IOWA CITY, Iowa – For Iowa Hawkeye fans, the 2015 calendar year will be remembered as the year Kirk Ferentz proved his growing list of critics wrong by leading yet another resurgence in football.
It’ll be remembered for the continued ascents of both the Iowa men’s and women’s basketball programs and for the Iowa’s baseball team’s miraculous march to the NCAA Tournament.
It’ll be remembered for C.J Beathard’s impact as a quarterback, for Desmond King’s rise to stardom as a defensive back and for an outdoor wrestling match at Kinnick Stadium.
Sadly, 2015 also will be remembered for the deaths of Hawkeye hoops legend Roy Marble and former Iowa football star Tyler Sash.
Here is a look back at the 10 biggest Hawkeye sports stories in 2015:
1. Iowa’s resurgence in football: Nobody, I mean nobody outside of maybe the most optimistic players and coaches on the Iowa football team, saw it coming. The thought of Iowa finishing 12-0 during the regular season was inconceivable when the season started, and for much of the season it didn’t seem probable.
But that’s what happened, one gritty performance at a time. The team that had mediocre written all over it when the season started would go on to rewrite the record books, while also re-energizing the fans and earning a spot in the Rose Bowl for the first time in 25 years.
2. Positive trend continues under McCaffery: The Iowa men’s basketball team stayed on course by winning an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since the 2000-01 season. It marked the fifth consecutive season that Iowa had accomplished more than the previous season under head coach Fran McCaffery. The Hawkeyes also finished in third place in the Big Ten at 12-6, winning their final six conference games.
3. The rise of Iowa baseball under Rick Heller: If the football team’s success was the biggest surprise in 2015, then baseball’s breakthrough under Rick Heller was a close second.
There was reason to be cautiously optimistic when the 2015 season, considering Heller’s success with rebuilding programs at Northern Iowa and Indiana State. Iowa also had a nice blend of talent returning last season.
The team went far and above what most expected, though, winning 41 games and earning the school’s first NCAA Regional berth since 1990 in Heller’ second season. The 41 victories are the second most in school history and it marked just the fourth time that Iowa won at least 40 games in a season.
4. A sweet season for Bluder’s bunch: The Iowa women’s basketball team had its own breakthrough moment in 2015, advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time in 15 seasons under Lisa Bluder. The team also won 26 games and was led by all-America senior point guard Sam Logic and 3-point shooting sensation and fellow senior Melissa Dixon.
5. Kirk Ferentz switches quarterbacks in early January: You could argue this is where it all started, the birth of New Kirk and Iowa’s return to football glory.
Ferentz took a huge chance by promoting Beathard over two-year starter Jake Rudock, but the decision actually has paid dividends for everybody. Beathard is on his way to becoming a Hawkeye legend, while Rudock helped lead Michigan’s resurgence under Jim Harbaugh this past season.
As for Ferentz, he has won multiple coach-of-the year awards and earned at least $650,000 in contract incentives.
6. C.J. Beathard’s impact: The switch to Beathard helped to unify a team that was divided, while also making Iowa more diverse on offense. He showed an uncanny ability to make plays at pivotal times, either by throwing or running. He also played through a great deal of pain and still found ways to be effective.
7. The Grapple on the Gridiron: Mother Nature did her part to make the first outdoor wrestling match at Kinnick Stadium an overwhelming success. The Iowa wrestling team did the rest, defeating top-ranked Oklahoma State 18-16 before a record-smashing attendance of 42,287. The match was held in unseasonably warm weather on Nov. 14, hours before the Iowa football team defeated Minnesota in a rare night game at Kinnick Stadium.
8. Desmond King wins the Jim Thorpe Award: The Detroit native went from being a solid contributor as a freshman and sophomore to the nation’s top collegiate defensive back as a junior. He also tied Iowa’s single-season record for interceptions with eight. King shares the record with Nile Kinnick and Lou King (no relation).
9. Roy Marble succumbs to cancer: Iowa’s all-time leading scorer for men’s basketball lost his battle with cancer on Sept. 11, 2015. He was just 48.
A native of Flint, Mich., the high-flying Marble played at Iowa from 1985-89 and scored a record 2,116 points during his career.
10. The death of Tyler Sash: I didn’t have his tragic death at the age of 27 on my original top-10 list, but that was my misguided mistake. His accidental drug overdose stunned the Hawkeye community, but also seemed to rally the Iowa football team. Sash achieved greatness at Iowa as a defensive back, twice earning first-team all-Big Ten. He then played two seasons with the New York Giants, winning a Super Bowl as a rookie in 2011.
Also considered: TaxSlayer Bowl debacle; Iowa field hockey controversy; Aaron White’s senior season; Sam Logic’s senior season; Austin Blythe’s senior season.