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Iowa's Ferentz sees parallels with '08 team

Kirk Ferentz often cites Iowa's history when describing the program's current state. It's a luxury he has after spending nearly 15 seasons as Hawkeyes head coach and nine as an Iowa assistant.

Asked if the current squad reminds him of any in his past, Ferentz's answer likely will bring smiles to the faces of Hawkeye fans.

"Some parallels to the '08 season," he told ESPN.com last week. "Not exactly the same, but that's a team that never really worried about what was being said about them. We were coming off of two non-bowl years, and we were 3-3 that year. We were 4-3 this year and people weren't exactly throwing roses at us or anything like that. Both those teams stayed focused on improving and what was in front of it.

"It turned out a little bit better than people anticipated."

Few pegged Iowa for the Outback Bowl after the 3-3 start in 2008. Fewer had the Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl before this season or even midway through it.

After a 4-8 clunker in 2012, Ferentz's worst record since his second season in 2000, Iowa entered the fall with myriad questions. A quarterback who had never taken a snap in a college game would lead an offense that finished 114th nationally in yards and 111th in scoring last season. Injuries had plagued the running back spot for years, the receivers seemed unexceptional and the defensive line had few proven players.

Ferentz brought in three new assistants, completing a staff overhaul that began with the retirement of longtime defensive coordinator Norm Parker after the 2011 season.

"We've been through a little bit of a transition here as a program," Ferentz said. "It hasn't been seamless. There's a process to that, too, but everybody’s more comfortable with where they're at, who we are, what we're doing, and that reflected with our players."

Sophomore Jake Rudock stabilized the quarterback spot, AIRBHG steered clear of a power run game led by junior Mark Weisman and the offensive line, considered a strength before the season, performed to expectations. Seven players have 12 or more receptions and five have multiple touchdown catches.

Iowa's underrated defense has been the biggest difference, as linebackers James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens have led a unit ranked seventh nationally in yards allowed (303.2 ypg) and 11th in points allowed (18.8 ppg).

"They've just been exemplary," Ferentz said.

In 2008, Ricky Stanzi emerged to take control at quarterback, while Shonn Greene won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back. Like the current team, the 2008 squad had excellent linebacker play with Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Jeremiha Hunter.

Although the 2008 Hawkeyes had a better signature win (against No. 3 Penn State) than the current team, it also lost to an Illinois squad that ended up going 5-7. Iowa's four losses this season came against ranked teams, and Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Northern Illinois have a combined record of 45-6.

When Ferentz mentions parallels with 2008, the natural inclination is to think Iowa could continue on the same path. Iowa went 11-1 in 2009 and ended the season on a podium at the Orange Bowl, celebrating a championship as Stanzi told a national television audience what they can do if they don't love America.

While you couldn't blame Hawkeyes fans for assessing Rudock's level of patriotism, Ferentz prefers to live in the moment.

"Whatever good happened in '08 wasn't going to help us in '09," he said. "The credit goes to our players. We're sitting there at 4-3 not that long ago and there weren't many people talking about us going to a nice bowl game.

"Most people wrote it off. Fortunately, our players never did."