Kirk Ferentz addresses high-expectations history at Iowa

Chad Leistikow

CHICAGO — Kirk Ferentz came to Big Ten Conference Media Days armed with a little history.

In addressing the narrative that his Iowa football teams often struggled with high expectations, the head Hawkeye began with a counterpoint.

“I’ll also add,” he said, “we’ve flourished in these environments, too.”

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz discussed high expectations for his Hawkeyes at the Big Ten's annual media days in Chicago.

“My memory’s not that good,” Ferentz continued (though he would later tick off several specifics about his 17-plus years at the Iowa helm), “but I’m guessing things were pretty good going into the ’09 season, and that team did a great job. It was probably that way in ’03, ’04.”

True. Iowa answered the 2002 undefeated Big Ten season and Orange Bowl berth to finish with back-to-back top-10 national finishes (and his most recent Big Ten championship in 2004). And after a strong finish to 2008, that 2009 team started 9-0 and won the Orange Bowl to remain Ferentz's highest-finishing team (No. 7 nationally).

But after the 12-0 regular season in 2015 (which ended 12-2), preseason 2016 has more of a 2005 and 2010 feel. In each of those years, Iowa was rated between No. 9 and No. 11 in preseason polls. Both teams settled for mediocre results (7-5, 8-5).

The 2005 circumstances still sting. An emotional 23-20 home loss to Michigan in late October (a game Iowa couldn't close out) was followed by the collapse at Northwestern, which recovered an onside kick and scored in the final minute for a 28-27 win.

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“Overtime loss, one-point loss. Crazy game (in Evanston, Ill.),” Ferentz said. “I’ll never forget that bus ride coming out of there. That’s how close we were to being Big Ten champs that year.”

In 2010, who could forget the Wisconsin fake punt that began derailing that team’s title hopes? Iowa lost four Big Ten games by a combined 11 points.

Plus: “We got a punt blocked at Arizona (in a 34-27 non-conference loss),” Ferentz said. “Not to mention some other stuff that happened there.”

See? His memory is just fine. Especially regarding the losses.

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Of course, he hopes that 2016 charts a new course. He knows the Hawkeyes are picked by 32 of 39 media members to repeat as Big Ten West champions after getting zero out of 40 votes a year ago. Nationally, Iowa will probably hover in the No. 20 range — maybe a little better.

The lesson’s he’s taken from 2005 and 2010? Little things matter. Ferentz’s 2015 team had eight games that hung in the balance in the fourth quarter — and won all but the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State.

“The difference is, last year we handled those (little) things in a positive way,” Ferentz said. “In ’10, we didn’t. We didn’t quite get there. So why? What can we do to avoid that? That’s the challenge, certainly.”