Iowa Football

In college football class system, Hawkeyes aren't paupers

Rutgers, on the other hand ...

Then-Rutgers defensive coordinator Jay Niemann (left) talks to his son, Iowa linebacker r Ben Niemann, after the Hawkeyes’ 14-7 win over Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J., on 9.24.16. Jay is now an Iowa assistant coach and Ben is a second-year Kansas City Chief. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Then-Rutgers defensive coordinator Jay Niemann (left) talks to his son, Iowa linebacker r Ben Niemann, after the Hawkeyes’ 14-7 win over Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J., on 9.24.16. Jay is now an Iowa assistant coach and Ben is a second-year Kansas City Chief. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Dan Le Batard’s irreverent ESPN Radio show put this poll question on Twitter Tuesday: “Does Michigan State football exist to simply never win anything meaningful?”

Naturally, Spartans fans took deep offense and posted replies to reflect it. Amid their unkind words about Le Batard, they boasted that their team has won three Big Ten titles this decade, made a College Football Playoff appearance, and finished in the top six of the national rankings each year from 2013 to 2015. They noted it has won eight of its last 11 games against Michigan, a media darling.

However, 83 percent of the 20,357 votes cast were “Yes.”

That’s how it goes. You may think your favorite team is pretty special. But unless it’s one of the elites, the rest of the world yawns.

As AC/DC, which gave the Iowa Hawkeyes “Back in Black,” informed us:

It’s a long way to the top

If you wanna rock ‘n roll

Despite Michigan State’s fine football feats, it’s interchangeable with Wisconsin or Washington State or Whatever State to many beyond the Big Ten.

Iowa is in that same large pool of football humanity. Sure, it wins more than it loses. Yes, it has enjoyed big moments. No, it isn’t a stranger to the national rankings.

Yet, like almost everyone else, it doesn’t know what it’s like to be Alabama or Clemson or Ohio State or Oklahoma.

If Le Batard’s show had asked if Iowa football exists to simply never win anything meaningful, Hawkeye fans would have pelted the show with written rocks and garbage. As 83 percent of the nation voted yes.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Hey, always look on the bright side of life. At least it’s better to live in a quiet, comfortable neighborhood than under a freeway overpass.

Which brings this to Saturday, with a lower-class football citizen of a high-end conference making its first visit to Kinnick Stadium. This is Rutgers’ sixth Big Ten football season. It was bound to find its way to Iowa one of these years.

Who among Hawkeye fandom could be blamed for not quite knowing how to feel about this game? It’s a Big Ten foe, but what do we really know about the Scarlet Knights?

What distinguishes them? What are their time-honored traditions? What are their prospects for future football glories given they play in the same division as Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and yes, Michigan State?

OK, that last question is easier to answer than the others. Rutgers has a 7-36 Big Ten record. In five meetings with Ohio State, it’s been outscored by a total of 271-27. It hasn’t scored more than 17 points in any of its last 12 conference contests, all defeats.

For now, Rutgers is sharing a pot of beans over an open fire alongside some railroad tracks with Kansas and Oregon State. Iowa is no glutton, but it’s been eating well for a long time.

There was a pang of hunger a few years ago. From the end of the 2014 season until the 2015 season got going, grumbling about Hawkeyes Coach Kirk Ferentz wasn’t entirely grumbling. Many of the words were clearly audible, many said with irritation and some with anger.

The Hawkeyes had closed the ’14 season at 7-6 after a one-sided loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl. That gave the once-dominant Volunteers their first winning record in five years.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Rocky Toppers were living large in downtown Jacksonville that night, sounding confident that hard times were over.

The Vols did go 9-4 in 2015 and 2016 with two more bowl wins over Big Ten teams, but couldn’t sustain it. They were 0-8 in the SEC in 2017, 2-6 last year. They opened this season with a home loss to Georgia State, which went 2-10 a year ago. They may need to develop a taste for beans.

Iowa, there are far worse situations than not sharing the penthouse with the Bamas and the Buckeyes.

Joni Mitchell, who never toured with AC/DC, wrote this oft-repeated lyric:

Don’t it always seem to go

That you don’t know what you got

Till it’s gone

Ferentz is still here and few are complaining now. Iowa didn’t pave paradise to put up a parking lot. Not that it would have mattered. Parking in Iowa City would still be a pain.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.