Hello, all! We're back with this series after a month-plus hiatus, ready to bring you the final four teams of the Big Ten and how they did in 2012. Enjoy!
Here's the Iowa Hawkeyes:
It was a Brave New World for head coach Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes, having parted ways with longtime offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe and replacing him with former Texas Longhorns offensive coordinator Greg Davis. The change-up in staff indicated that there might be some growing pains, and growing pains there were.
The Hawkeyes new era debut was a nerve-wracking close win against the Northern Illinois Huskies, 18-17. (Northern Illinois would go on to have an 11-1 season and play in the Orange Bowl, where they were soundly defeated by Florida.) Iowa lost a close game to Iowa State, 6-9, for the second straight year in a row. The match-up against FCS Northern Iowa was close too, but the Hawkeyes squeaked out a win. Then they dropped a shocker to Central Michigan, 32-31, in Kinnick Stadium.
They quickly rebounded against Minnesota (who they demolished) and Michigan State, but the Hawkeyes' season quickly took a nosedive as they lost 6 straight Big Ten games, finishing the season with a conference record of 2-6 and an overall record of 4-8, Ferentz's worst since 2000.
Expectations Coming In:
I don't know too many Hawkeye fans, so I can only go on what I read in the local papers and on Black Heart Gold Pants, SB nation's resident Iowa football blog. The general consensus seems to be that the fan base had mixed expectations.
On one hand, they were skeptical about what new offensive coordinator Greg Davis would bring after he struggled at Texas in recent years (despite having helped the Longhorns to a national championship in 2005 with Vince Young). Davis was largely seen as a retread, but there were still some who were optimistic about what he could do with the proverbial "chance to redeem himself."
On the other hand, you had moderately high expectations coming out of Iowa fans because this was going to be James Vandenberg's final year and he was supposedly the most experienced passer in the conference. While I don't think anyone predicted he would be as good as Ricky Stanzi, there was the small sliver of hope that he could be. That along with highly touted running back Greg Garmon coming in made them think that this could be a season worth watching. If only AIRBHG didn't strike...
Best Moment of 2012:
The dual victories over Minnesota and Michigan State stand out as diamonds in the rough of what was obviously a tough season for fans. Iowa crushed the Gophers like nobody's business after having lost to them for the past two years, and the overtime victory over Michigan State, while it was a game filled with mistakes, had fans thinking that the team was shaking out the jitters of the first couple games.
Worst Moment of 2012:
The loss to Central Michigan has to be up there. It's one thing for Iowa to go through a season and be mediocre (even terrible) in the Big Ten, it's another to have to face the fact that you just lost to a MAC team. Michigan fans are not unfamiliar with this feeling, and it sucks.
There is some silver lining, however: five of Iowa's eight losses came by seven points or less, rather than crushing blowouts. Iowa stayed competitive with Nebraska, Purdue, and Indiana, and with only a little luck they could have won those and gone to a bowl game.
Expectations Going Forward:
It would seem like 2013 is a do-or-die year for Kirk Ferentz and Greg Davis, but Ferentz has tenure on his side and can point to how much butt Iowa kicked in 2009, 2004, and 2002 as proof that he knows what he's doing. Also the fact that Greg Davis is still on staff means that Ferentz is committed to sticking with him as coordinator for at least a little while longer.
So what should expectations be from a team where the head coach has been there for 14 years and the offense promises to do little more than improve? That's a good question.
Ferentz and Ferentz-apologists point to the fury of AIRBHG in 2012, which had been a little more potent than other years, as a primary cause of the team's struggles. There is also the question of how much running backs in general do for the Iowa offense, with someone like Greg Davis running things.
It is no secret that when Iowa rushes well they historically end up with a better record than when they don't, which is one of the reasons why Ferentz insists on sticking with some form of controlled, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust running game.
In post-mortem of 2012, Black Heart Gold Pants put together an amazing stat essay/op-ed on the debate between Ferentz's desire to keep the offense methodical like he's used to and Greg Davis's desire to take things more up-tempo, as is evidenced by Davis going 75% no-huddle in the recent Iowa spring game. The coming season could be very telling on how involved Ferentz is going to be in the offense and how much blame Greg Davis is going to take if it fails.
So right now the expectations, like in 2012, are mixed. I don't really think anyone in their right mind at Iowa is expecting them to compete for a Big Ten championship. What they would like to see, from what I can gather, is a more crisp offense and better everything on defense. The general hope is that those things will translate into more wins, and at least then fans will know the program is heading in the right direction again.