Hawkeyes savor one more opportunity to earn respect

Kirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes will face Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual on New Year's Day. AP Photo/AJ Mast

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa jumped into the Associated Press top 10 after a 30-point win on the road over one-loss Northwestern in October. It vaulted four spots to No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings last month after a win at Indiana.

No doubt, the Hawkeyes elevated the national perception of their program with a 12-0 regular season.

But on Sunday, we heard from playoff committee chair Jeff Long, in the wake of Michigan State’s 16-13 win over Iowa in the Big Ten championship game, what most of the nation likely thought of the Hawkeyes.

“We really thought Iowa proved more in that loss,” Long said, “than it did in the rest of its schedule.”

He meant the remark as a compliment to the Hawkeyes, who began this season outside the rankings and entered the AP poll at No. 22 after a 10-6 win at Wisconsin on Oct. 3. The sentiment of the committee, though, underscores the difficult nature of Iowa’s climb to respectability after a 7-6 finish in 2014 that extended a five-year trend downward in Iowa City.

Coach Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes said Sunday that their New Year’s Day meeting with Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual offers an important, final chance this year for Iowa to prove that it belongs among the top programs this season and beyond.

“It’s kind of ironic that we have to lose a game to get that respect,” senior center Austin Blythe said.

The 12-1 Hawkeyes fell just one spot in the playoff rankings to No. 5 after their first loss. Notably, they stayed two positions ahead of 11-1 Ohio State, a strong suggestion from the committee to the Rose Bowl that Iowa was worthy of a trip to the Pasadena, California game.

And the Rose Bowl obliged, selecting the Hawkeyes for the first time since the 1990 season. Ferentz, in his 17th year, has coached in the Rose Bowl only as a young assistant at Iowa after the 1981 and 1985 seasons.

“The fact that we dropped only one spot speaks a lot about what the committee thinks of us and how we played [Saturday],” Blythe said. “ Obviously you want to win, but just to have gained a little respect, I think, is nice.

“We’ve talked all year about leaving the jersey in a better place and setting the new standard for the Iowa program.”

Ferentz took no issue with the Hawkeyes’ place in the national discussion, though the coach said his team proved its mettle to him long before Saturday night.

“Going into the [Big Ten title game], I certainly didn't feel compelled to defend our team for anything,” Ferentz said.

“I think it's fitting that the two teams played. To me I would argue that they're the two best teams in our conference, and it came down to a matter of inches or a matter of minutes, however you want to look at it.”

Iowa has trailed for just 38 seconds in the fourth quarter this season -- 11 seconds at the the open of the final period Saturday before C.J. Beathard delivered an 85-yard strike to Tevaun Smith and for the last 27 seconds after L.J. Scott’s decisive touchdown.

“It is amazing,” Ferentz said. “Unfortunately, it was 38 seconds. I wish it was less than that. But again it's just a real tribute to the way our guys have played.”

The days ahead of the Rose Bowl will help keep Iowa in the spotlight.

“We’re glad we’re getting the respect of some people,” Beathard said.

Safety Jordan Lomax said he believes his class of seniors has positioned Iowa for future success.

“It means a lot,” Lomax said. “It means this program is heading in the direction. For the future years, for the guys to come, they now know what it takes to earn that respect. Now that they have this respect it’s on this program to maintain it and keep it.”