to take on Iowa – which, by the way, is responsible for Penn State not having a feasible shot at the title.

This Hawkeyes' season gets a little – or a lot – weirder every week. It doesn't seem long ago that Northern Iowa took the field for the potentially game-winning drive in Iowa City, and a moment later attempted the game-winning field goal. (And a moment after that, another game-winning field goal.) It's pretty incredible to think how different UI's season would have been had either of those kicks gone in. In hindsight, though, of course they didn't go in. This is, after all, the undefeated (and heart-stopping) 2009 Iowa Hawkeyes.

Even though they are a Big Ten rival, and even though Northwestern's season has been a bit of a letdown, the Hawkeyes' '09 campaign has been downright charming. They're not a perennial bully, they're not showboat-y, plus they keep winning in the most outlandish of styles.

To delve a little deeper into this insane season that Iowa is having, Purple Reign is excited to bring in Pat Harty, an Iowa football columnist for the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

Thanks, Pat, for joining us. These must be heady times in Iowa City, and the time is much appreciated.

How about we start there: the mood in Iowa City. Iowa has had good football teams in the past, but this season surely surpasses any in recent memory. Yeah, the 9-0 record isn't bad. But throw in the fact that these wins would be deemed too improbable even for a Hollywood film, and it's hard to imagine how nutty people must be going in Hawkeye Country. What's the atmosphere like? Do people get the sense that it's destiny? Or luck? Or more importantly, does it matter whether it's destiny or luck? If you can, convey what the ambiance is like down there.

And what's all the more interesting is that this season is transpiring the way it is despite that near-debacle back in Week 1 against Northern Iowa. Kirk Ferentz was rumored to be coveted for some off-season coaching vacancies – there was speculation that the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns were interested – but he comes back to Iowa so he can…lose to Northern Iowa?

After that underwhelming opener, what were people thinking? What was the mood then? Did fans think that this was going to be a long season? Sure, Northern Iowa is a good squad, but it's an in-state directional school, and a loss would have been – if not devastating – at least embarrassing.

Little did we know, those two missed field goals in the last few seconds were just the first episode in the Hawkeyes' season-long documentary, "How to Play Poorly Enough to Lose and Still Always – ALWAYS – Win." Not that the pilot episode was bad, but the last two weeks have been even better, packing a whole season's-worth of ulcer-inducing moments. There was the touchdown with 0:00 on the clock to squeak past Michigan State in East Lansing. And then last week the absolutely ridiculous victory over a tougher-than-they-seem Hoosiers team, a game that featured (a) a 14-point comeback, (b) the winning quarterback throwing a career-high five interceptions and (c) a final score, 42-24, that gives the impression Iowa fans were able to kick back and enjoy the craziness – which, of course, they weren't.*

* The atmosphere at Kinnick Stadium was total bedlam. This is an awesome video from ESPN.com. It's just a highlight reel of the game, but what makes it so interesting is the crowd. Iowa had numerous long touchdowns – like, Silk Road long – which allowed the camera operator(s) to zoom out for the last 20-or-so yards, which in turn allowed for the crowd to be caught on screen. And boy, were they going bonkers. The video is instructive for a lot of reasons: It shows how dire things looked for Iowa, it shows how the comeback went down, etc. But the best part is that it shows how pandemonium things got on those long touchdowns. After seeing six dull games of half-full Ryan Field, it was a refreshing sight to behold.

Not trying to be a buzz-kill here, but there is one part of this undefeated story line that we haven't touched on. Are there any grumblings – even minor ones – that they Hawkeyes could run the table and still not play for the national title? There is still a lot of football to be played. A lot. But the way things are shaping up, it looks like either Florida or Alabama is going to nab a national title spot, plus Texas' toughest games are in the rearview mirror. And of course all three of those teams are ranked ahead of Iowa, which, despite being ranked No. 4 in the BCS poll, is a lowly No. 8 in the Associated Press poll.

Maybe people aren't worried about that – there's no point, really, especially not with Ohio State next week – but it seems as though that could be a black cloud at the moment – like a college kid enjoying spring break but knowing all the while that his unfinished thesis is due in a month. So, if Iowa makes it to 12-0, are people confident that that's going to be enough for a BCS title game berth? Are people even thinking about a BCS title game right now?

Pat Harty: The mood in Iowa City is mixed with Iowa fans. Of course they' thrilled with the team's unprecedented success, but also frustrated over the lack of respect on the national level. The important thing is that Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz couldn't care less if his team is being criticized because all the matters to Ferentz is winning on a weekly basis. To borrow a line form former Iowa coach Hayden Fry, Ferentz is like an old mule with blinders on. His only concern is Saturday's game against Northwestern, which has defeated Iowa three of the last four times, including the last two games at Kinnick Stadium.

Fans are giddy over the fact that junior receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated regional edition. Ferentz, on the other hand, seemed shocked when told by reporters that one of his players was on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Ferentz helps to feed the skeptics by always downplaying his team's talent and because he is so self-deprecating. The Iowa sports information issued a release that basically defended what the football team has accomplished. But that'll probably cause the naysayers to be even more critical, especially if Saturday's game against Northwestern is another struggle.

Update from Harty: One interesting storyline heading into Saturday's game is that former Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen will be at the game. To say that his former Iowa teammates are less than thrilled would be an understatement. Christensen has been bad mouthing Iowa ever since he transferred to Eastern Illinois. He handled being demoted with class during the course of last season. But since leaving, Christensen has blamed everybody but himself for what happened in Iowa City.

Christensen was given every opportunity to be Iowa's starting quarterback, but he didn't meet the challenge and ultimately lost the job to Ricky Stanzi.

Purple Reign: This is an admittedly one-sided email exchange, and there are obviously a few questions left unanswered. You could even call this week's exchange lame, and for that Purple Reign apologizes. Pat Harty, who had initially agreed to help out with this, said that he is too swamped to do much more. He's on football and basketball detail at the moment, so all's forgiven. Nonetheless, next week's exchange about Wisconsin will hopefully be more substantial – nay, it WILL BE more substantial.


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