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Sports Then and Now

Shaking off the Dust: Iowa Hawkeyes and Big Ten Needs Some Changes!

Posted on December 05, 2009 by JA Allen
Iowa v Ohio State

The injury to Ricky Stanzi in the Northwestern game changed the complection of the finals weeks of the season for the Hawkeyes.

The University of Iowa football team resumed practice Saturday inside the “dome” facility constructed during the Hayden Fry era, when the Iowa Hawkeyes became regular participants in postseason play. The team needed an indoor place to practice after cold weather arrived in Iowa in order to keep the team competitive.

As they hobbled onto the practice field Saturday, some of the Hawkeyes’ more illustrious walking wounded returned, trying to shuffle off the constraints of tape and crutches.

Quarterback Ricky Stanzi and running back Adam Robinson came back to the offensive side of the field while linebackers Jeremiha Hunter and Jeff Tarpinian rejoined the defense.

This Iowa team finished with a 10-2 record, one notch behind Ohio State, who will represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl. Iowa awaits the announcement of its bowl destination on Sunday.

Until then, the University of Iowa opponent remains a mystery.

When Stanzi went out early in the second quarter of the Northwestern game, Iowa lost two in a row to Northwestern and Ohio State, though the Hawkeyes took the game against the Buckeyes to overtime before finally losing on the road.

The Hawkeyes had a very tough road schedule in 2009 and still managed to lose only one “away” game—to Ohio State. Their strength of schedule explains their high ranking in the BCS. The Hawkeyes currently sit at No. 9.

In 2009, Stanzi passed for 2,186 yards in nine-plus games, ringing up 15 touchdowns in the process. The junior quarterback averaged over 200 yards passing for each game.

Robinson contributed 775 rushing yards on the season, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. The freshman was one of Iowa’s biggest surprises this season, along with classmate Brandon Wegher.

When Iowa started the year without a tried and tested running back after losing Shonn Greene to the NFL, experts considered Iowa’s chances to put together a winning season with skepticism. Robinson and Wegher stepped up big-time.

Linebackers Hunter and Tarpinian combined for 99 tackles. Their presence will be added back into one of the top defenses in the nation. In fact, it was Iowa’s defensive play and ability to create turnovers that contributed so greatly to Iowa’s success.

Like everyone else, the Hawkeyes await the announcement of the bowl pairings on Sunday, hoping for a BCS nod.

While Iowa dresses for practice, other conference teams outside the Big Ten will be suiting up today, playing football and continuing to hone its gameday skills in anticipation of postseason play.

Look at the games today, like No. 1 Florida vs. No. 2 Alabama. Somebody’s chewing their fingernails over this SEC outcome. Then there is No. 5 Cincinnati vs. No. 15 Pittsburgh in the Big East. Cincinnati maintained their perfect record, but it wasn’t easy.

It would be difficult to imagine that No. 22 Nebraska could upset No. 3 Texas in the Big 12 championship contest. The Texas margin of victory over their rivals to the north, however, might play a significant role in determining the fate of the Texas Longhorns in postseason play.

The Oregon Ducks defeated their in-state rivals Oregon on Dec. 3 to book their passage to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl where they will face Ohio State, the Big Ten representative.

Only Illinois from the Big Ten, which lost to Fresno State [WAC] and Wisconsin playing at Hawaii [WAC] will be active today. Of those two, only Wisconsin is bowl-eligible. Otherwise the Big Ten is idle—has been since the season ended two weeks ago.

Rust has not only settled in on Big Ten teams, it has infected their minds and spirits. While potential Big Ten opponents are playing and ratcheting up their on-field mentality, the players from the conference are overeating their way through Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Most of the Big Ten takes the entire month of December off, which often hurts the teams come Bowl time.

Most of the Big Ten takes the entire month of December off, which often hurts the teams come Bowl time.

If the bowl system continues as it exists today, and it appears that no one is willing to make the necessary changes to implement an equitable playoff system, then the Big Ten needs to revamp its schedule. The conference’s selected bowl teams must be not only eligible to participate in bowl games but competent to win them as well.

Last year the Big Ten had seven teams playing in postseason and came out with only one win—Iowa, which defeated South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, 31-10. Otherwise, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin all lost.

In 2007 the Big Ten qualified eight teams and ended up with a 3-5 record. Penn State won the Alamo Bowl, defeating Texas A&M by a 24-17 score. Purdue won the Motor City Bowl over Central Michigan, 51-48, and Michigan won the Capital One Bowl, defeating Florida, 41-35. Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio State all lost.

In 2006 the Big Ten qualified seven teams and ended up with a 2-5 record. Penn State defeated Tennessee in the Outback Bowl, 20-10, and Wisconsin defeated Arkansas, 17-14. Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Purdue, and Minnesota each lost.

Winning only six out of 22 games with a total 27.3 winning percentage, the Big Ten has become the low man on the totem pole for major conferences when it comes to winning in postseason play. This is a trend the conference must reverse, or it will continue to get no respect from the pollsters and media.

The first step is to address the schedule—being idle potentially for over six weeks before playing a bowl game is a real detriment to postseason wins. It keeps you well under .500 when the dust settles and the last stats are counted.

The season needs to extend into the first or second weekend in December in order for the conference to stay on a par with other conferences as they head into the postseason.

So as Ricky Stanzi and Adam Robinson test out their injured ankles and the hurt linebackers resume their aggressive stances, the Iowa Hawkeyes have a long way back to their prime-time supremacy and the pin-point timing that led them to the top of the Big Ten and the BCS rankings.

As they await the announcement of their destination, the Hawkeyes will begin their long trek back to getting in shape all over again…

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