LINCOLN, Neb. – The undefeated Iowa football team has so many intriguing storylines that sometimes it’s hard to know who or what to focus on.
I ultimately decided to write this column about reserve linebacker Bo Bower because he symbolizes Iowa’s success as much as anybody.
Even without starting a game this season, Bower has played a significant role in lifting Iowa to unprecedented heights. And it started with him accepting his role as a reserve after starting all 13 games last season at outside linebacker.
“I definitely think I’ve learned a lot,” Bower said after Friday’s 28-20 victory over Nebraska, which was played before an announced attendance of 90,830 at Memorial Stadium. “You can’t pout about things. You can’t be down about things. You just have to find the bright side with every situation that you have and move forward.
“So I think I’ve definitely become mentally stronger, and physically, of course. I just love this team and everything we’re doing. I think all of us have gotten a lot more experienced and wise with what we’re doing.”
Bower and his cohorts are doing what no Iowa team has done before.
Friday’s victory improved Iowa’s record to 12-0 for the first time in school history. It also kept the Hawkeyes in position to make the College Football Playoff for the first time.
“I just told them, I’m not sure what to say because I’ve never been around a team that’s 12-0,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said after Friday’s victory. “So I’m a little bit speechless on that. It’s just an unbelievable accomplishment and an unbelievable effort by the players today.
“We said back in August, and even going back to January, our goal has been to be a Big Ten championship level team. So today we moved one step closer and we’re very happy about that.”
The same Iowa program that was mired in mediocrity and losing fans at an alarming rate after last season is now one of just two FBS teams still undefeated, with Clemson being the other.
The same Iowa program that was humiliated by Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl last January is now just one victory from winning the Big Ten title and only three victories from winning a national title.
I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but that’s okay because the media doesn’t have to take it one game at a time. We can think big because we know that the Iowa players are living in the moment.
So many things have to go right for a team to be 12-0. It starts with players accepting their roles and working together for the same common goal.
Bower could’ve felt sorry from himself because it’s not easy going from being a starter as a redshirt freshman to a reserve the next season. He could’ve lost his focus and made himself a bigger priority than his team.
But that’s not the way Bower operates. And it’s certainly not the way his team operates. It takes everybody being on the same page to accomplish what Iowa has this season.
It also takes being ready when your number is called, which for Bower, happened in the first quarter of Friday’s game when the West Branch native replaced an injured Ben Niemann at outside linebacker. Niemann was helped off the field after assisting on a tackle and didn’t return.
“Of course, it’s kind of tough,” Bower said of being demoted. “But I don’t care where I’m at or what I’m doing. As long as we win, it doesn’t matter.
“It’s that same selfless attitude with a lot of other guys on the team. I think that’s one of the big reasons why we’re winning.”
That might be the biggest reason behind Iowa’s resurgence this season. It’s amazing what can happen when a group of players unite for a common goal.
“We’re a family,” Bower said. “There is no one selfish on the team. There is no one who thinks they should be somewhere they’re not. Everyone just wants to win. It doesn’t matter how we do it. I think we have good guys, just great guys on the team.”
The feeling of togetherness starts at the top with Ferentz. He showed that the team always comes first by benching star cornerback Desmond King for the first quarter of Friday’s game. King was punished after being late for a team meeting on Tuesday.
“I had to face the consequences no matter who I am,” King said.
That statement speaks volumes about the character of this Iowa team and about Ferentz’s ability to lead. Ferentz could’ve made an exception with King, considering how much was at stake on Friday. But Ferentz refused to sacrifice his principles.
“We all know how coach Ferentz operates,” Bower said. “When you slip up a little bit, you get punished for it. It’s just simple how it is. We all agree with his decisions.”
I’ll take Ferentz’s approach over the way in which Ohio State coach Urban Meyer runs his star-studded program. It came as no surprise when Meyer decided not to punish standout running back Ezekiel Elliott, who criticized his coaches after last Saturday’s loss to Michigan State, saying they didn’t put the Ohio State players in position to win.
Elliott also told reporters after the Michigan State loss that he planned to enter the NFL draft a year early. He later apologized for his comments and is expected to play against Michigan on Saturday.
Something tells me that Elliott wouldn’t be playing for Ferentz under the same circumstances.
Iowa has its own star players, but they don’t get treated any differently according to Bower. Everybody is held to the same standards on and off the field.
Junior quarterback C.J. Beathard is probably the biggest star on Iowa’s team. But he doesn’t act like it because the team always comes first with Beathard.
His presence behind center, coupled with a strong senior class has fueled Iowa’s historical march.
“The seniors kind of took us all under their wings and said we’re not going to let what happened last year happen again,” said junior receiver Matt VandeBerg. And so far, that’s proven true.”
It also takes lesser-known players like Bower to make a team successful because everybody can’t be a star. Football is the ultimate team sport. And Bower is the ultimate teammate.