Brown: A disappointing Hawkeye season in every way
IOWA CITY, Ia. – Kirk Ferentz took the fifth Friday when asked if he considered 7-5 an underachieving season.
We'll dissect that after the bowl game, Iowa's 16-year head football coach said following a 37-34 overtime loss to Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium. But some of his players spoke for him afterwards. Disappointing? Underachieving? The answer was a resounding yes.
"We got what we earned," senior running back Mark Weisman said. "We earned 7-5. We didn't execute the way we needed to. We were up and down all year. Kind of the way this game went."
A better team than 7-5?
"I know we are," Weisman said. "It doesn't really matter, though."
A team that was projected to be a Western Division contender in the Big Ten finished fourth and didn't live up to the expectations of fans, media and, I'd be willing to bet, the coaching staff.
"It's disappointing to lose," senior defensive tackle Carl Davis said. "I don't think we're a five-loss team. I think we're a damn good team. We just haven't executed. We didn't make the right plays all season."
With all the quality starters back from an 8-5 team in 2013, and a schedule that was one of the most friendly Iowa has played in some time, there were more than seven wins out there. Instead, the Hawkeyes didn't beat one FBS opponent with a winning record. The most underachieving season since 2010.
"We didn't reach our expectations, and everyone's expectations," senior safety John Lowdermilk said. "Everybody else can be disappointed. But there's nobody that hurts more than we do. It sucks. It's just a really unsatisfied feeling."
I was one of those drinking the preseason Kool-Aid. I looked at the schedule, took into consideration who the Hawkeyes had returning and predicted a 10-3 record after a loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.
Where did I go wrong? Quite simply, this team wasn't as good as I thought it would be. The offense struggled to run the ball all season. The defense gave up too many big plays and had spells of poor tackling. The special teams were a disaster waiting to happen. That wait ended Friday.
In many ways, the Nebraska game was a big-picture view of the entire season, a mixture of good and bad in 60 minutes. As Bill Parcells was fond of saying, you are what your record says you are. That record was 7-5.
"That's not acceptable for this program," senior linebacker Quinton Alston said.
Now, I look at departing players like defensive tackles Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, Outland Trophy finalist Brandon Scherff, Weisman, Lowdermilk and others and wonder where the Ferentz ship is headed.
The waters are choppy, the natives restless. Attendance was 66,897 Friday in a stadium with a capacity of 70,585. There's only been one sellout over the last two seasons. It will be apathy, reflected by the number of fans in the seats, that will be the ultimate judge and jury here.
Since 2001, when Ferentz got Iowa to a bowl game in his third season, he said the goal has been to compete for championhips.
"We're not going to back down from that," he said Friday. "That would be ridiculous."
It's been a decade since the last time the Big Ten trophy landed in Iowa City. And Friday, Iowa finished 0-4 in trophy games: Iowa State, Minnesota, Wisconsin. Nebraska.
"Senior year, to lose all those trophies ... it's hard to talk about that right now," Davis said.
Friday's loss will linger, because there's no next game to flush it away until bowl season. A 7-5 record will not bring a lot of ho-ho-ho over the holidays.
One more game, Ferentz said, then it's time to dissect what happened.
But it doesn't take another game to come to this conclusion: The 2015 season might be the most important one Ferentz has coached at Iowa.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.