Given Iowa ranks higher in U.S. states’ COVID-19 deaths per capita (12th) than it does in Associated Press’ college football rankings (18th), Kirk Ferentz took the right tone Tuesday by expressing gratitude.
Given the Federation of American Scientists had Iowa trailing only the two Dakotas and ahead of every foreign nation in COVID-19 deaths per million residents for the week of Dec. 12-18, a college football team in Iowa City getting to play eight games this season was a mini-miracle and losing out on a ninth was no tragedy.
So, tears weren’t shed and trash cans weren’t kicked by Ferentz’s Iowa football players and staff Tuesday when the news came that the Hawkeyes’ briefly scheduled home game against Michigan Saturday was canceled because the Wolverines still had too many issues with COVID-19.
No, it didn’t make anyone happy. But Ferentz and his guys knew they were just one of three Big Ten teams to play all eight regular-season games. That statistic alone tells you the Hawkeyes defied the odds. They played it safe off the field, but also got lucky.
Champions Week, the Big Ten calls this week. Which is kind of a joke, since division champs Northwestern and Ohio State meet each other, and everyone else was supposed to try to get enthused about the leftovers.
“Our goal was to play the eight games that were scheduled,” Ferentz said Tuesday afternoon. “We had that ninth game, the concept was alive and well. We were hoping that would materialize, it just didn’t work out, so be it.”
The “concept.” That’s what the ninth game is/was, and a strange one at that. The Hawkeyes were to play Michigan outside in Iowa on a Saturday night on Dec. 19 with no fans other than family members, all for one more way to chase the money.
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Now comes the next concept, the bowl selections. Three of the Big Ten’s affiliated bowls have already put out the sign that says “Closed until further notice.” The Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl and Jan. 2 Outback Bowl are still a go, much to the relief of the Big Ten, SEC and ABC.
From the start of practice this season, Ferentz said “Our mindset has been that we’re just going to have to live the way we’ve been living until January 1st or 2nd.
“We’ve taken it literally day by day. It’s all you can do.”
Ferentz said the Hawkeyes will accept their bowl invitation Sunday and go from there.
“I would assume the bowls that are still standing are going to push forward,” he said. “As long as they do that and as long as one of them will take us, that’s our plan.”
Maybe Iowa will get a really good opponent. Maybe not. Does it matter?
“I think this year you have to put an asterisk next to everything that comes, quite frankly,” said Ferentz, “other than watching what individuals have done, how they reacted to various situations.”
Had Iowa not frittered away a 17-0 lead against Northwestern on Halloween, the Hawkeyes would be playing for the Big Ten title Saturday. In some years, that would be soul-crushing around here. This year? What will be will be.
So, go to Florida and then stay in your hotel other than when it’s time to practice. Play a bowl game to make your conference some money, and get the heck home.
Perhaps next year the asterisks will disappear and games won’t get canceled four days before kickoff. The Hawkeyes cheated the odds by getting all eight scheduled games, and will probably get a ninth. They’ve won their last six times out.
All in all, they’ve had a genuinely good season and are grateful. Smart team.
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