Rose win would elevate 2015 Hawkeyes to legendary status

Chad Leistikow

PASADENA, Calif. — To harness motivation for Friday’s Rose Bowl, Iowa football players have no further to look than revered 17th-year assistant Chris Doyle.

Iowa teammates celebrate after Matt VandeBerg's touchdown against Purdue on Nov. 21.

The nation’s highest-paid strength and conditioning coach holds that status for a reason. The guy teaches, develops and motivates. Doyle is the one who smashed the team’s trophy case in the weight room over the summer because there were no trophies for Iowa to store.

So rest assured, No. 6 Iowa’s 100-some players who made the trip to Southern California are uber-motivated for the Granddaddy-of-them-all matchup at 4 p.m. CT against No. 5 Stanford.

In Iowa’s first workout following its first loss of the season — a 16-13 heartbreaker in the Big Ten Conference championship game Dec. 5 against Michigan State — Doyle pitched this to his players, courtesy of likable leader Jordan Canzeri.

“Guys, we’re in the Rose Bowl against Stanford out in California at 2 p.m (Pacific time). That’s already set,” fifth-year senior running back Jordan Canzeri said of Doyle’s motivation. “Do you want to come back at the Rose Bowl anniversary celebrating at Kinnick (Stadium) with a loss or just going there? Or do you want to win it? Do you want to be walking out there, heads up, knowing that you got it done?

“That all hit us at home.”

A little less than a month ago, it was written that the Big Ten Conference Championship was the biggest game in Iowa football history.

This game probably doesn’t escalate to that level, but for these 21 Hawkeye seniors and maybe an entire fan base, it’s everything.

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A 12-2 season after a historic 12-0 start won’t do. As Canzeri, one of many internal leaders who fueled the culture change in the 2015 Hawkeyes, noted: The Disneyland and the Lawry’s Beef Bowl perks are great. But finishing this memorable season the right way is life-changing.

“We want to finish off the season the right way,” said Canzeri, who needs 24 yards to become Iowa’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2011. (This game has all kinds of things at stake.) “We have a lot of great memories, and we’ve won a lot of great games. We want to end it the right way, with a win in the Rose Bowl.”

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A stronger culture

Coming into this year, the Iowa football program was being questioned. The 20- to 23-year-old leaders within the program wanted to provide answers.

A 2014 culture that was weak, according to one assistant coach, has been revitalized for 12 straight months. New leaders took control of this team, and they had a common purpose.

“To leave the jersey in a better place,” said Cole Fisher, a fifth-year senior who has epitomized rebirth — recording 1½ times as many tackles in his final year (112) as he did in his first four.

Beating Stanford, a six-point favorite, would be another benchmark for this program.

A year ago, Iowa went 0-5 in trophy games — four losses in rivalry games and then an embarrassment in the TaxSlayer Bowl. This year, Iowa reversed that to 4-0 in the regular season plus a Big Ten West title. And even though the Big Ten Championship trophy wound up in East Lansing, Mich., there’s one more piece of hardware for Iowa to obtain.

“There are a lot of things that we haven't done or hadn't done, and they've been able to accomplish a lot as a class this season,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “So it's one more thing on the list, certainly, that I think they're cognizant of.

“Our leadership really took off somewhere during the course of the summer. We were OK in the spring. We practiced well and we had a solid football team, but I really think the story of this football team happened during the course of the summer during camp, and it's continued to evolve.”

Oh, about those seniors

Iowa’s last bowl win came in the 2010 Insight Bowl against Missouri, a Micah Hyde-fueled miracle with a late interception-return touchdown. Not one player on the current Hawkeye roster has experienced a bowl win.

Insert even more motivation here.

There’s no better way to launch the program to new heights than adding to a 13th win to an already-school-record 12.

“We’ve never had one of those,” Fisher said. “It just kind of stinks and you’re here for so long and you see everybody else celebrating on the field — after the Big Ten Championship Game and all our bowl games — while you’re stuck away in the locker room.”

But can Iowa players be the ones celebrating under the Rose Bowl Stadium lights on Friday night? Iowa’s most recent big win on a big stage was probably six years ago — a 24-14 win over Georgia Tech in the 2010 Orange Bowl.

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For Iowa to do it might require an almost perfect game. The Pacific-12 Conference champion Cardinal (11-2) might be the most complete opponent the Hawkeyes have faced this year, and that includes College Football Playoff qualifier Michigan State.

Iowa’s offense needs to redeem itself after a season-worst-tying one-touchdown output (on an 85-yard play) against the Spartans. Iowa’s defense does, too, after its last possession surrendered a 22-play, game-winning drive at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Both teams are incredibly well-prepared. May the best-executing program win.

And remember, Iowa’s last Rose Bowl win was 57 years ago under Forest Evashevski. A Hawkeye win would truly be historic — for more than just these seniors.

“This season has already been a legendary season,” senior safety Jordan Lomax said, “and to cap it off with a Rose Bowl win would be even more spectacular.”


Who: No. 6 Iowa (12-1) vs. No. 5 Stanford (11-2)

When, where: 4 p.m. CT Friday, Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, Calif.

TV: ESPN (Announcers: Brent Musburger, Jesse Palmer, Maria Taylor)

Weather: Sunny with a high of 65 degrees; no chance of rain.

The line: Stanford is favored by 6