The B1G 10: This weirdly cool Iowa story could have been even better. Kudos to Kirk Ferentz
1. The B1G Story
We laughed and mocked week after week this season, instead of marveling at how it all continues to unfold at Iowa.
You know the train wreck is coming, and when it arrives, there’s nothing shocking about it. Because no one is worse for the wear.
Again and again and again.
This is Iowa football right now, warts and all. And before the thought of the Hawkeyes playing in Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game makes you puke, understand this:
If Big Ten officials hadn’t absolutely lost their collective minds last month and did the unthinkable in Iowa’s 2-point loss to Minnesota, we’d be talking about an 11-win Hawkeyes team that’s 1 win from the Playoff.
That’s right, Iowa and its utterly inept offense (see: the weekly train wreck) would’ve been in position to reach the college football holy land by beating Michigan this weekend.
“We got screwed,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, the longtime stoic one, barked out of character last weekend after another disgustingly boring yet ultimately satisfying win — this time over bitter rival Nebraska.
But even a win over the Huskers couldn’t keep this kettle from overflowing. This wasn’t just about getting “screwed” by a phantom fair catch call Big Ten officials charged to Cooper DeJean to negate a go-ahead punt return touchdown against Minnesota -— an utterly absurd call that was made only because officials looked at the review to see if DeJean stepped out of bounds, and then charged DeJean with a fair catch call.
This was about that ridiculous call and how it affected Iowa, and also about Ferentz’s embattled son and Iowa offensive coordinator, Brian, getting dragged for the last 2 seasons by a loyal Hawkeyes fan base that had seen enough.
It was about former athletic director Gary Barta putting Brian in a box in the offseason with inane goals (25 ppg, 7 wins) to reach or else. And new athletic director Beth Goetz doing what Barta couldn’t do last year by firing Brian midseason, effective at the end of the 2023 season.
It all came to a head at the end of the Nebraska game, when Kirk Ferentz got so emotional moments after the game, he cried on CBS national television when asked what this season meant to him.
He then let it fly minutes later in the post-game media session, after addressing a team that overcame significant obstacles all season to reach its first major goal: play for the Big Ten Championship.
The 1 that got away against Minnesota — and the idea of instant replay — merely greased the tracks.
“I don’t ever play that (screwed) card, but I’m playing it now,” Ferentz said, and his voice was still cracking, he was still emotional. “That’s still the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen in the last, what’s it, a quarter century? Take that replay stuff and blow it up, start over again. I mean, we’re trying to make this stuff rocket science and it isn’t. It’s football.
“It’s like, ‘Oh, that (fair catch call) happens all the time.’ That’s a bunch of sh—. Unbelievable.”
2. A win is a win
Let’s get down to brass tacks, OK? College football coaches are hired to win games. Period.
Iowa fans, maybe the most loyal in all of college football, don’t care how it happens — only that it does. And even when it doesn’t, well, they’re not calling for Ferentz’s job because there has been way more good than bad in a quarter century of Ferentz on the sidelines.
So when the offense started struggling in 2021 and kept getting worse until the absolute mess of 2023, Kirk Ferentz kept insisting that they’d won “a lot of games around here” doing it their way and that everything was fixable. He had capital built, and by proxy, so had Brian.
Only that’s not how it works.
Then Michigan quarterback transfer Cade McNamara, who Brian had built the offense around in the offseason, sustained a season-ending knee injury in Week 4. Then Michigan tight end transfer Erik All, the team’s best option in the pass game and another player Brian had built the offense around, sustained a season-ending knee injury in mid-October.
Now the Hawkeyes are trying to score points with a quarterback (Deacon Hill) who looks more like a defensive lineman, and a pass game that — if it’s possible — is less effective than the previous 2 years under Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla.
And they’ve won 10 games. Let me stress that again: 10 games.
They’ve won with another phenomenal defensive effort — if defensive coordinator Phil Parker isn’t the Broyles Award winner as the nation’s top assistant coach, there shouldn’t be an award — and because punting is sexy in Iowa City.
And sonofagun, if they weren’t a blown call from something much, much bigger.
Now you know why Ferentz finally exploded at the end of the season. He’d seen and heard enough — and this unique team was so darn close to that I told you so moment — despite all that adversity.
3. The race to 11
Let’s be realistic here. Iowa isn’t beating Michigan.
But there is a nice (and rare) goal still out there: 11 wins.
Iowa has won at least 11 games 3 times since it began playing football in 1899 — all by Ferentz. It hasn’t won 11 games since the Hawkeyes won 12 in 2015, the last time they had an opportunity to reach the Playoff.
That season began with 12 wins, and finished with losses to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game and Stanford in the Rose Bowl. It was also the last time Iowa played in a major bowl.
Had Iowa beaten Minnesota, they’d have a strong case for a New Year’s 6 major bowl. Now it looks like the Citrus Bowl, unless the unthinkable happens and the Hawkeyes win the Big Ten.
But forget about that for a moment, and embrace the beauty of what Iowa has accomplished over the last 3 months.
Even if it did get screwed by its own conference.
4. The fallout
Michigan, more than 2-time defending national champion Georgia, may be a lock for the Playoff — win or lose the Big Ten Championship Game.
This, of course, calls into question motivation for Saturday’s game.
“There are too many NFL guys on that roster for them to not play full-go,” an NFL scout told Saturday Tradition. “These guys know the late season, conference championship and Playoff games are where you can move (in the NFL draft). Your tape is everything, and good tape in big games is even more important.”
The one scenario where Michigan could miss the Playoff: Alabama, Washington and FSU win, and Texas routs Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship Game.
That would leave Michigan competing for the final spot against Georgia with a loss to Alabama, and Texas with an impressive conference championship win and a best win that trumps Michigan’s (SEC Champion Alabama vs. Ohio State).
The more likely scenario for Michigan Saturday: get up big early, and rest starters in the 2nd half.
5. The Weekly 5
Five picks against the spread, Championship Week edition.
Michigan (-22.5) vs. Iowa, Big Ten
Georgia (-5.5) vs. Alabama, SEC
Oregon (-8.5) vs. Washington, Pac-12
Oklahoma State (+13.5) vs. Texas, Big 12
Louisville (+4.5) vs. Florida State, ACC
Last week: 2-5.
6. Your tape is your resume
An NFL scout analyzes a draft eligible Big Ten player. This week: Ohio State CB Denzel Burke.
“He’s long and has really good anticipation. He can mirror routes as well as anyone I’ve seen in the last few years. The only problem is the speed. He’s not a true burner, but he’s fluid in his movement and doesn’t get lost. He can highpoint those 50-50 throws, and has strong hands to punch the ball or grab it. He’s a Day 2 guy, but a guy who could be playing for a long time in our league.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing.
1. Michigan: QB JJ McCarthy will have to make critical plays in the pass game from here on out, when running the ball will get difficult against Iowa and anyone in the Playoff.
2. Ohio State: It looks like an Orange Bowl game against overmatched Louisville — though Cardinals coach Jeff Brohm gave Ohio State problems as the Purdue coach.
3. Penn State: Another 11-win season, and another step closer to beating Michigan and Ohio State and taking control of the Big Ten. The 2024 team will be coach James Franklin’s most talented and experienced yet.
4. Iowa: Ferentz is more resolute than ever to prove he can win his way — and will do so until he decides he’s had enough.
5. Northwestern: The most underplayed story of the season: David Braun’s fantastic job of not only keeping the Northwestern team together, but winning 7 games — despite all the outside noise.
6. Wisconsin: Season 1 under Luke Fickell went like no one expected. There’s too much to like about Fickell’s track record to think he won’t fix problems on both sides of the ball.
7. Maryland: A bowl win translates to back-to-back 8-win seasons. Maryland hasn’t won at least 16 games in back-to-back seasons in 20 years, since Ralph Friedgen won 21 from 2002-03.
8. Rutgers: The 18-point loss to Maryland at home may have wrecked all the work Rutgers did by reaching bowl eligibility in October. Maryland is the bar right now, and Terps have won the last 3 games by a combined 79 points.
9. Illinois: The last 3 losses of the season — Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern — were by a combined 9 points, and prevented Illinois from backing up a breakout season under Bret Bielema in 2022.
10. Minnesota: The worst season under coach PJ Fleck, including the 5-7 mark in Year 1 in 2017. That team was still learning what it took to play under Fleck. This team had experienced leadership on both sides of the ball, and blew too many games — including a 19-point loss to Purdue.
11. Michigan State: Jonathan Smith is a terrific hire. A young, offensive-minded coach who thrives through organization. The days of sloppy games and sloppy teams are over.
12. Nebraska: The implosion in the month of November will not be easy to forget. For the dinged fanbase, and more important, for a roster that has endured losing every possible way since 2017.
13. Purdue: You can point to any number of problems, including average quarterback play and a lack of dynamic players on both sides of the ball. But the real culprit: the lines of scrimmage were a mess, and Purdue won’t change under coach Ryan Walters until the lines do.
14. Indiana: Indiana has a lot to offer, including money to find the right coach. You’re not shelling out $15.5 million in walkaway money to Tom Allen and not getting someone who can win immediately. The best choice: Toledo coach Jason Candle.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: What does Penn State do with the offensive coordinator position? — Christopher Patton, Washington D.C.
It may not be as simple as offering Joe Moorhead triple his salary (he currently makes $550,000) to leave his job as head coach at Akron. Moorhead was making $1.1 million annually as the OC at Oregon, and left for Akron despite more than a 50 percent pay cut.
Money clearly isn’t the goal for Moorhead, who is still dealing with the buildout at Akron. The Zips have had back-to-back 2-10 seasons under Moorhead, who took over after Akron won 3 games over the previous 3 seasons.
Does he continue to try and pull Akron from the abyss, or take a shot with Penn State and young and talented QB Drew Allar? If not Moorhead, there are any number of ways Penn State coach James Franklin can look.
But he needs a quarterback coach and developer, and a strong play caller. If he goes with the current interim setup of RBs coach Ja’Juan Sider and TEs coach Ty Howle, he’ll need just a quarterbacks coach.
But that would leave the offense with an odd setup of the quarterbacks coach reporting to 2 position coaches who co-coordinate the offense and call plays. It’s a setup destined for failure.
48. Just how remarkable was Braun’s 7-win season at Northwestern? The Wildcats gave up 48 sacks, and averaged 105 rushing yards a game. How does that happen, you ask? A plus-10 turnover ratio — Northwestern was negative-18 in 2022 — and a 3rd down conversion rate of 41.3 percent.
10. Quote to note
Nebraska coach Matt Rhule: “Sometimes the first people to do things don’t get to see the results. The first people to storm the beach at Normandy, you know. The first explorers. You don’t always get to see the end result.”