There were better college football teams this fall, but none provided more week-to-week excitement than Iowa.
The Hawkeyes made team history with a 9-0 start, but the manner in which they did it drew national attention, both good and bad. Aside from a 35-3 shellacking of Iowa State, Iowa always made it interesting, rallying from early deficits against Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana and others. Despite the clutch play, Iowa constantly had to defend its résumé to skeptics, who celebrated when the Hawkeyes' run ended Nov. 7 against Northwestern.
It was an unforgettable season in Iowa City, as Iowa overcame a brutal Big Ten road schedule and several key injuries to finish 10-2 and reach the FedEx Orange Bowl. The Hawkeyes received superb defensive performances from end Adrian Clayborn, linebacker Pat Angerer, safety Tyler Sash, end Broderick Binns and others. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi became a symbol for the roller-coaster season, driving fans nuts with interceptions, only to rally the team in the fourth quarter.
Iowa's upset win at Penn State on Sept. 26 set the stage for the season. The Hawkeyes beat Michigan State on the game's final play and ignited in the fourth quarter to subdue Indiana. They went to Columbus to play for a Rose Bowl berth, and despite not having Stanzi on the field, took Ohio State to overtime before falling.
Offensive MVP: Ricky Stanzi. You could make a case for Adam Robinson or Marvin McNutt as well, but Stanzi's fourth-quarter leadership proved to be the difference this fall. He often made a mess for his team with picks, but he usually cleaned it up as Iowa never lost a game that he finished. Stanzi instilled confidence in those around him and built a nice chemistry with McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos.
Defensive MVP: Adrian Clayborn. An even tougher call here, as Angerer certainly would be a worthy choice. But Clayborn made so many impact plays for Iowa, beginning with his punt block and return for a touchdown against Penn State. Clayborn led Iowa and ranked fourth in the Big Ten in both sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (18).
Turning point: Iowa's magic really started in State College, as the Hawkeyes rallied from a 10-0 deficit to shock Penn State. Clayborn's punt block and return for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter gave Iowa the lead for good. A second turning point took place Nov. 7, as Stanzi went down with an ankle injury against Northwestern. Iowa lost a 10-0 lead and the game, and fell the next week at Ohio State.
What's next: Iowa has one last chance to silence its critics and beat a talent-stocked Georgia Tech squad in the Orange Bowl. The Hawkeyes are known for playing fundamentally sound defense, and they'll be tested by the triple option. A win gives Iowa plenty of momentum heading into the 2010 season, where expectations will be even higher.