Tuesday Question - Is Iowa For Real?
Iowa TE Tony Moeaki
Is Iowa the real deal? The CFNers tackle the debate in the Tuesday Question.
Tuesday Question ... Nov. 3
Is Iowa for real?
Q: Is Iowa for real?
A: For where it's ranked,
I'm not sold that this is a national title team, and
it's not nearly as good as Florida, Alabama, or
Texas, but at 9-0 and with a 13-game winning streak,
yeah, Iowa is for real.
Yes, the Hawkeyes looked awful against Indiana ...
and they won by 24 points. The 24-21 win over
Arkansas State really wasn't that close, the win at
Iowa State doesn't look so bad now, and the win over
Arizona was impressive. And then there are the
Penn State will probably beat Ohio State and end up
somewhere in the BCS. It's possible that Iowa's win
in Happy Valley will be the only victory this year
by anyone in a BCS-bound team's house, meaning it
might be the most impressive win by anyone all
regular season. Winning at Wisconsin is far better
than it might seem, and if they can beat Ohio State
in Columbus, then there are no more excuses.
The defense is for real, the offense is streaky, but
clutch, and the special teams are fantastic. Yeah,
Iowa is for real, but it needs to prove it with a
big, easy win at home over Northwestern.
Q: Is Iowa for real?
A: First off, let's put this question into proper context. If "for real" suggests that the Hawkeyes belong in the same discussion as Alabama, Texas, and Florida, then I would have to say no. That is not meant as slight to Iowa, which has rapidly become one of my favorite stories of 2009 and a squad that should be employed as a blueprint for any program that doesn't harbor a slew of blue-chippers. However, those countless close calls with lesser competition, such as Northern Iowa, Arkansas State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Indiana, tells me that this feel-good team simply isn't at the same level as the Crimson Tide, Longhorns, or Gators. Again, not a knock, rather just my perception of reality.
Iowa is "for real" by Big Ten standards, which means this a legitimate top 10 program with a legitimate chance to win a title and play in the Rose Bowl. Not bad for a school that most believed in August would finish in the middle of the conference pack. The Hawkeyes have already beaten Penn State in Happy Valley and will have a chance to do the same thing to Ohio State in two weeks. No doubt this team is for real by a Big Ten measuring stick and worthy of its current ranking, but I do not believe it's in the same classification of the Big 3 unbeatens, Alabama, Texas, and Florida.
Q: Is Iowa for real?
Pardon the indirect reference to a sordid episode in American political history, but it depends on what the meaning of "real" is.
The first thing that needs to be said--and the last thing that needs to be remembered--about the 2009 Iowa Hawkeyes is that, much like the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes, they win.
They win--that's the ultimate statement of a team's "realness," isn't it? You can't knock results, and through nine games, the Hawkeyes have delivered them. Barring something highly improbable, they'll win 11 regular-season games. That's real. (Gosh, this is feeling like a Wendy's commercial...)
Iowa's achievements are particularly commendable when one realizes that the program endured a slump after excelling earlier in the decade. Just when the shine on Kirk Ferentz's resume was beginning to fade away, the head Hawkeye has done a job worthy of an elite sideline master.
It's not the Hawks' fault if Big Ten opponents can't put their foot down, either; Michigan State has typically carried a lot of talent on its annual rosters, and the situations at Michigan and Illinois show how fleeting success can be, even with athletic studs in the stable. If Iowa's margin and manner of victory leave an unsatisfying taste (and they do), it still stands that the Hawkeyes have absolutely nothing to apologize for, and neither do their fans, who have been richly and appropriately rewarded by this sensational saga in 2009.
The Iowa football family should rightly revel in the realness of the team's accomplishments to date. Let that be the defining reality for the 2009 Hawkeyes, especially if they do reach the 11-win plateau.
With all this praise having been lavished (appropriately) upon them, however, there is still a question about how legitimate Iowa is as a national power. The Ohio State game will be a test, but it comes inside the conference, and one can easily envision a few Terrelle Pryor mistakes enabling the Eyes of Hawk to defeat the Eyes of Buck by a 9-6 score. The true measure of this team will be taken in a bowl game, when Oregon (Rose) or perhaps TCU (Fiesta) or Georgia Tech (Orange) could draw Ferentz's forces in a BCS battle. Iowa's defense can hang with anyone, especially when coordinator Norm Parker has a month to prepare, but against a quality non-conference opponent, it's hard to see how quarterback Ricky Stanzi's limitations won't bite Iowa in the backside.
Iowa is real, but let's see the Hawkeyes in Columbus, and then in an attractive bowl matchup, before rendering an even more precise verdict on the surprise of the Big Ten this season.
Q: Is Iowa for real?
It all depends on your definition of "for real." If you mean by that a serious conference contender who could end up in a BCS bowl and would be relatively competitive against practically anybody it faced there, then the answer is a resounding yes. The Hawkeyes have proven to be one of the top two teams (at least) in the Big Ten and could well find themselves in Pasadena for the first time since 1991. They have been able to overcome adversity all season long, as evidenced by their four victories after trailing in the fourth quarter. Do that enough, and it becomes a strong characteristic, rather than an indication of weakness. So, by that definition, the Hawks are for real.
Now, if you want to know whether Iowa is one of the five best teams in the country, well, that's another story. The Hawkeyes are good, but they lack the offensive firepower necessary to overcome some of the better defenses in the nation. Part of that is due to injury, since their top two tailbacks are down, but the team does lack a truly prolific runner. And the Hawks' passing game is solid but unspectacular. Defensively, Iowa succeeds with a vanilla cover-two scheme that relies heavily on assignment football and doesn't feature too many standout performers. In other words, Iowa is tough and disciplined, not overpowering. The real strength of the team is its special teams, as well as its strong turnover margin. In the final analysis, this would not be an undefeated team in SEC, Big 12 or even Pac-10 play, but since the Hawkeyes have the benefit of playing in the weaker Big Ten, they have thrived. We'll learn all we need to know about the team next Saturday in Columbus, but for now Iowa is for real – with an asterisk. Sometimes, reality is a product of a team's situation and its ability to capitalize on it.