Friday, October 9, 2009

Iowa’s Sandwich: More Meat, Less Bread Please

By John Sears - Big Ten Insider

The Hawkeyes come in to this week holding on to the number five slot in our CFI polls. At first glance, you may be saying to yourself, “The Hawkeyes? Really?” Then, you look closer and see 5-0 record, and knocking off conference favorites Penn State on the road. Now, things might be making a little more sense.

I believe there exists a level of responsibility to be held by a top five team–this is the placement for teams that the rest should be gunning for, not giggling behind with a SuperSoaker. Do we have the top five right? Are they elite? Does my beloved conference deserve such a ranking?

Florida. Alabama. Texas. LSU. Then Iowa. That’s our top five. Let’s start at number one: Florida (5-0, 2-0) is yet to register a marquee win, although beating the Kiffin’s early gives them good pride points. Even without facing a ranked opponent we KNOW that Florida, the defending national champions who returned Mr. Tebow and the entire defense, are going to make some serious noise. No one doubts a top slotting in any poll.

Next is conference-mate Alabama (5-0, 2-0), who took down CFI #6 Virginia Tech to open the season and have won convincingly ever since, albeit against a fluffier schedule.

Third in the rankings, the Longhorns (4-0, 1-0) may have the weakest resume of the lot thus far, with their most impressive win coming a fortnight ago, downing Texas Tech 34-24. However, Texas has had to play from behind only twice, neither occurring in the second half.

Fourth place belongs to the Bayou Bengals of LSU. The Tigers have already notched three wins in the “premiere” conference, with last week’s thrilling come from behind victory over #24 Georgia.

And then round off the top five with Iowa.

The Hawkeyes resume includes an impressive three game stretch. First, a trip to in-state rival Iowa State in Ames turned out to be a laugher, as Iowa put up 35 unanswered after the Cyclones’ lone field goal in the first quarter. Next, Kinnick Stadium hosted Pac-10 foe Arizona where the Hawkeyes convincingly handed the Wildcats their lone loss of the year (27-17). The marquee victory so far has certainly been said trip to Happy Valley, knocking off the then #8 CFI-ranked Nittany Lions. From the second quarter on, this game was convincingly one-sided in favor of the visiting team. Their 21-10 upset over Penn State landed them in the top five where they have stayed for two weeks.

Ah Sherlock, you say, what about week one and week five, where Iowa almost fell to FCS Northern Iowa and eeked out victory over a weakly Arkansas State (so weak that when I clicked on their athletic website, it froze my computer)? Collectively in those two games, Iowa had to 1) come back from a ten point deficit (Northern Iowa), 2) block two game-winning field goal attempts as time expired to hold on for dear life (Northern Iowa), and 3) survive four combined turnovers and 105 yards/game rushing average.

Do we dismiss these games simply because a win is a win? If you are on the Hawkeye coaching staff you do. And you also say there’s no concern over style points. But if Iowa wants to cling on in any polls to elite status they cannot afford any more games like the opening day “lucky to still win” game or last week’s “near-stumble overlooking opponent” game.

To me, if you lay out the Hawkeyes game results vertically, Iowa’s performance this season looks like a five-week sandwich: Succulent, rare roast beef with perfectly aged cheddar cheese stuffed high (Iowa State, Arizona, Penn State) between two razor-thin slices of pumpernickel-bread (Northern Iowa, Arkansas State). Sometimes it’s not “style points” we as reports are looking for per se, rather definitive wins that don’t force us to second guess our team’s (or conference’s) prowess. And in this instance, I don’t want to feel compelled to ditch the bread on an otherwise savory-looking sandwich.

Photos Courtesy of Iowa Sports Information