Rose Bowl bid helps heal Hawkeye hearts

Andy Hamilton
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard a day after his team lost a heartbreaker in Indianapolis.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The emotional pain from Saturday night’s gut punch might linger for a while inside the Iowa locker room.

The Hawkeyes became fixated on titles — Big Ten and bigger — during their climb toward the top of the college football rankings. They wanted to go somewhere Iowa football had never been.

Instead, they’re heading someplace Iowa football hasn’t been in a quarter century, and the Rose Bowl has never done more to heal Hawkeye hearts.

Iowa (12-1) is heading back to Pasadena, Calif., for the first time since 1991. It’s not the Orange or the Cotton and a spot in the prestigious College Football Playoff, but the Rose Bowl and an afternoon date with Stanford (11-2) on New Year's Day was the best thing left on the table after Saturday night’s crushing 16-13 defeat against Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.

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“It makes it feel a little bit better, but at the same time, we’re not playing for a national championship and that stings,” Iowa center Austin Blythe said. “But we’ve got a really good opportunity to play in a really good bowl game that we haven’t played in in a long time. That’s going to be fun.”

Blythe and quarterback C.J. Beathard referred to the Rose as “the next-best thing” to a spot in the playoff.

“Most of all, I'm really excited for our players,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They have worked so hard to make this a great season, a special season, a historic season. And for them to be rewarded in this way, it's really fulfilling. Certainly, (Saturday) night was a tough night for us and this news is good medicine just to ease the tough outcome.

“As tough as the game was this gives us something to refocus on when we get back together on Tuesday. We'll start looking forward and start thinking about our preparation for a tough contest.”

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Ferentz said he intends to give his team a break from football-related activities this week. The Hawkeyes emptied the tank in Indianapolis, where they came one defensive stop short of punching their ticket into the national semifinals. Iowa led 13-9 and had the ball with less than 10 minutes to play before Michigan State went on a 22-play, 82-yard drive and scored the go-ahead touchdown with 27 seconds remaining.

“That takes a lot out of you, losing like that,” Beathard said. “We’re all still getting over it. It’s tough. It’s indescribable how much pain that is, but you’ll live with it and you’ll get over it. That’s a thing where you need to step back and get over that loss because it stings for a little bit.”