The Hawkeyes proved doubters wrong again by beating Nebraska 28-20. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
LINCOLN, Neb. — These Iowa football players built their season around blocking out the noise.
For 11 months, this Iowa football team has been aware of the doubters after a disappointing 7-6 season in 2014. And for 11 months, these Hawkeyes have proven every one of them wrong.
Third-ranked Iowa finished off a historic, undefeated regular season in signature fashion, forcing four turnovers and snuffing out Nebraska despite assembling just 11 first downs. When the game clock had expired, Iowa had won 28-20 and completed 48 quarters of a season of redemption for a 12-0 record.
Can you hear them now, Colin Cowherd? The opinionated Fox Sports radio personality guaranteed a little more than a week ago that Nebraska would defeat what he called a fraudulent Iowa football team.
“Guys like Cowherd saying we won’t beat Nebraska, that’s exciting,” quarterback C.J. Beathard said after improving to 13-0 as a college starter. “OK, well, we beat Nebraska. What are you going to say next? We’re just going to continue to prove people wrong.
“It kind of lights your fire, kind of gets you going, people doubting you all the time.”
The Hawkeyes say they don’t listen to the outside noise, but that’s not entirely true — they listen to it, and they harness it as motivation. They didn’t even fall victim to the so-called Sports Illustrated cover jinx after appearing on the regional cover this past week. (By the way, head coach Kirk Ferentz said he had research done on that — and told his team that Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammad Ali have been on SI covers before, and they weren’t exactly busts.)
“As you keep going in the season, we’ve kept winning,” Beathard said. “There’s been more critics and more doubters, but that keeps us closer together as a unit. We’ve used that to our advantage.”
The 12-0 Hawkeyes would be just fine if more criticism was lobbed their way in the eight days leading up to the Dec. 5 Big Ten Conference championship game against either Michigan State, Michigan or Ohio State.
If third-ranked Iowa wins that one, it’ll be in the four-team College Football Playoff (where they're currently ranked fourth), with two games between the Hawkeyes and a national championship. No question about it. Let that sink in for a moment as you reflect on where this team was one year ago, suffering a crushing 37-34 home loss to these Huskers in Iowa City to finish the regular season 7-5.
“To think about it, man, we’re really just right there,” receiver Tevaun Smith said. “We just need one more game.”
The Hawkeyes found that fourth spot in the playoff rankings this past week. So in essence, the Big Ten title game is now a national quarterfinal.
“The goal is three more,” center Austin Blythe said.
And at this point, are you going to doubt them? Go ahead — at your own risk.
“People can say what they want,” Smith said. “But the wins definitely speak for themselves.”
A few of the terms the critics like to throw around are the “eye test” or Iowa’s lack of “style points” in the eyes of the 12-member CFP committee.
True, Iowa was outgained 433-250. Three big plays — a Parker Hesse interception return and Jordan Canzeri touchdown runs of 29 and 68 yards — accounted for 75 percent of the Hawkeyes’ points. Nebraska, which beat Michigan State here a few weeks ago and was playing for bowl eligibility on Senior Day, doubled up the Hawkeyes in first downs.
Iowa couldn’t put Tommy Armstrong, Jr. and turnover-happy Nebraska away, going 0-for-9 on third downs. But the Hawkeyes got the job done, “finishing” as has been the theme all year.
The Iowa coach discusses 28-20 win. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
“Football’s not gymnastics. … I’m not knocking it, but there are style points in gymnastics,” Ferentz said. “Here it’s about having one more point than your opponent, then trying to do it day after day, week after week. That’s the challenge. These guys are 12-for-12. You can’t do any better than that.”
Those 12 wins are a school record, and Iowa has as many as three more games to go.
Welcome or not, these Hawkeyes are front and center on the national stage. One more win, and they’re in the playoff. It’s that simple. A loss, and it’s probably the Rose Bowl.
“Perfect regular season, that’s exciting. That’s a big deal,” Beathard said. “We’re happy to be here.”