Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Shonn Greene might be gone to the NFL, but Iowa football is definitely back.
After three middling seasons, Iowa has restored its place among the Big Ten's elite by winning six of its final seven games to close the season. The Hawkeyes (9-4) took care of business today in the Outback Bowl, stomping a bad South Carolina team 31-10 to give the Big Ten its first bowl victory of the season.
These two teams entered the game going in opposite directions, and Iowa did what it was supposed to do: Pound away with Greene and force mistakes from a shaky Gamecocks offense. If this was Greene's final collegiate game -- and from what I've heard, it will be -- the burly junior went out with a trademark performance, rushing for 121 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries.
Looking back at recent seasons, there certainly were flashier backs or ones with better numbers, but I can't remember a guy coming off a season away from football to completely dominate his position the way Greene did this fall. He was truly a joy to watch.
Things came together perfectly for Iowa, which started the season 3-3 and turned up the heat on head coach Kirk Ferentz and his coordinators. The Hawkeyes notched a program-changing upset of Penn State on Nov. 8, crushed archrival Minnesota, 55-0, and leapfrogged Northwestern for the Outback Bowl. Honestly, it would have been nice to see the white-hot Hawkeyes face a more formidable opponent. South Carolina was in a giving mood today, committing five turnovers and 10 penalties in an unsightly loss.
Iowa's defense forces a ton of turnovers, and South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia played right into the Hawkeyes' hands with three interceptions. I'm continually impressed with the development of Iowa's underclassmen on defense, particularly Tyler Sash, Pat Angerer, Amari Spievey and Jeremiha Hunter, who laid a filthy hit on a South Carolina ball carrier early in the second half.
Greene would certainly be a big loss, but freshman Jewel Hampton looks more than capable of stepping up as the starter in 2009. Hampton isn't afraid of contact, as he showed on a near touchdown run in the third quarter. Though quarterback Ricky Stanzi needs to cut down his interceptions -- his two picks today didn't prove costly -- Iowa's offense should be fine. The defense, meanwhile, will be one of the Big Ten's best if Iowa finds replacement for star defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul.
The big question in the coming days involves Ferentz, who has been linked to the Cleveland Browns head-coaching vacancy. If the Browns hire Ferentz's good buddy Scott Pioli, Iowa might be looking for a new coach.