By Rob Howe and Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Another achievement was added to an unbelievable Iowa season Tuesday night. The Hawkeyes moved up one spot to No. 4 in the College Football Playoff Poll.
The top four programs in the rankings following the conference championship games advance to the playoffs and the right to compete for a national championship. Iowa plays at Nebraska on Friday before facing a yet to be determined opponent in the Big Ten title game on Dec. 5 in Indianapolis.
The 11-0 Hawkeyes appear positioned to grab a playoff spot should they win out. They would need to beat No. 5 Michigan State, No. 8 Ohio State or No. 10 Michigan in the league championship.
Iowa began at No. 9 when the poll first was released three weeks ago. It came in fifth last Tuesday.
While the Hawkeyes rose up one spot, Oklahoma advanced four positions to No. 3. Ohio State was third last week before losing to Michigan State and Notre Dame fell from four to six with a lackluster win against Boston College. Clemson and Alabama remained one and two, respectively.
“I can tell you we had a number of revotes in that area between three and six. We had a number of revotes where we dug into those teams,” Committee Chair Jeff Long told ESPN. “As you know, it takes four members to cause a revote. So, it was a very, very highly discussed area.”
Last week, Long said the 12-member committee spent a lot of time discussing the 5-8 spots. Again, Iowa sat at No. 5.
Here’s a look at the Top 25.
COOPER’S COMEBACK: There were two significant victories that occurred at Kinnick Stadium last Saturday.
The Iowa football team defeated Purdue 40-20 to improve to 11-0 for the first time ever, while also winning the Big Ten West Division.
The other victory occurred in the second half when senior defensive tackle Darian Cooper made a brief appearance on defense before returning to his bench and to a rousing ovation from his teammates.
“It meant a lot,” Cooper said Tuesday. “I’ve been working really hard for a long time. It just really meant a lot to me to just be able to step out there and know that all the hard work that I’ve put forth to try and get back was kind of solidified with that one moment.
“So I appreciated it.”
After being a key contributor as a freshman and sophomore, Cooper has spent the second half of his college career dealing with serious knee injuries. His brief appearance against Purdue marked the first time that Cooper has played in a game since the 2013 season.
“It made it all worthwhile,” said Cooper, who is from Elkridge, Md. “There were a lot of dog days. I struggled with it and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get back.
“But I was consistent with my efforts. I kept grinding. I had a praying mother. I worked really hard and it felt good to be back out there.”
Cooper has earned the respect from his teammates, who admire his persistence and perseverance.
“To see Coop out there (against Purdue), that was huge,” said Iowa junior defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson. “It felt good just to see him go out there at Kinnick. It was so surreal.”
Johnson credits Cooper with helping the team become more unified.
“He’s one of those guys that just keeps going no matter what the situation is,” Johnson said. “Even though he couldn’t perform like he wanted to this season, he stayed with it. He motivated us a lot on the defensive line. It’s good to have guys like Darian Cooper.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said he doesn’t expect Cooper to be fully recovered before the end of the season. But just to have him back for one play was a significant achievement. It also sparked the team emotionally.
“He’s not 100 percent, and I’m sure he probably told you that today if you talked to him,” Ferentz said. “But he has worked extremely hard, and it was really important to get him in. We were trying like crazy to give him an opportunity to play, and it just worked out. So I’m really glad about that. He’s not going to be 100 percent between now and the bowl. It just isn’t going to happen.
“But the good news is he’s a great young guy who’s going to graduate. He’s got a tremendous personality, and if he puts it to use in the right way, he could go really far. It could be a real attribute, could be a disadvantage sometimes, too. But I think he gets it. He’s really done a great job. He’s a first-class guy and I’m really happy for him.”
BEATHARD ON BEATHARD: Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard chose not to self-promote when asked on Tuesday if he feels he deserves to make first-team all-Big Ten.
“I have no idea,” Beathard said. “I have not even looked at it. I didn’t even know that was coming out next week. But I have no idea.”
Ferentz was asked the same question during his press conference on Tuesday.
“I think he’s pretty good,” Ferentz said Beathard, who has passed for 2,257 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, while also rushing for 280 yards. “But I’m not politicking, even though we’re in Iowa. I don’t have a blue shirt and red tie on right now, so I’m not getting into political mode. I think he’s pretty good. I’m glad he’s our quarterback, I know that. I’d vote for him.”
KING MAKES CUT: The Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame announced Tuesday that Iowa Cornerback Desmond King was one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, handed out to the top defensive back in college football. He was joined by Duke’s Jeremy Cash and Vernon Hargreaves III of Florida.
King (5-11, 200) is tied for first nationally with eight interceptions, which ties an Iowa single-season record shared by Nile Kinnick (1939) and Lou King (’81). The Detroit native also paces the Hawkeyes with 10 passes broken up.
The Thorpe Trophy will be handed out as part of the College Football Awards program on Dec. 10 in Atlanta. King also is one of 15 players on the watch list for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award also given out at that ceremony.
WEEKLY HONOR: Jordan Lomax was named the Lott IMPACT Player of the Week on Tuesday for his performance in a 40-20 win against Purdue last weekend. The senior from Maryland recorded a career-high 12 tackles and broke up a pass.
The Pacific Club IMPACT Foundation will make a $1,000 donation to the UI general scholarship fund In recognition of Lomax’s performance, .
Lomax has 71 tackles this season, one interception, six pass break-ups and one caused fumble. He’s also stands out academically with a 3.49 GPA. He has earned his degree in economics and was recently named to the CoSIDA District 6 Academic All-America team. He has twice been named to the Academic All-Big Ten team.
FERENTZ RECOGNIZED: Iowa Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz was chosen as The Dodd Trophy Coach of the Week, the foundation announced.
The award honors the football coach whose program embodies The Dodd Trophy’s three pillars: scholarship, leadership and integrity, while also enjoying success on the playing field during the previous week.
“It is a very exciting time for Iowa football right now and Coach Ferentz is a big reason for that,” Jim Terry, Chairman of the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Foundation said in a press release.
“Under his leadership and guidance, he has led the Hawkeyes to an unblemished record thus far and a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game. Add in that his student-athletes have performed at a high level in the classroom and that he is extremely involved in the local Iowa City community, it’s easy to see why he is being awarded this honor.”
QUICK-HITTERS: Nebraska has won five of its last seven games against ranked teams at Memorial Stadium…The Huskers have sold out every home game dating back to Nov. 3, 1962, a stretch of 347 games…The Hawkeyes have scored touchdowns on their first possession in three consecutive contests…Iowa has three players (Cole Fisher, Drew Ott and Nathan Bazata) from Nebraska. The Huskers have two players (Adel’s Lane Hovey and Le Mars’ Gabe Rahn) on their roster.