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Hansen: Expectations: Bigger they are, harder they fall

[ 3 ] August 21, 2011 |

The Hawkeyes surprise when expectations fall and disappoint when expectations rise. That’s the conventional wisdom when it comes to Iowa football. Kirk Ferentz’s teams like to sneak up on people and, conversely, don’t respond as well when everyone’s fawning all over them in the preseason.

Why? Amateur psychology says it’s at least partly because Ferentz isn’t an attention-seeking look-at-me kind of guy, which rubs off on his players.

But is it true?

When fall practice began last season, the Hawkeyes were preseason, top-10 darlings. They were coming off an 11-2, BCS-bowl-victory season. With most of the best players back, however, they went 8-5.

If expectations were such a millstone, how did the Hawkeyes manage to win five of their first six games — including victories over Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State — and seven of their first nine?

You figure the great expectations bugaboo would have worn off by then.

Were expectations the reason Adrian Clayborn’s sack total slid from 11.5 to 3.5 his senior year? Did opponents suddenly try harder to block him? Did he give less effort?

Was it expectations or inexperience at linebacker?

At the start of practice in 2011, Iowa had three experienced tailbacks vying for the job. But not by the end.

Ricky Stanzi finished 12th in the country in pass efficiency. He lived up to expectations and then some.

There’s an old stock market adage that sounds right on today: “Sell in May then go away.” It really works, too, except for all the times it hasn’t.

Final word on the inverse relationship between expectations and success: Some things are mere coincidence and nothing more. This is one of them.

Which player will be the first to get called for excessive celebration this season and have a touchdown taken away?

That’s the new rule, and Bill Corollo, coordinator of Big Ten Conference officials, says he’s expecting some controversy, sooner than later. Spontaneous celebrations are OK, unless they’re directed toward their opponent or drawing attention. When that happens, it’s the same as a clipping penalty. The points come off the board.

Everyone seems to hate the rule. And it does seem like an overreaction to a small problem. The dance routine that follows a routine sack or a meaningless touchdown is annoying, no question. But wiping points off the board for excessive celebration is asking for trouble and needless controversy.

That said, wouldn’t this be a good time for college football coaches to remind their players how two of the greatest, most respected players in football history — Walter Payton and Barry Sanders — celebrated their many touchdowns? By flipping the ball to the official and calmly accepting the congratulations of their teammates on the way back to the bench. Dumb rule or not, maybe that should be the next football fad.

Hayden Fry used to call 6-foot 8-inch Dan McGwire the tallest quarterback in college football history. Though documenting that assertion is next to impossible, McGwire became the tallest quarterback ever chosen in the NFL Draft when the Seattle Seahawks made him their first-round pick in 1991.

Could Eric Guthrie, a 6-6 senior from Nevada, turn out to be the tallest punter in college football history? If not, at least one of the tallest.

Whatever, tall punters seems to be a growing trend. Second on Iowa’s depth chart is Jonny Mullings, a redshirt freshman from Ottumwa, by way of Australia. Mullings, a rugby star Down Under, is listed at 6-3.

Included in Iowa’s 2012 recruiting class is Connor Kornbrath, a 6-6 punter from West Virginia. His commitment becomes official in February when he signs a national letter of intent.

The late Reggie Roby, possibly Iowa’s greatest punter, stood 6-3. In the NFL, Matt Turk of Jacksonville, Brandon Fields of Miami and Ben Graham of Arizona are all 6-5.

Is there an advantage to being that tall? Fewer punts sail over your head, obviously. But what about the low snaps? Are they harder for tall punters to bend down and snag?

The real question is whether Guthrie will be able to fill the shoes of Ryan Donahue, a four-year starter.

When you’re Joe Paterno’s age you don’t have to watch what you say quite as much anymore. At the Big Ten media gathering in Chicago, he was asked, in the light of Ohio State’s problems with the NCAA, how Penn State has been able to avoid major rules violations all these years. The 84-year-old Paterno spoke for most coaches when he said, “Maybe we’re lucky.”

Register sports columnist Marc Hansen can be reached at (515) 284-8534 or mahansen@dmreg.com

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Marc Hansen: Marc Hansen is a sports columnist for The Des Moines Register. View author profile.

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