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Harty: Iowa football is at a crossroads

[ 0 ] November 18, 2012 |

Thank goodness for Illinois because without Tim Beckman and his boys, the worst football team in the Big Ten would reside in Iowa City.

That still might be the case even with Illinois factored in, but thankfully we’ve been spared a matchup between the Fight-less Illini and Iowa for this season.

All that’s left in Iowa’s 2012 season is a showdown with Nebraska on Black Friday, although, now it’s a reach to describe the game as a showdown.

The outcome seems more like a foregone conclusion with Iowa (4-7) mired in a five-game losing streak and with Nebraska (9-2) needing a victory to clinch the Legends Division title.

This marks the first time since the 2000 season that Iowa hasn’t been bowl eligible and the first time since 2007 that it won’t play in a bowl game.

Expectations were tempered heading into the season, but even the most cynical and pessimistic fans probably didn’t expect it to get this bad.

“It’s tough,” Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg said after Saturday’s game. “I’ve got six days left of being a Hawkeye, and I’m going to live it as hard as I can and go as hard as I can and go out swinging.”

Vandenberg and his cohorts barely fired a shot against Nebraska last season, especially on offense, losing 20-7 in Lincoln, Neb. The game had about as much excitement as watching C-SPAN for three consecutive hours.

Iowa has gotten considerably worse on both sides of the line of scrimmage. It’s startling how far the Iowa program has slipped since defeating Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl following the 2009 season.

In less than three years, Iowa has gone from residing with the nation’s elite to festering near the bottom of the Big Ten.

“Everyone in the conference probably has the same goals as far as championships, bowl games and all those things,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said after Saturday’s game. “And you just earn those things and it’s simply decided on the field by winning. So if you don’t make it, you don’t make it. And then you go back to work.”

That’s been Ferentz’s message throughout the season; go back to work. But fans are tired of hearing it and Ferentz is tired of being questioned by the media.

Mostly, though, everybody is just tired of losing.

That was apparent Tuesday when Ferentz cursed at a reporter following his weekly news conference. Ferentz has a tradition of meeting with reporters after the new conference in order to discuss more specific details about his team. That’s when the cursing incident occurred, although the question that upset Ferentz was about the Peter Gray sexual harassment case and not about his team.

Iowa sports information director Steve Roe told reporters during Saturday’s beat-down at Michigan that Ferentz no longer would be having his mini-news conferences. Roe didn’t give a specific reason for the sudden change, but it’s probably no coincidence that the decision came in the same week in which Ferentz cursed at a reporter and during an extended losing streak.

Ferentz has every right to end his little chat with reporters after news conferences and after games because there is nothing in his contract that says he has to do it.

It just seems like an overreaction by somebody who rarely overreacts to anything. The perception also might be that Ferentz is bailing from a kitchen that’s too hot for him right now.

Either way, it just doesn’t look good.

Ferentz’s team is a mess right now and the task of cleaning up is beyond his capabilities for this season.

The same goes for Vandenberg, whose senior season has turned into one disaster after another, although, Vandenberg was hardly Iowa’s main problem against Michigan.

The Iowa defense ultimately has lived up to its suspect reputation heading into the season. The back-to-back victories over Michigan State and Minnesota to begin Big Ten play were fool’s gold.

Injuries have taken a toll on the defense, but that still doesn’t excuse Iowa from allowing more than 400 yards in each of the past five games, including two with more than 500 yards.

Michigan shredded the Hawkeyes for 513 yards on Saturday. Proof of Iowa’s ineptitude on defense besides how many yards it surrendered was the fact that Michigan converted on 9-of-12 third-down plays.

Nebraska figures to be just as potent on offense, whereas Iowa figures to be predictable and limited on offense. That’s been the story all season under first-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis.

I’ve rarely criticized Ferentz for his in-game decisions or his substitution patterns, but the fact Vandenberg is the only Iowa quarterback to take a snap this season now is kind of weird. It’s obvious that the gap between Vandenberg and redshirt freshman backup Jake Rudock is wide, but that still doesn’t explain why Rudock hasn’t taken a single snap this season.

What harm would’ve it done to insert Rudock for mop-up duty against Michigan or at the end of the 38-14 loss to Penn State last month?

It now looks as if Iowa will face a much tougher schedule in 2013 with a completely untested quarterback and without current senior James Ferentz playing center. Combine that with an overmatched defense and it’s hard to see even a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

Friday’s game at Kinnick Stadium could’ve been an intriguing matchup if Iowa had held up its end of the deal. It now threatens to be embarrassing if Iowa keeps playing as poorly as it has for over a month and if Kinnick Stadium is overtaken by Nebraska fans.

If there is any fight left in the Iowa players, they had better bring it Friday or Kinnick Stadium could become the scene of a boo-fest.

Many Iowa fans, judging from twitter, the message boards and the radio call-in shows are fed up with what’s happening to the football team.

They’re fed up with Ferentz refusing to play another quarterback.

And they’re fed up with having a third consecutive disappointing season.

The Iowa football program is at a crossroads and right now it looks like Ferentz is leading it down the wrong path.

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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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