- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
One way or another, the 2008 season was going to be pivotal for the Iowa football program.
Three subpar years and a wave of player arrests since April 2007 had turned up the heat on head coach Kirk Ferentz and a Hawkeyes team that surged from 2002-04. But from the start of spring practice, Ferentz urged fans and media members to judge the current team on its own merit.
It took a bit of patience from everyone involved, but the Hawkeyes can certainly be labeled a success after going 8-4 and reaching a New Year's Day bowl game.
There was plenty of unease after a 3-3 start.
Ferentz and offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe were widely criticized, the quarterback situation seemed shaky at best and Iowa continued to struggle in close games. But the team's fortunes turned in mid-October, and the Hawkeyes finished the season as the Big Ten's hottest team, winning five of their final six games.
Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene produced every week, finishing second nationally in rushing average (144.1 ypg). But the emergence of quarterback Ricky Stanzi and a young defensive back seven solidified the Hawkeyes down the stretch. Everything came together on Nov. 8, as Iowa upset third-ranked Penn State on a last-minute field goal to begin a three-game win streak.
Offensive MVP -- Running back Shonn Greene
Talk about coming out of nowhere. After spending last fall hauling furniture and improving his grades, Greene returned to the field and became the nation's top running back. He eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all 12 games and broke Tavian Banks' single-season school record with 1,729 yards. Showing no effects of the time away from football, Greene only got stronger as the season progressed, eclipsing 200 yards twice in the final five games.
Defensive MVP -- Defensive tackle Mitch King
As one of only two unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selections by the league's coaches, King turned in a dominant senior season. He led the Hawkeyes in tackles for loss (15.5), sacks (4) and forced fumbles (2) despite playing on the interior. Along with fellow four-year starter Matt Kroul, King served as the core of an Iowa defense that ranked eighth nationally in points allowed (13.3 ppg) and 10th against the run (98.3 ypg).
Turning point -- Nov. 8 vs. Penn State
It was the type of victory that very well could change the course of a football program. After dropping its last nine games decided by three points or fewer, Iowa rallied to upset the Big Ten's top team and end Penn State's national title hopes. Stanzi overcame some early struggles and showed tremendous growth in the second half, and the Hawkeyes defense held the league's top offense to 17 points below its average.
The Hawkeyes aim for an Outback Bowl win against South Carolina before looking ahead to a promising 2009 season. They'll need to replace King and Kroul on the defensive line, and Greene likely will enter the NFL draft, but Stanzi returns along with several exciting defenders (Pat Angerer, Adrian Clayborn, Amari Spievey). If Jewel Hampton can help fill the void at running back, Iowa should be an outside contender for the Big Ten title next fall.
1dSam Khan Jr.