Brown: Eighth win could help cure Hawkeyes' hangover
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The final chapter to Iowa's 2014 football season will be written in 2015. Which only makes sense since the Big Ten has 14 teams.
A lot of numbers don't add up. Like 7-5. That's the Hawkeyes' record heading into Friday's 2:20 p.m. game against Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl at EverBank Field. Words like disappointing and underachieving cling to the coattails of the 16th season of the Kirk Ferentz coaching era.
There's even an air of who cares surrounding this game, magnified by the fact that Hawkeye fans have mocked the stereotype that they always follow their team to bowl games like a swarm of angry bumblebees. Iowa only sold half of its 8,000-ticket allotment.
But Friday is an opportunity to shake that Nebraska hangover lingering since the final regular-season game. A chance to match last season's eight-win total. A chance to gain some momentum heading into 2015.
"I'll say it again," Ferentz said when asked him if Friday's game was a chance at redemption for an underachieving season. "The last game was frustrating, very frustrating. Because we left a lot of plays out there (in a 37-34 overtime loss to the Cornhuskers)."
The week before, when Iowa rallied but lost to Wisconsin, 26-24, was much more palatable.
"I don't have a lot of complaints about that game," Ferentz said.
It all adds up to 7-5 and a 12th bowl trip under Ferentz. But it's a not a season that will be fondly remembered.
"We finished with a disappointing game, but I'm not ready to trash this whole season," Ferentz said. "I know everybody is. Everybody is allowed to their own opinions."
Sixteen seniors will be in uniform for the last time Friday, 10 of them starters. An 8-5 record is a better way to say goodbye than 7-6.
"It's more just leaving with a win," said one of those seniors, defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat. "For me, it affects me more when there's a loss, and it sticks with me longer. A win, obviously, you enjoy it and feel good and you leave the program on a good note. That's what we want to do is win, and that's how I want to leave here."
Iowa is a developmental program, meaning potential is groomed for playing time on the practice field and the weight room.
"We're not going to get the kind of recruits Ohio State and Michigan get, traditionally," Ferentz said. "That's just the way it is. It's been that way forever."
Guys like Trinca-Pasat, who nearly left, stuck it out and made himself into an NFL prospect, are a portrait of Iowa football.
"That's the part the average fan doesn't appreciate, but how could they?" Ferentz said. "We go through a lot of highs and lows together. That's what makes coaching so enjoyable, when you're around a lot of great people. The ones that run the whole race, I can't say enough about them. Not all of them start, not all of them play a lot. But I'm confident each and every one of them will really do well when they leave this university."
For those seniors, the future will start about three hours after kickoff.
"We have one game left and we want to win it very badly," Ferentz said. "It's about as simple as that. To me, it's not so much about next year. It's about finishing for our 16 seniors. This is the last time this whole team will be together. It's important that we play well in this game."
A win Friday won't erase the cloud of underachievement. But would be a nice way to say goodbye.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.