By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - We saw this past Saturday that the Iowa the football team isn’t above getting embarrassed by a team of Penn State’s ilk.
The Nittany Lions faced little resistance while dismantling Iowa 41-14 in prime time at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa.
The loss left Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz searching for answers, but with little time to do so with second-ranked Michigan up next on the schedule in another prime time game this Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
It’s easy to think that Michigan will crush the Hawkeyes based on the circumstances surrounding each team. Michigan is undefeated and not just beating opponents, but destroying almost all of them in swift and stunning fashion under head coach Jim Harbaugh, while Iowa is 5-4 and coming off a game in which it surrendered 599 yards.
If the Hawkeyes don’t improve dramatically by Saturday, the same Michigan team that pummeled Penn State 49-10 on Sept. 24 in Ann Arbor, Mich., almost certainly would do the same to Iowa.
So there is something to be said for staying close and making the game competitive as a way for Iowa to build hope and confidence for the final two games against Illinois and Nebraska.
But in no way should Iowa be receptive to having a moral victory on Saturday, unless the New England Patriots replace Michigan as the opponent. Only then should it be tolerated.
The Iowa program should be above having moral victories in Ferentz’s 18th season as head coach and with everything that has been invested in the program, most notably money and the commitment from fans.
Iowa is barely removed from a 12-win season that culminated with a berth in the Rose Bowl, and yet some apparently feel from what I’ve read on social media and in e-mails, that the program has sunk low enough that being competitive against Michigan would qualify as a moral victory.
That just seems weak and disrespectful to the Iowa players and coaches.
Iowa's acceptance of moral victories should’ve ended the first time Ferentz rebuilt the program 15 years ago. A moral victory fits a program in transition or one that is making a dramatic step up in competition, like when Northern Iowa lost to Iowa 17-16 in the 2009 season opener.
That would qualify as a moral victory, although, Northern Iowa coach Mark Farely might have a different opinion.
Iowa never has been and probably never will be one of the true blue bloods in college football. But Iowa is a solid program with plenty of tradition, resources and support to be competitive.
Moral victories are for losers.
Ferentz’s program has some serious issues, but the players and coaches aren’t losers. They’re above being rewarded for just being competitive.
Upsets happen all the time as we saw this season when North Dakota State defeated the Hawkeyes 23-21 on a field goal as time expired. The Bison has no business beating Iowa on paper, but the game was played on the grass at Kinnick Stadium.
Michigan is favored to win on Saturday by at least three touchdowns, which is total disrespect to the Iowa players and coaches.
Something tells me the game will be closer than that, partly because few expect it to be. That usually is when Ferentz’s teams respond the best.
Iowa would suffer a major public relations blow if the Michigan game isn’t close. So, of course, you would prefer losing a close game than being embarrassed under the lights at home and on national television.
But Iowa only has two options against Michigan on Saturday – win or lose – because moral victories stopped being an option years ago.