By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - I was asked recently if the Iowa football team has a chance to lose more than one or two games this coming season, and it took me a few seconds to realize the person was poking fun of my spring optimism and just being a smart aleck.
My response was yes, of course, but I reminded this person that everybody is optimistic in the spring, and it’s been that way forever with regard to college football.
Spring football is always filled with hope and optimism.
It’s a time to improve both individually and as a team, and to do so without the threat and pressure of losing a game.
It’s a time to build depth and chemistry and to work on fundamentals and schemes.
Spring is also when you start promoting the upcoming season, and the hype that comes with it.
So yeah, the coverage during spring practice is overly optimistic and heavy on promotion.
I have written columns about quarterback Nate Stanley, defensive end Parker Hesse, tight end Noah Fant, running back Toren Young and linebacker Aaron Mends since Iowa started spring practice on March 21, and each had a positive slant as the smart aleck pointed out by calling me a homer.
I had to remind him again that everybody is a homer in the spring because it’s always been that way. Most fans want to be encouraged in the spring rather than discouraged.
And what would be the point in being critical in the spring other than just trying to be contrary?
Now that doesn’t mean objectivity is prohibited in the spring.
I was asked if I thought Iowa had a chance to lose more than one or two games and my answer is yes, without question.
I then explained my rule when predicting Iowa’s record in football at this stage under Kirk Ferentz, which is to start at 7-5 and then work in either direction.
I’m picking 8-4 at this point, with 9-3 closer than 7-5 due largely to the 2018 schedule, and because Iowa has some nice pieces returning from a player standpoint.
A quarterback (Stanley) who threw 26 touchdown passes and just six interceptions, a tight end (Fant) who caught 11 touchdown passes and one of the best group of defensive ends in the Big Ten headline the returning cast.
Iowa also avoids playing Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, which I’m sure some would respond sarcastically by saying that’s unfortunate in light of recent events, most notably Iowa’s stunning 55-24 victory over Ohio State this past season.
Not to minimize Iowa’s dominance against the Buckeyes, but one game doesn’t change nearly a century of Ohio State mostly having its way against Iowa.
If there is one team to avoid in the Big Ten as much as possible, it’s Ohio State, especially coming off a 31-point loss to Iowa.
The Hawkeyes have that luxury, along with three winnable nonconference games, although, Iowa State often seems like a winnable game that Iowa sometimes loses, even when the Cyclones aren’t very good.
But now Iowa State is pretty good under third-year coach Matt Campbell, so the game on Sept. 8 at Kinnick Stadium hardly is a sure thing for Iowa.
And if we’ve learned anything about Iowa’s schedule, it’s not to assume anything, even in the spring.
I’m hardly going out on a limb, or trying to feed the spring lovefest by predicting 8-4 for a program that has combined to win 28 games over the past three seasons.
Iowa has too many questions and perceived weaknesses to be an elite team at this stage, or so it seems.
The circumstances were similar in 2015, but that team won 12 games and played in the Rose Bowl.
So you never know.
Iowa averages slightly more than seven wins per season under Ferentz, but also has a pattern of rising up every three or four years to be special.
I’m just not ready to go there with this team, at least not yet.
Brian Ferentz should benefit from having a year under his belt as the Iowa offensive coordinator because now everybody is on the same page and familiar with the new terminology.
But the lack of experience at linebacker and running back, the lack of production at punter and the lack of big plays from the receivers are three areas of concern that temper my optimism, even in the spring.
But we have all summer to dwell on Iowa’s perceived weaknesses.
Spring is when the glass should be half full because it represents a fresh slate for a new team that is just starting to build its identity.
Spring is when you believe the upset over Ohio State was a sign that Iowa is on the rise again, and that the 38-14 drubbing at Wisconsin a week later was just an aberration.
Spring is when you just believe that good will always prevail over bad.