IOWA CITY, Iowa – For an Iowa football fan, disrespect is easy to find if you look for it, or watch ESPN for any length of time.
The 12-0 Iowa football team has become the symbol for disrespect to Hawkeye fans, with the Iowa media, including yours truly, helping to fuel that perception.
It’s hard to find anybody in the national media who believes Iowa will defeat Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game on Saturday in Indianapolis. I’ve seen or heard a few predictions saying Iowa would prevail, but Iowa is clearly the underdog.
But is picking an 11-1 Michigan State squad to win on a neutral stage really being that disrespectful, considering the Spartans have victories over Oregon at home and on the road at Michigan and Ohio State this season?
Is it being naïve or ignorant to think that Michigan State, which has a first-team all-Big Ten quarterback, a first-team all-Big Ten receiver, a first-team all-Big Ten center, a first-team all-Big Ten offensive tackle and a first-team all-Big Ten defensive end, might have a slight edge on the resurgent Hawkeyes?
What is disrespectful are those in the national media that poke fun at Iowa and dismiss what has been accomplished in Kirk Ferentz’s 17th season as head coach.
Really, though, who cares what they think because they’re just looking for attention and they don’t have any influence on the selection process.
It is painfully clear that Colin Cowherd doesn’t think Iowa is a legitimate playoff contender, or at least that’s his shtick on the radio.
Fortunately, his opinion has absolutely no influence whatsoever on the ranking process.
Kirk Herbsreit’s opinion of Iowa doesn’t matter, either. It gets lots of attention because he works for ESPN, but I don’t think Barry Alvarez, Tom Osborne or Condoleezza Rice, all of whom are on the playoff selection committee, wait each week to see what Herbie thinks before casting their votes.
In fairness, Herbstreit has said all along that Iowa would be in the four-team playoff with a 13-0 record, which is correct. He just doesn’t have Iowa ranked in his top four at this point.
But the people who matter do.
Iowa has been ranked fourth in each of the past two playoff rankings.
The Hawkeyes also are ranked third in the coaches’ poll and fourth in the Associated Press poll.
So just like with disrespect, it’s also easy to find respect if you look hard enough and want to find it.
I think in some ways Iowa fans embrace the underdog role and feed off the disrespect and hope that the team will do the same thing.
Ferentz and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio held a teleconference on Monday in which they discussed Saturday’s matchup. Both coaches were very complimentary of each other’s program.
Dantonio went as far as to say that he has tried to pattern part of the Michigan State program after Ferentz’s program at Iowa. I understand that Dantonio was speaking to the media, but he didn’t have to spread the praise on that thick unless he believed it.
Iowa and Michigan State are among a shrinking group of teams that still use a fullback and prefer to play power football. Ferentz already had been successful using that approach when Dantonio was hired at Michigan State in 2007.
“It speaks to toughness,” Dantonio said of Iowa’s approach under Ferentz.
Imitation is supposedly the sincerest form of flattery, and yet, Dantonio’s praise for Iowa on the teleconference barely drew any reaction on social media. Most of the reaction centered on Dantonio calling Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard a game manager.
Dantonio meant it as a compliment, but the phrase game manager when referring to a quarterback projects a negative image, especially around here in the wake of Jake Rudock being Iowa’s starting quarterback in 2013 and 2014.
Rudock, who is now Michigan’s starting quarterback, was considered the ultimate game manager for Iowa, the belief being that there was only so much he could do physically to help the offense.
Beathard, on the other hand, is considered the ultimate playmaker, who has an answer for any situation on the field and a 13-0 record as a starter to prove it.
But if you really think about it, Beathard is also a game manager. He has an uncanny ability of turning third downs into first downs after the play breaks down. When Iowa needs eight yards on third down, Beathard often finds a way to gain at least nine, either with his arm or his legs.
Isn’t that managing a game I asked Beathard on Tuesday?
“I think any good quarterback is a game manager,” Beathard said. “And I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be called. I think any quarterback has to be able to manage the game to some extent. You don’t want to go out there and just have a free-for-all just throwing the ball. You have to manage the game and know where your problems are and know where to run the ball and what you see in defenses.
“I don’t take that as a bash at all. But at the same time, I manage the game well and I take shots and I’m not afraid to do stuff.”
The college football world knows that about Beathard. They know he has a strong arm and the courage to use it.
The Big Ten coaches and media showed their appreciation by naming Beathard second-team all-Big Ten behind Michigan State senior Connor Cook, who is 33-4 as a starter.
You could argue that Iowa was slighted in the all-Big Ten voting, considering offensive lineman Jordan Walsh and defensive back Desmond King were the only first-team selections for a team that is 12-0.
But King also was named the conference’s best defensive back, while Ferentz was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year.
I’m not saying don’t play the disrespect card in Iowa’s case because it is justified to an extent and has worked incredibly well this season and in past seasons. I’m just saying the situation isn’t as bad as you think because the people who matter seem to like Iowa.