IOWA CITY, Ia. — Why do so many Iowa fans seem cranky?
The new millennium brought a rebirth of Hawkeye football, resulting in a 104-68 record and four top-10 finishes in the Associated Press poll the past 13-plus seasons.
That’s good enough to put Kirk Ferentz’s program among the upper half of the Big Ten Conference over that period — an accomplishment fitting Iowa’s tradition, devotion and position on the national landscape.
So why do I get nasty emails questioning Ferentz’s coaching acumen?
Do the Hawkeye faithful have a realistic gripe? Or is it time we all grow up and face the realities of parity?
“The expectations of people? Man, I think they’re just too high,” said Joe Chmelka, president of the Polk County I-Club. “If I’ve had one complaint about Kirk over the last five years … we’ve gotten beat by teams we shouldn’t lose to, the Northwesterns, the Minnesotas, the Central Michigans, the Iowa States.
“But this year, we’re winning those games.”
The Hawkeyes (5-4) head into Saturday’s 11a.m. game at Purdue (1-7) one victory shy of becoming bowl-eligible for the 12th time in 13 years.
I can almost see eyes rolling and shoulders shrugging. Maybe it’s because Purdue is considered a Big Ten patsy.
My guess is, some Iowa fans are a little spoiled.
Nobody is immune
When the Hawkeyes beat Georgia Tech in the 2010 Orange Bowl, winning felt like a birthright.
And some people have been chafing ever since.
Iowa has posted a 16-18 record the last two-plus seasons, including a humbling 4-8 finish in 2012.
“It seemed like after Kirk got it going, they were really something,” Big Ten Network analyst Glen Mason said. “They were a formidable team, and then they’ve struggled.
“I was in there a couple weeks ago, doing a game, and mentioned, ‘You know, Kirk, I haven’t even recognized your defenses the last couple years.’
“He knew what I was saying. I wasn’t taking a shot, I was just stating they were really, really good defensively, as we all well know.”
Where have you gone, Adrian Clayborn?
The Hawkeyes have slipped into mediocrity, but they’re not alone.
While Iowa was posting a 28-11 record from 2008 to 2010 — rebounding from a 6-6 non-bowl season in 2007 — Michigan went 15-22.
Remember when Iowa went 31-7 from 2002 to 2004? Well, Penn State was in a 16-20 funk in those years.
In other words, unless your campus is parked in Columbus, Ohio, few schools are immune to a multi-season dip.
“That’s just the way of the world,” said Dennis Dodd, a national college football writer for CBSSports.com. “They’ve all had downturns.
“USC was bad before Pete Carroll. Now, they haven’t been up to standard since 2009.”
And for those who want to blame Ferentz: Be careful what you wish for.
Frank Solich was the last coach to take Nebraska to a national title game (2001).
Lloyd Carr was the last to have a top-10 season at Michigan (2006).
Joe Tiller was the last to win more than seven games in a season at Purdue (2007).
And Mason was the last to post back-to-back winning seasons at Minnesota (2004-05).
“When you think about those lulls, you look back at the number of games Iowa lost just by a couple points,” Mason said. “You say, ‘Gee, it could have been the other way.’
“Fans seem to remember the games that were lost by a couple points, and they soon forget about the games that were won by a couple points.”
Coming full circle
Nobody bleeds black and gold more than the players.
And nobody is more starved for success.
“We’re not really just satisfied with making a bowl, either,” said Conor Boffeli, a senior lineman from West Des Moines Valley. “We want the 10-2 (seasons), too. It’s not just the fans that want it.
“It’s our duty to get as many wins as possible, and we kind of haven’t done that this year.”
Earning a postseason invite would be progress. But maybe not enough progress.
“It’s like everybody is waiting for us to have this big breakthrough win,” Chmelka said. “We didn’t get it against Ohio State. We didn’t get it against Michigan State.
“I think we really need to beat Michigan or Nebraska. If we can beat one of those two teams, I think people will get really excited again about Iowa football.”
Funny thing about passionate supporters: They can be tough to please, or amazingly patient.
“Kinnick Stadium was always a tough place to play,” said Mason, an Ohio State linebacker in the early 1970s. “And really, to a large extent, the Iowa people are not unrealistic.
“They don’t expect you to win a Big Ten championship every year. … They’re not happy with four-win seasons or five-win seasons, but typically, if you go to a good bowl and you’ve won eight games, they’re pretty darn happy.”
Andrew Logue (@AndrewMLogue) has been with the Register for more than two decades and covers Hawkeye football and sports media. Join him at 9a.m. every Monday during football season for a live chat at HawkCentral.com.
21ST CENTURY SUCCESS
The cumulative record of Big Ten football teams since the start of 2000 season:
Ohio State 142-33
Penn State 106-63
Michigan State 97-74
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football