After marching into the Big House and whupping Michigan, Iowa is in the thick of the Rose Bowl race
In his four seasons at Iowa, Kirk Ferentz has repeatedly proved that patience can be a coach's best friend. As his Hawkeyes lost 18 of their first 20 games, from September 1999 through October 2000, Ferentz kept putting the same young players out on the field. Last season Iowa went 7-5, including a win in the Alamo Bowl.
This year, after the Hawkeyes blew a 24-7 third-quarter lead against Iowa State on Sept. 14 and lost 36-31, Ferentz didn't panic. Two weeks later, at Penn State, Iowa let the Nittany Lions back into the game after leading by more than three touchdowns but recovered to win 42-35 in overtime. "We regrouped and played the game," Ferentz said. "That's what we couldn't do against Iowa State. It's a process. You have to have faith."
Patience paid off for the Hawkeyes again last Saturday as they raised their record to 8-1 (5-0 in the Big Ten). When his team struggled running the ball in the first half at Michigan, Ferentz never wavered. "It's a four-quarter ball game," he said afterward. "I heard Tom Osborne say once that sometimes you have to stick with [the running game], and it doesn't pay off for you until the second half." After halftime, as starting tailback Fred Russell sat on the sideline with a sprained right hand, Jermelle Lewis rushed for 105 yards and scored twice in a 34-9 Iowa victory, the Wolverines' worst loss in the Big House in 35 seasons. "In the first half their defense was really fast," center Bruce Nelson said. "They had a lot of energy and intensity. In the second half we kept fighting and working."
Given the strength of Iowa's offensive line, it's no wonder that senior Brad Banks has become the best quarterback in the Big Ten (59.2% completion rate, 18 touchdown passes, four interceptions). The four seniors and one junior on the line have 148 starts among them. They are led by the 6'4", 290-pound Nelson, who has started all 44 games of his college career. He, senior left guard Eric Steinbach and their offensive linemates have allowed only eight sacks in nine games. The Hawkeyes average 5.0 yards per rush.
Iowa doesn't play Ohio State (9-0, 4-0) this season, so in order for the Hawkeyes to earn the conference's automatic BCS berth, they need another team to knock off the Buckeyes. (Overall winning percentage is the relevant tiebreaker.) Iowa is ideally suited for this sort of Big Ten race. All the Hawkeyes can do is be patient.
Undefeated MAC Power
Call It Rolling Green
In December 2000, during his first week as Bowling Green coach, Urban Meyer received a note from the team's academic adviser informing him that some 20 players had missed mandatory study hall or classes that week Meyer saw this as a chance to make a thundering statement to a team that had finished the 2000 season 2-9. He told his players to report to the field house the next morning at five. "I wanted to run guys who weren't committed right out of the program," says Meyer, 38.
For three hours Meyer had his squad jog and run wind sprints. One by one the ashen players made trips to garbage cans set up for them to vomit in. Black Wednesday, as the day came to be known, was a turning point for Bowling Green. "Five or six quit immediately," says Meyers. About 20 players left within a few months. The following season the Falcons went 8-3, and this year Meyer has led Bowling Green to a 7-0 start and a No. 21 ranking, the school's highest since 1985.
"The biggest change is the players' attitude," says junior quarterback Josh Harris, who leads the nation in scoring (13.1 points per game) and is 10th in total offense (287.7 yards per game). "After Black Wednesday our bad habits went out the window."