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Harty: Iowa rarely stays at an elite level

[ 29 ] November 21, 2010 |

Being successful at an elite level is hard enough for any college football team. Sustaining it is virtually impossible.

Even a school like Texas, which has more built-in advantages than a kid with a seven-figure trust fund, is capable of being mediocre or worse, as evidenced by this season.

To be an elite team should take qualifying for a BCS bowl game, winning at least 10 games and finishing no lower than second place in conference play.

Iowa met all those requirements last season and was expected by many to do it again this season.

But the fact that it hasn’t happened should come as no surprise because it’s rare for Iowa to sustain success at an elite level.

Iowa won at least 10 games in each of the three seasons from 2002-04 and two Big Ten titles during that three-year stretch. But the 2003 squad only finished in a tie for fourth place in the Big Ten with a 5-3 record.

Iowa also won three Big Ten titles and had three 10-win seasons during Hayden Fry’s 20-year reign as coach from 1979-98.

But the Hawkeyes never finished in second place or higher in more than two consecutive seasons under Fry, or under Forest Evashevski for that matter.

Evashevski led Iowa to Big Ten titles in 1956, 1958 and 1960, which was his last season as head coach. But in 1957, 1959 and 1961, Iowa finished in third, sixth and seventh-place respectively, in the Big Ten.

But only once in school history has Iowa won back-to-back Big Ten titles, which occurred in 1921 and 1922 under coach Howard Jones, but then in 1923 Iowa finished in sixth place in the Big Ten.

It wasn’t unreasonable to think that Iowa would be an elite team this season, with all the talent returning and with a favorable schedule.

But if you go by history, the odds were better that it wouldn’t happen.

That’s not to say that Iowa’s 7-4 record heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale at Minnesota isn’t a surprise because the team has underachieved.

It’s just asking a lot for Iowa to be an elite team in back-to-back seasons.

Ferentz has built the Iowa program to where it seems like he always has a team that is capable of finishing 7-5 or 8-4 on paper.

But when you factor in things like injuries, luck and the schedule, 8-4 can either blossom into 10-2 or sink to 6-6 just like that.

The line between being an elite team and being a good team is razor thin and often can be determined by four or five plays during the course of a season.

In Iowa’s case, you have the blocked extra point against Arizona, the fake punt against Wisconsin, the interception against Northwestern and Terrelle Pryor’s scramble for a first down on fourth-and-10 against Ohio State this Saturday that changed the course of this season.

That still doesn’t make it easier to accept the disappointment of this season, but what’s happened isn’t unprecedented.

With two games still left to be played, including a bowl game, the final chapter about the 2010 Iowa team hasn’t yet been written.

Iowa could finish 9-4, 8-5 or 7-6, meaning this team still has a chance to shape its legacy.

Imagine the meltdown that would occur if Iowa lost to lowly Minnesota this coming Saturday. That would be the first time this season that Iowa lost a game it had no business losing.

Say what you want about Northwestern being inferior to Iowa; you don’t beat a team five out of six times by accident.

Iowa almost certainly will be without starting running back Adam Robinson against Minnesota. He suffered a concussion against Ohio State, his second in the past four weeks.

That means true freshman Marcus Coker will have to carry the load at running back. He did the same thing against Indiana and rushed for more than 100 yards.

Coker also rushed 70 yards on just nine carries against Ohio State.

Some fans wanted to see more of Coker, and now they’ll get their wish.

So many of the fans’ other wishes for this season haven’t come true, though.

History suggests that maybe we should’ve seen this coming.

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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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