Nobody knew it at the time, but 1946 was an important year for the Iowa football program because that’s when the Mid-American Conference was formed.
It took about four decades before Iowa started padding its schedule with MAC opponents. But now it’s to the point where you expect a team from the MAC to be on Iowa’s schedule. And you expect Iowa to win — unless the opponent is Western Michigan.
MAC opponents almost always put forth a spirited effort against Big Ten teams because it’s their chance to make a statement and show that their level of football also deserves respect.
But they almost always lose. That’s why it’s such a great relationship from Iowa’s standpoint.
The Hawkeyes are 7-0 against Northern Illinois and had better be 8-0 at the conclusion of today’s season opener at Soldier Field in Chicago or coach Kirk Ferentz will have some explaining to do.
Most Iowa fans probably don’t care that NCAA scholarship reductions have helped the MAC narrow the gap. They only care about the final score and they aren’t pleased when it’s close.
“I don’t pretend to be an expert on the (Mid-American) Conference, but I think the scholarship reduction has affected all of college football,” Ferentz said. “And they do a good job of recruiting; just look at the quarterbacks that have come out there.”
Ferentz should know how the MAC schools recruit because he is to the MAC what the Grinch is to Christmas with how Iowa repeatedly steals recruits who were previously headed to MAC schools, receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley being one example.
Facing a MAC opponent is a good measuring stick because to struggle often means trouble lies ahead for Iowa, while the best Iowa teams usually face little resistance from the MAC attack.
There are exceptions, such as 2002, when a very talented Iowa squad hung on to defeat Miami (Ohio) 29-24 on the road. But that was also a pretty good Miami team with a future NFL quarterback named Ben Roethlisberger leading the way.
“That trip to Miami wasn’t much fun for us, I know that,” Ferentz said.
Iowa lost to Western Michigan at Kinnick Stadium in 2000 and 2007 because in both cases Iowa wasn’t very good.
The 27-21 loss in 2000 came in the second game of the season and during a stretch in which Ferentz lost 18 of 20 games to begin his run at Iowa. It was one of the many growing pains that occurred during the rebuilding phase.
The 28-19 loss in 2007, on the other hand, came in the regular-season finale and with a bowl invitation and winning record on the line. It was a lost opportunity by a team that probably didn’t deserve to be in a bowl game in the first place.
There were signs right away that the 2007 team, which finished 6-6 overall, had issues, especially at quarterback.
Those issues surfaced in the season opener against Northern Illinois in a game that also was played at Soldier Field, as well as in extreme heat.
Iowa prevailed 16-3 behind a potent rushing attack that produced 250 rushing yards on 46 attempts, highlighted by Albert Young’s 144 yards on 23 attempts.
The Hawkeyes needed every one of those rushing yards to win, though, because the passing attack behind sophomore quarterback Jake Christensen was mostly ineffective. Christensen did throw one touchdown pass — a five-yarder to tight end Brandon Myers — but he only completed 12-of-29 passes overall for 133 yards.
Christensen would go on to struggle throughout the season, while Young finished with 968 rushing yards in 2007, averaging nearly five yards per carry.
The situation is more stable at quarterback now with senior James Vandenberg coming off a season in which he threw for 3,022 yards and 25 touchdowns. Vandenberg struggles on the road, but the environment at Soldier Field won’t feel like a road game with about 30,000 Iowa fans showing their love.
Iowa also is catching the Huskies at the right time with star quarterback Chandler Harnish having used up his eligibility last season.
The Northern Illinois team that finished 11-3 overall and with nine consecutive victories to close last season is not the same team that will face Iowa today, not by a long shot.
Only three starters return on offense, including just one on the offensive line.
Iowa will counter with an inexperienced defensive line, but shouldn’t a group of Big Ten players with limited experience prevail over a group of MAC players with limited experience?
Upsets have their place in sports, but a Big Ten team has no business losing to a MAC team in football unless the Big Ten team isn’t very good.
Despite all their success last season, Harnish and his cohorts proved to be no match against Wisconsin, losing 49-7 in the third game. A below-average Kansas team also defeated the Huskies 45-42 last season.
Iowa should be 1-0 after today’s game, but how it gets to that point will determine the fan reaction.
Any type of loss, however, would trigger the same reaction, that being a MAC meltdown.
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or email@example.com.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football