Pasadena-bound Iowa suddenly getting total respect

Chad Leistikow
From left, Iowa's Boone Myers, Cole Croston, Jordan Walsh and C.J. Beathard head to the sidelines during Saturday's Big Ten championship game loss to Michigan State.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Now it seems people are waiting in line to praise the Iowa football team.

“It’s kind of ironic,” Hawkeye center Austin Blythe said Sunday, “that we have to lose a game to get that respect.”

The Hawkeyes went 12-0 in the regular season, and the popular opinion among skeptics each week was that Iowa had run the table because it hadn’t played anyone tough.

Saturday, it played someone tough, all right. And despite a 16-13 defeat in the Big Ten Conference championship game to Michigan State in Indianapolis, public sentiment was pouring in about the valiant Hawkeyes. Yes, even ESPN’s Paul Finebaum, who had said Iowa had “no chance” against the Big Ten East champion Spartans, was impressed.

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So when the College Football Playoff committee’s final rankings came out around 2 p.m. Sunday, and 12-1 Iowa had only dropped one spot to No. 5 after that loss — respect meant a Rose Bowl bid against No. 6 Stanford (11-2) instead of defending national champion Ohio State, at 11-1 and No. 7.

“I think it is a sign of respect,” Iowa safety Jordan Lomax said. “They saw last night that we left it all out there, and that we prove to belong in the top rankings.

“(The Rose) is a bowl that I know a lot of other teams wish they would be playing in.”

He may not have been at the front of the line offering praise to Iowa, but consider Stanford coach David Shaw a big Hawkeye fan. Of course, he’ll be doing everything he can to take down the Big Ten West champions at 4 p.m. CT on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif.

But Shaw has great respect for Kirk Ferentz — something he earned while hearing the Iowa coach’s name constantly while he was an assistant coach with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens from 2002 to 2005. (Ferentz, of course, was a Ravens assistant before Iowa plucked him to be its head coach before the 1999 season.)

At the beginning of Sunday's Rose Bowl conference call, the first words from Shaw’s mouth were directed to Ferentz: “I’ve heard so much about you in my four years in Baltimore.”

He went on.

“I’m a college football fan. I loved what Iowa did over the course of this year, as far as being one of the under-the-radar teams that kept winning that had to earn the respect that it deserved throughout the year,” Shaw said. “Finally, people started to notice the phenomenal job there that was going on with the coaches and players.”

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Even Ferentz, who doesn’t operate a Facebook page or Twitter account that we know of, couldn’t help but notice a national change of perception regarding his Hawkeyes.

“(It) sounds like anybody that watched the game last night, you saw two teams really just fighting it out tooth and nail,” Ferentz said. “It was a great, great battle, great defensive game. Both teams really competed hard.

“So, I think that had a lot to do with it, and we played them straight up. They had their best players on the field, we had our best players on field. It was just a great football game.”

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