Stadium: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA
When They Play Terps: October 18, at Maryland (TBA)
When college football fans think of dominant Big Ten teams, Ohio State and Michigan usually come to mind.
However, the Iowa Hawkeyes have built a strong program over the course of the last 40 years and now are almost always competitive in the conference.
Of course it wasn’t always that way.
Prior to 1979, the Hawkeyes had only had nine winning seasons since establishing a football program in 1892. They had 23 head coaches during that time and success was few and far between.
In 1979, that all changed. Iowa went outside the program and hired North Texas State coach Hayden Fry as their new head coach. Fry was the head coach at SMU prior to North Texas State. While at SMU, Fry produced the only three winning seasons in the history of the Mustangs program. While at North Texas State, he turned the program around and produced a 40-23-3 record in six seasons.
Recruiting had been an issue for the Hawkeyes prior to Fry’s arrival, so that was something that he attacked. Being a Big Ten school, Fry went into states like Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and even Texas. The former North Texas state coach recruited nationwide and knew that’s what it would take to build a winning program in Iowa City.
Fry also built a strong coaching staff that included several future head coaches, including Bill Snyder (Kansas State), Kirk Ferentz (Iowa), Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin), and Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), All have been extremely successful head coaches at the collegiate level.
The first two seasons were less than stellar for Fry and criticism loomed as to whether he would as unsuccessful as previous Iowa coaches before him. However, that all changed in the 1981 season. The Hawkeyes opened the season with an upset of #6 Nebraska, which was a good deal because the Cornhuskers embarrassed Iowa 57-0 the previous year. Two weeks later, the Hawkeyes knocked off new #6 UCLA and gave Fry win number 100 for his career. This season was starting to look like a magical one for Iowa. Later that season, they knocked off Michigan on the road for the first win against the Wolverines in 19 years. In the last week of the season, Iowa was able to beat Michigan State and received some assistance from an Ohio State victory over Michigan. These two results gave the Hawkeyes a share of the Big Ten title. The win clinched a Rose Bowl matchup with Washington, which the Hawkeyes ended up losing 28-0. Despite that result, Iowa had burst back onto the national scene and Fry was one of the primary reasons for that.
From 1982-1984, the Hawkeyes appeared in three consecutive bowl games. In the 1982 season, Iowa defeated Tennessee 28-22 in the Peach Bowl. In 1983, they compiled a 9-2 record and received an invite to the Gator Bowl. Iowa was ranked in the top 10 before losing to Florida in that bowl game. In 1984, the Hawkeyes got off to a strong start, but finished with a 7-4-1 record due in large part to injuries. They ended up playing against Texas in the Freedom Bowl, which they won 55-17. Quarterback Chuck Long threw six touchdown passes in the bowl win, which was a huge accomplishment being that Fry was from Texas and coached at other Texas schools.
With an extremely successful three years, 1985 was a huge season for the Hawkeyes. Long had a chance to declare for the NFL Draft, but elected to stay at Iowa for his fifth season and compete for a Rose Bowl win. In the third game of the season, Iowa traveled to Iowa State and the offense didn’t miss a beat in a winning effort. Following that, Iowa was ranked #1 in the Associated Press poll for the first time in 24 years and stayed on that perch for five weeks. One of the most entertaining games of the 1985 season was the Michigan State game. With 4:06 left, Iowa was trailing and Long had to drive his team down the field to win the game. With just seconds left, Fry called a bootleg and Long scored the game-winning touchdown.
When the Wolverines came to Kinnick Stadium as the #2 ranked teams, it set up a battle of the top two teams in the nation. It was a game that was dominated by the defenses. It ultimately ended with a Rob Houghtlin field goal as time expired to give the Hawkeyes a 12-10 win. Iowa ended up finishing the season 10-1 with the only loss coming on the road against Ohio State. They had clinched another Rose Bowl berth and an outright Big Ten title. The Hawkeyes ended up losing 45-28 to UCLA in the Rose Bowl.
In 1999, Ferentz returned to Iowa City after stints with the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens to be the head coach after Fry retired. The first two seasons under Ferentz were abysmal as the Hawkeyes went 4-19. In 2001, Iowa achieved their first bowl game under Ferentz as they beat Texas Tech 19-16 in the Alamo Bowl. 2002 was arguably the best season under Ferentz as the Hawkeyes compiled an 11-1 mark. Iowa was led by quarterback Brad Banks, tight end Dallas Clark, and kicker Nate Kaeding. Clark and Kaeding were award winners and Banks finished second to Carson Palmer for the Davey O’Brien award. The Hawkeyes went on to face USC in the Orange Bowl, which they ended up losing 38-17.
In 2009, Iowa enjoyed similar success as they finished with a 10-2 record. The stellar season resulted in the Hawkeyes playing in the 2010 Orange Bowl, which they won against Georgia Tech 24-14. It was Iowa’s first BCS-level bowl win since the 1959 Rose Bowl and they finished the season ranked #7 in the Associated Press poll.
Iowa continues to be very competitive in the Big Ten today and Ferentz is the second-winningest coach in the program’s history to Fry.
Why they could be good: Iowa returns many of their top offensive playmakers from a year ago in quarterback Jake Rudock, top rusher Mark Weisman, and wideout Kevonte Martin-Manley. The Hawkeyes finished with an 8-5 record in 2013 and ended their season with a loss to LSU in the Outback Bowl. They didn’t have any wins over ranked opponents, but did beat Michigan and Nebraska. While Iowa doesn’t have a top notch recruiting class, the talent is there to compete once again in the Big Ten.
Why they could be bad: The Hawkeyes ranked near the top in the NCAA in total defense. However, they were last in sacks and lost sack and interception leader James Morris. While Iowa doesn’t have to face Michigan or Ohio State, they still have Nebraska, Wisconsin, and the Terps.
Their schedule isn’t murderous with no Ohio State or Penn State and Nebraska and Wisconsin at home. The Hawkeyes should be bowl eligible in 2014, but I don’t see a repeat performance of a season ago.