Faith Ekakitie weighs in on the road ahead.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa football players have heard they went 12-0 last year. They’ve even seen it on your T-shirts.
They aren’t falling for it.
The 2015 Hawkeyes set a school record for wins, yes, but they aren’t buying revisionist history that leaves out their losses in the Big Ten Conference title game and the Rose Bowl.
“A lot of people, they kind of dwell on being 12-0,” senior defensive tackle Faith Ekakitie says. “But the reality of it is, we were 12-2. We have unfinished business to take care of.”
I’ll be first in line to admit to using “12-0” as a talking point in articles and on the radio to describe the Hawkeyes’ unprecedented 2015 success.
Sophomore defensive end Parker Hesse understands why.
“It has a good ring to it,” he says.
But “12-2” is what's being used inside the Iowa Football Performance Center, with focus on the two.
As much joy as players felt in hoisting the Heroes Game Trophy at chilly Memorial Stadium on Nov. 27 to finish the regular season 12-0 — a first in Hawkeye history — that remains their most recent win.
Eight days later, Michigan State outlasted Iowa, 16-13, to win the Big Ten title at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Then there were the three hours in Pasadena, Calif., that Hawkeye fans would rather forget: Stanford 45, Iowa 16.
“We were 12-2. That was our record,” Hesse says. “We want to change things with the way they turned out in Indy, and obviously the bowl game — we don’t ever want to be embarrassed like that again.”
Returning players were due back on campus Monday to begin seven weeks of strength coach Chris Doyle’s summer program.
A big focus of this stretch — which feeds into the opening of August camp, with a nine-day break for the July 4 holiday in between — is conditioning their bodies for a 12-game regular-season schedule.
But as much of the physical preparation that’s involved, gaining a mental edge is also part of the plan.
It's clear these guys are on the same page.
Unprompted, four of the five players I interviewed during Wednesday’s media availability volunteered the 12-0 vs. 12-2 comparison.
“They forget the final two games of the season,” quarterback C.J. Beathard says. “Ultimately we went 12-2 and didn’t finish the way we want to finish.”
The Iowa quarterback has famous admirers from outside the sports world.
It’s not going to be easy.
I’ve been re-watching some of Iowa’s 2015 games on DVR lately, a good reminder that the margin of error in 12-0 (there I go again) was thin.
There was Beathard avoiding a safety by inches at Iowa State, then later converting a miracle third-and-21 pass in a 31-17 win.
Not many 57-yard field-goal attempts are successful. But Marshall Koehn’s was to beat Pittsburgh, 27-24.
Ekakitie’s fourth-quarter fumble recovery near the goal line at Wisconsin preserved a 10-6 win.
Iowa survived precarious fourth quarters against Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota. Even the home finale against 2-10 Purdue was a struggle.
And at Nebraska, four interceptions on a windy day helped the Hawkeyes score a 28-20 victory despite 250 yards of offense.
None of it was easy.
But repeating 12-0 is the plan.
Repeating 12-2 is not.
“Honestly, we’re using that as motivation,” cornerback Greg Mabin says. “…We lost arguably our two most important games.
“We’re going into this season with the mindset that we want to win a Big Ten championship. And we want to compete in the College Football Playoff.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.
The Iowa coach would prefer consistent regulation.