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Harty: Rebuilding a dirty word for Brian Ferentz

[ 1 ] August 6, 2012 |

You can call the Iowa football team boring.

You can call it conservative and not sexy.

And you can even bring up how the roster is filled with a bunch of two and three-star recruits that most of the elite programs didn’t give a sniff about.

Whatever you do, though, don’t say the Iowa football team is rebuilding because one of the newest additions to the coaching staff will take exception.

“I don’t think we’re rebuilding,” Brian Ferentz said Monday afternoon at Iowa’s annual media day event. “Every year, you’re about three, four or five plays away from a couple of different games going a different way. So to say we’re rebuilding; did we win a BCS (bowl) game last year? No, we did not. Did we win a Big Ten championship last year? No, we did not.

“But I don’t think we were outclassed last year. I think we have a good football team here. I think we need to get better at doing the small things. I think we need play better situationally. Games we lost last year, we didn’t play well situationally. We didn’t take good care of the ball. I know that’s coach-speak, but it’s coach-speak for a reason.”

That was actually coach’s son-speak with Brian Ferentz being the oldest son of the new dean of Big Ten football coaches, as well as his father’s new offensive line coach and a former Hawkeye offensive lineman.

Kirk Ferentz enters his 14th season as the Iowa coach with many on the outside thinking his program is moving in the wrong direction and that his better days are behind him. The skepticism comes on the heels of two seasons in which Iowa finished a combined 15-11 overall and 8-8 in the Big Ten.

Most prognosticators have picked Iowa to finish in either four or fifth-place in the six-team Big Ten Legends Division this coming season. And it’s easy to see why given Iowa’s recent track record and its returning talent.

Here’s what an opposing coach whose identity wasn’t revealed said about Iowa in the 2012 Athlon Sports Big Ten preview.

“Ferentz should have no trouble getting back to a bowl game, but challenging the upper echelon of Big Ten teams seems more in the Hawkeyes’ past than their immediate future.”

That’s another way of saying that Iowa currently doesn’t have what it takes to compete with the big boys. It’s also another way of saying that Iowa has become average under Kirk Ferentz.

It’s probably overstating it to say that Iowa is rebuilding because the situation is nothing like when Kirk Ferentz took over in 1999.

Iowa lost 18 of its first 20 games under Ferentz simply because there wasn’t enough firepower to compete.

Ferentz first had to lay a foundation and then build from there. The program climbed over the hump in 2001, finishing 7-5 overall.

That set the stage for a three-year run of unprecedented success from 2002-04 in which Iowa won two Big Ten titles and finished 31-7 overall, including 20-4 in the Big Ten.

The program has stayed over the hump ever since, but it hasn’t stayed among the elite, with exception to the 2009 season when Iowa finished 11-2 overall.

“I really think since 2001 going into the year we’ve had a chance to put a good football team on the field, and hopefully, be in competition when November comes around,” Kirk Ferentz said Monday. “Certainly, the way you compete now is a little different having divisional play.

“But that’s been the goal and it’s typically a really fine line. There are a lot of things that go into it. The challenge is to try to control the things you can control and then deal with the things that you can’t control as well as you can, probably better than your opponent.”

Iowa hasn’t won a Big Ten title since the 2004 season and has lost at least five games in five of the last seven seasons. But on the other hand, Iowa also has had just one losing season since 2000 and that was a 6-7 record in 2006.

That sounds more like a program stuck in neutral or spinning its wheels rather than one in a rebuilding phase.

Brian Ferentz pointed out Monday that Iowa has defeated Michigan three times in a row while also winning two of its last three games against Michigan State and Wisconsin.

What he didn’t mention is that his alma mater also has lost two games in a row to lowly Minnesota and five of the last seven games against Northwestern.

“If we can consistently be in the middle of the pack or higher, in any given year we have a chance to win a championship,” Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said. “So that’s our goal for every program, to get them to that point where every year they’re in the middle or higher in the Big Ten.

“And I would say Kirk’s program has established that, consistently in the upper half. So with that said, my expectation is we’re not going to eliminate our goal and that’s to try and win a championship.”

The fact that 10 true freshmen played last season and that a whole bunch more are expected to contribute this season might suggest there is a chink in the armor. Under ideal circumstances, most of the true freshmen would be redshirted while playing behind more seasoned veterans.

However, there are only five seniors listed as starters on the current depth chart. It might be OK to go without seniors in basketball, but it makes your team vulnerable in football.

There is hope that with all the coaching changes on the staff that a new energy will surface. That might be the case, but energy ultimately gives way to talent, execution and experience.

And when you combine those three things, Iowa comes out looking average.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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