Harty: There's a fine line between 'good' and 'great'

By Pat Harty
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz speaks to the media during Iowa's annual college football media day, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, in Iowa City, Iowa.

Original publish date: August 4, 2014

The 2014 Iowa football team, which held its media day Monday, is hard to label.

On one hand, you have a large number of fans who are convinced that Iowa, which finished 8-5 last season, is destined for greatness this season. They're offended by the mere suggestion that Iowa could lose more than one or two games this season.

The media also has embraced the 2014 Hawkeyes, to a certain extent.

That was evident when I overheard one veteran reporter who covers a different Big Ten team ask another reporter at the Big Ten meetings last week in Chicago how Iowa could possibly lose more than one game this season.

That's quite a statement for a program that just two years ago sputtered through a 4-8 season, which came at the end of a stretch in which Iowa lost 17 of 29 games.

Tom Dienhart, who works for the Big Ten Network, also picked Iowa to win the Big Ten West Division this season.

And yet on the other hand, Iowa isn't ranked in the coaches' preseason top-25 poll, which was released last week. Most of the preseason magazines also left Iowa out of their top 25.

So which hand is it?

We moved another step closer to answering that question Monday at Iowa's media day.

For Kirk Ferentz, it was his 16th media day in charge of the Hawkeyes. You could tell early in his opening statement that Ferentz is tired of talking about his team.

"There is a rumor floating around that we're getting close here to starting, which is a good thing," Ferentz said sarcastically. "I did the math this morning. This is my fourth media opportunity in eight days, so I'm really on a roll right now. I was talked out last Monday, so it's going to be good to get going here and start doing something this evening, so we'll get it after that."

There is plenty to like about the 2014 Hawkeyes, beginning with the situation in the trenches on both sides of the line of scrimmage. It's not unusual for Iowa to have a formidable offensive line or a solid defensive line under Ferentz.

The current team has both, though, and that's unusual.

It also has a returning starting quarterback, a stable of proven running backs, eight of its top-10 receivers from last season and a schedule that doesn't include Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State.

It didn't take long for a reporter to ask Ferentz on Monday about the challenges of tempering expectations.

"Expectations are expectations," Ferentz said. "Based on experience, either the sky is falling or we're going to the top.

"The truth is, it's usually somewhere in between. It's usually not quite as bad as everybody thinks it is. I'll go back a year ago, and on the flip side like a year ago, we have a lot of work to do."

Luck also helps to define a team and to shape a season. It's no coincidence that the best Iowa teams also have been among the healthiest.

There have been a few exceptions, most notably the 2004 squad, which won Iowa's last Big Ten title and finished 10-2 despite being ravaged by injuries at running back.

The 1985 Iowa team, which won a Big Ten title and recorded the first double-digit win season in school history at 10-2, is widely regarded as the best squad during Hayden Fry's 20 seasons as coach from 1979-98. That team was blessed to have a roster rich in talent, but also a season in which injuries didn't greatly affect the outcome.

The 1984 Iowa team wasn't as lucky, though. It was comparable in talent to the '85 team, with a senior class that included running back Owen Gill, tight end Jonathan Hayes and first-team all-Big Ten defensive tackles Paul Hufford and George Little.

However, it lost a key weapon on offense when all-Big Ten running back Ronnie Harmon broke his leg in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin in the ninth game, which finished in a 10-10 tie. Iowa entered the Wisconsin game on a five-game winning streak, but then lost its next two games against Michigan State and Minnesota by a combined seven points.

Iowa ultimately took its frustration out on Texas in the 1984 Freedom Bowl by administering a 55-17 beat-down without the services of Harmon.

The 1984 squad, which finished 8-4-1, serves as a reminder 30 years later about how thin the line is between being good and being great. It's OK to expect greatness from Iowa this season, but don't be surprised if it doesn't happen.