It’s about a month too early for a full review of Iowa’s football season, since there is a bowl game left to be played.
If you think a bowl doesn’t matter to players, you didn’t see the Nebraska player who sat on a Memorial Stadium goal line for minutes after the end of his team’s 27-24 loss to No. 17 Iowa Friday. The player resisted help to get back on his feet, apparently choosing to wallow in his dejection, surely finding it hard to accept his season was over after the Huskers failed to get a sixth win and bowl eligibility.
Elsewhere on the field, Hawkeye players whooped heartily. You only get 12 of these games, the players tell us throughout the season. Every win is great.
How this Iowa season is described or remembered isn’t simple to define. A 9-3 record is a really good mark most places in the country including Iowa, most years. A 6-3 Big Ten record is a really good mark most places in the conference, including Iowa, most years.
The Las Vegas preseason over/under number on wins for Iowa this season was 7.5. So the Hawkeyes eclipsed that expectation. However, the Big Ten West was within reach, again. So that was an unrealized goal.
The Nevada favorite at kickoff won in all 12 of Iowa’s games, which has to be a freakish statistical thing for a team that isn’t Ohio State or Rutgers.
Something else that’s seemingly freaky is the Hawkeyes being involved in seven games decided by one score. Except that’s the norm here.
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Iowa had five such games last season, six in each of the three years before that, and seven in 2014. Compare that to Wisconsin, which had just two this season going into its game with Minnesota Saturday, and two in 2017 and 2018.
An honest slogan for Iowa football’s ticket-selling campaign in 2020 would be “You Know the Games Will Be Close.”
When you look back on Hawkeyes 2019, will you rue the close-but-no-cigar losses to big boys Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin? Will you fondly recall the bend-but-don’t-break wins against Iowa State, Minnesota and Nebraska? Or, will you remember a considerable portion of winning with a dash of dashed hopes?
It’s kind of ironic how things ended Saturday. This has been the Year of the Field Goal for the Hawkeyes, which is never a handle you want hung on your offense. However, it was Keith Duncan’s 48-yarder with one second left at Nebraska that set off an Iowa party and put some wind at his team’s back for when it settles into bowl preparations.
The final regular-season tally for Iowa was 29 touchdowns, 29 field goals. No 2020 preseason pitches from Iowa will say anything like “Get Your Kicks at Kinnick. We Do.”
Had Duncan been a ham-and-egger who makes a kick here but misses one there? This season would have been a bust. Iowa would have lost at Iowa State, and could have fallen to Purdue and Nebraska. Oh, how the wolves would have howled had this team gone 7-5 or, gulp, 6-6.
But also note none of Duncan’s field goals were longer than 49 yards, so the Hawkeyes did advance the ball deep enough on enough occasions to get all the points they needed for nine victories.
The game is called football, after all. Kicking counts. Thus, Iowa is identified as 9-3, not 29-29.
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On the other hand, dynamic offense isn’t a foreign concept in the college game. Iowa had it in 2015 in, you know, its division-title, Rose Bowl season. Remember those seven straight games with at least 28 points? The Hawkeyes didn’t reach 28 in any of their final eight outings this season.
On yet another hand, Nebraska had 27 or more points in seven different games, and look where that got it. There is something to be said for rock-ribbed principles like sturdy defense and sound special teams like Iowa’s.
Now we wait to see if the Hawkeyes get paired with a good opponent in a bowl. They got just that last season when they drew Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl, and winning that game justifiably meant a lot to Iowa. USC in the Holiday Bowl would fill that bill this year.
By the way, Iowa went to three Holiday Bowls in years of yore. It tied one and won the other two by one point. So it seems like a fitting destination for this year’s Hawkeyes.
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