By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa football is in a pretty good place right now and Kirk Ferentz wanted to highlight that point while addressing the media for the first time since the Holiday Bowl.
So in preparation for Monday’s press conference, three statistical handouts were made available when reporters arrived, including one that ranks the most wins for Big Ten and for Big 12 teams over the past five years.
That is 24 teams overall, and Iowa is tied with Michigan for fifth on the list with 47 wins since 2015.
Ohio State is first on the list with 61 victories, followed by Oklahoma with 58, Wisconsin with 52 and Penn State with 49.
And then it’s Iowa and Michigan with 47.
That’s keeping pretty good company from Iowa’s standpoint.
Three traditional powers in Ohio State, Oklahoma and Penn State, along with one of the best programs over the past quarter century in the Badgers, is all that stands above Iowa on the list.
Iowa State has 29 wins over the past five years to rank 17th on the list, while Kansas is last with just nine wins since 2015.
Iowa crushed USC 49-24 in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27th in San Diego to cap a 10-3 season.
This past season still left something to be desired since Iowa didn’t win the Big Ten title, or even the West Division title, and since it lost to Wisconsin for the fourth season in a row, and for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.
Iowa’s other two losses were to Michigan and Penn State by a combined 12 points.
In fact, Iowa’s three losses were by a combined 14 points.
This past season was agonizingly close to being a special, storybook season. But were the three losses by a combined 14 points against teams that combined to finish 34-6 overall enough to make it a disappointing season?
Some fans might say yes to that, but in my opinion, that’s being unrealistic and too critical based on the circumstances.
Maybe I’m a homer who is stuck in the past, or I’m willing to accept not being great, because to me, there is no such thing as a bad 10-win season at Iowa.
I wanted to know what Kirk Ferentz thought about that, so this was my first question to him on Monday:
Can you win 10 games here at Iowa and not have it be a successful season?
“Probably not when I’m here,” Ferentz said. “To me, we win one game, I’m happy. But I know not everybody else is. “I think it’s just a natural tendency for people, and I’ve said this before, you know the experts, I think Chuck Noll defined experts best. Experts are people that aren’t accountable to anybody.
“It’s easy for experts to say we should win this game and that game, and all this and that. But going out and doing it is a whole different story, especially in college football. I think the NFL and college football have become very similar in a lot of ways unless you’ve just got a boat full of guys, like you know, we saw a couple teams the other night that had a boat full of guys.”
Ferentz was referring to the national title game between Louisiana State and Clemson in which both teams were loaded with jaw-dropping talent.
You could make a strong case that Clemson, LSU and Ohio State were clearly the three best teams in college football.
Alabama also deserved some consideration until it lost starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to an injury.
But beyond those four teams was a group of about 10 to 15 pretty good teams that included the 10-3 Hawkeyes, who didn’t have a bad loss.
The naysayers will counter by saying a loss is still a loss, which is true.
But it’s easier to justify, or to explain Iowa’s losses this past season because the competition had a lot to do with it.
“It’s hard to win college football games,” Ferentz said. “There’s a lot of parity. There’s a lot of good teams, a lot of good coaches. We’re seeing that in our conference, I think. If you look top to bottom, there aren’t many easy outs in our conference. I mean every game is hard to win.
“But if you’re not giving yourself a chance to win, you’re not going to win. So at least we’ve done a pretty good job of that for two years. I can't control how people feel about ten nine, eight, eleven, twelve (wins), you know. More is better, I do know that. I get that. But yeah, we’ll appreciate what we’ve done."
And they should appreciate what they accomplished this past season, and over the past five seasons because 47 wins is pretty darn impressive no matter how you slice it.
Most college football programs would be proud to win 47 games over five seasons.
Iowa isn’t elite, but it’s far from being average right now under the 64-year old Kirk Ferentz.
Some key players have to be replaced from this past season, but like Ferentz often says, that’s football. Reloading and rebuilding goes with territory.
Iowa should benefit immensely from the return of left tackle Alaric Jackson for his senior season. Jackson is on the verge of becoming the only player under Ferentz to start at left tackle for all four seasons, and maybe the only player in program history to do that.
Jackson probably would’ve been selected in the 2020 NFL Draft, but he injured his knee in the season opener and wasn’t the same after that.
The Detroit native made the decision to return on his own, and that is huge for lot of reasons, including the fact that Iowa will be starting a new quarterback with sophomore Spencer Petras the leading candidate to replace departed senior and three-year starter, Nate Stanley.
“I think it’s a step in maturity in his case,” Ferentz said of Jackson. “Every case is individual, you start with that. But I think he sensed that he needs this year, and there’s no question in my mind that he needed it.
“Whether or not he would have listened to me or not, that’s a whole different discussion. But he came to that conclusion on his own, and I’m really proud of him for doing that.”
Kirk Ferentz has a lot to be proud about these days.
He still has to figure out how to beat Wisconsin again, while Minnesota is now a program on the rise under P.J. Fleck. And it’s been 15 years since Iowa last won a Big Ten title.
But a 10-win season still can't be dismissed or taken for granted, especially at Iowa where only nine seasons since 1889 have ended with double-digit wins.