LOS ANGELES – The Iowa football team will try to do what no Iowa team has done in 57 years when it faces Stanford on Friday in the Rose Bowl.
A victory would be Iowa’s first in the Rose Bowl since 1959 and would almost guarantee a top-5 finish in the rankings for the Hawkeyes, who already have won a school record 12 games this season.
A loss, on the other hand, would be a sad and frustrating way to end a record-breaking season because it would come on the heels of Iowa’s 16-13 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game.
It also would extend Iowa’s losing streak in the Rose Bowl to four games, with Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz being involved in three of the four losses.
Ferentz coached the Iowa offensive line when the Hawkeyes lost to Washington and UCLA in the 1982 and 1986 Rose Bowl games, respectively.
“You start the season 12-0 and lose your last two games, that’s tough,” said Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard. “I think in order to send the season off on a good note, we need to win.
“Definitely, I think that would be huge for coach Ferentz and for this team. He’s been here a long time. I know what it would mean to him to win the Rose Bowl.”
How much is riding on Friday’s game?
A victory over Stanford (11-2) would make this Iowa team arguably the greatest in school history.
It would give Iowa a signature win against a quality opponent, which is about the only thing Beathard and his cohorts don’t have this season, according to the critics.
And it would be a springboard into next season, considering Iowa would have more than half of its starters returning from a 13-1 team, including Beathard, who made second-team all-Big Ten this season.
The challenge for the Iowa players is to not get overwhelmed by the hype to the point where it would hinder their performance.
“We know it’s a big game,” said Beathard, who is 13-1 as a starter. “It’s going to be a big stage. It’s the Rose Bowl game. It’s the biggest of them all.
“You can’t look at it like that as players. People on the outside can look at it however they want. But as a player, you don’t want to over-hype a game because really and truly it’s 60 minutes of going out and playing another opponent. And that’s how we’re looking at it.”
Iowa has used the old-mule-with-blinders-on approach almost to perfection this season. The only game that matters is the next game on the schedule.
But the players also understand that Stanford isn’t just another opponent, nor is the Rose Bowl just another stage.
On paper, Iowa versus Stanford looks to be an evenly matched game between two teams that have much in common.
Both teams have potent rushing attacks, proven quarterbacks, highly respected head coaches and a reputation for being physical.
Both teams also have individual stars, most notably Stanford sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey and Iowa junior cornerback Desmond King. McCaffrey finished runner-up for the Heisman Trophy this season, while King won the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the nation’s top collegiate defensive back.
“You look at Desmond King and the things he’s done this year, obviously,” McCaffrey said when asked if there is one player on the Iowa defense who stands out on tape. “But a lot of great individual players have great players surrounding them.”
McCaffrey praised the Iowa defense for being fundamentally sound and for being tough-minded.
“You look at the whole defense and they’re fast, they’re physical,” McCaffrey said. “They’re great at the point of attack. They fill their gaps extremely well. They don’t put themselves in a lot of different positions. There’s players all over the field that you have to look out for.”
The Iowa defense hasn’t faced a player as dynamic as McCaffrey, who broke Barry Sanders’ single-season all-purpose yardage record this season. The 6-foot, 201-pound McCaffrey enters the Rose Bowl with 3,496 all-purpose yards and with a great deal of respect from the Iowa defenders.
Iowa senior linebacker Cole Fisher didn’t know very much about McCaffrey until he started preparing for him practice.
“I didn’t follow him in the Heisman race too much, and that was probably the first time I heard about him,” Fisher said. “But I know he’s a great player. He can hurt you in a lot of different ways.
“And just them as a team, they have a really efficient offense. They know what they want to do. They don’t stray from the plan too much and they just execute really well.”
McCaffrey is hardly a solo act, though.
Fifth-year senior Kevin Hogan has a 35-10 record as Stanford’s quarterback. His 35 wins are the most by a Stanford quarterback. He also is the first Stanford quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards during a career.
“He’s a guy that’s been through the highs of the highs and the lows of the lows, and he’s gained perspective and he’s gained wisdom,” Stanford coach David Shaw said of Hogan. “That leadership has shown up every time that we’ve needed it throughout the year. “Tough moments, difficult moments, tight games; I mean he’s the main reason why we’ve been up two scores in games and we keep playing well.
“There have been games where we have been down by two scores and it’s his steadiness and his belief and his energy that keeps the guys fired up and ready to go.”
There should be plenty of energy in the stadium during Friday’s game with what is expected to be over 50,000 Iowa fans in attendance.
“I think there will be a few Stanford fans there, too,” said Shaw, who has a 53-14 record as the Stanford head coach. “But it’s one of the really cool things about the Rose Bowl, and it’s different. “We love coming down here every other year and playing UCLA because it’s such a great environment.
“But the Rose is a completely different environment. There’s an energy in the air. There’s an excitement in the air.”
Shaw knows that first hand with this being Stanford’s third Rose Bowl appearance in five seasons under his watch.
That’s one statistic where Iowa can’t match the Cardinal.
“I think it’s a big of a factor,” Ferentz said of Stanford’s familiarity with playing in the Rose Bowl. “But I think the thing we’ve shared with our football team, we’ve played in a lot of big games and for us every game this year has been extremely big. We’ve been in a playoff mode since week one.
“So as the season went on, the stakes went up a little bit, certainly our last couple games had a lot on the line, and then to play in Indianapolis, it was a great environment. It wasn’t the Rose Bowl, and I get that. But, you know, I think our guys will be ready to go. They’re used to competing. They’re used to being in really live, active environments.”