IOWA CITY, Iowa – For many outsiders, the Iowa football team still being undefeated after seven games is a story that just won’t go away.
It’s a misleading story, critics say, because Iowa is simply taking advantage of a weak schedule and isn’t nearly as good as its record or No. 12 ranking would suggest.
My response to that criticism is to roll my eyes and say whatever.
No Big Ten team should ever have to apologize for being 7-0, nor should it have to apologize for the teams on its schedule.
It’s not Iowa’s fault that some of the teams on its 2015 schedule leave much to be desired.
It’s not Iowa’s fault that Iowa State is showing signs of being horrible again, that Minnesota is descending, that Wisconsin is sputtering or that Nebraska isn’t Nebraska anymore.
It’s not Iowa’s fault that Maryland and Purdue are bad or that Indiana is mediocre.
You can only play and beat the teams on your schedule. Iowa has met that challenge so far. Seven up and seven down, including defeating two ranked opponents on the road in Wisconsin and Northwestern.
Iowa and Alabama are the only teams with multiple road wins over ranked opponents this season. That’s one sentence I didn’t expect to write this season.
What makes this latest resurgence under veteran head coach Kirk Ferentz more impressive is that it’s happening despite a rash of injuries to key players.
Iowa pounded Northwestern 40-10 this past Saturday despite being without starting offensive tackles Boone Myers and Ike Boettger, starting tight end Jake Duzey, starting defensive end Drew Ott and its top two running backs for most of the game after senior Jordan Canzeri was injured late in the first quarter.
I’m not suggesting that Iowa’s depth is similar to that of Ohio State, but whose is? What I’m saying is that Iowa’s depth has been tested severely this season, and so far, the Hawkeyes have passed the test.
When a team is 7-0 despite being ravaged by injuries, it’s hard to find many weaknesses or flaws.
Iowa’s biggest weakness at this stage might be point-after kicks, and I say that only half-jokingly.
Marshall Koehn is an important part of Iowa’s success, his 57-yard game-winning field goal against Pittsburgh etched in our minds forever. The former walk-on from Solon has made 10-of-12 field goal attempts this season and 22-of-28 overall as a Hawkeye. But Koehn also has missed three point-after kicks this season, including one against Northwestern this past Saturday that he missed badly after making all 38 of his attempts last season. He also missed a 34-yard field-goal attempt against Northwestern.
Koehn has nearly two weeks to fix whatever is causing him to make the routine not so routine anymore. I don’t want to give the impression that I feel Koehn is regressing because the good still far outweighs the bad in his case. It’s just weird that he would miss three point-after kicks.
The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time because the Hawkeyes need to heal physically more than anything else.
You worry some that the bye week might cause Iowa to lose momentum, but the team seems too focused and unified to let that happen.
Junior quarterback C.J. Beathard has made it this far without being seriously injured, but pain is now his co-pilot. You hope with a week off that some of the pain would subside and that Beathard could be himself again because he wasn’t himself against Northwestern, and yet Iowa still prevailed.
Whether you believe that Iowa is real or not, the progress made since the TaxSlayer Bowl debacle has been extraordinary.
The decision to switch quarterbacks, to make Brian Ferentz the new running game coordinator in addition to coaching the offensive line, to practice in the morning, to use the best players on special teams and to be more aggressive, it’s all working so far.
The catch phrase for this season is New Kirk, which is in reference to Ferentz’s willingness to embrace change in his quest to win again.
That’s a drastic change from last season when the catch phrase was “that’s football,” which Ferentz used several times in response to questions during the unraveling at the end.
I can’t remember the last time I heard or read something negative about Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis or heard somebody complain about Iowa throwing too many horizontal passes. Davis has gone from being much-maligned on social media during tough times to sort of being ignored for the most part now.
There always will be critics when the Iowa football team starts flirting with greatness because as a developmental program it doesn’t happy very often. About every five or six years, Iowa has a special season in which it performs at an elite level.
The naysayers can rip Iowa and its schedule all they want. But until somebody beats the Hawkeyes, they’ll have to deal with them.