Plenty of credit should be given to Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa Hawkeyes for coming oh-so-close to winning the Big Ten championship and getting into the College Football Playoff. A 12-1 record, Big Ten West Division title and an invitation to the Rose Bowl is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. And to be honest, at least in this die-hard Hawkeye fan’s opinion, if Iowa was able to hang on and defeat Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game it would have been a disaster for these Hawkeyes to go to the College Football Playoff.
They were certainly good enough to go 8-0 in the B1G West en route to their first division title since the current division alignment was introduced. And there should be no question that they were good enough to compete against the likes of any program the B1G East had to offer this season. They've proven all of that to be true.
But at the end of the day, an outright Big Ten title and subsequent 13-0 mark would've been the worst thing that could've happened to the Iowa program heading into 2016. And there are several very good reasons why this is true.
The Hawkeyes have not been to a Rose Bowl, or appeared in a Southern California bowl, for 24 years. Their last appearance in the region, a recruiting hotbed for all those speedy wide receiver and secondary types, was the 1991 Holiday Bowl against BYU, which ended in a 13-13 tie.
Some say “the best Rose Bowl never played” was the 2003 Orange Bowl in which Iowa took on USC in Miami after the old BCS formula got in the way of that game being played in Pasadena, as it should have been that year.
And Ferentz has never been a head coach in the Rose Bowl. Since Ferentz took over at Iowa, 17 years, four conference titles and some pretty good teams have come and gone without the “Dean of B1G Coaches” getting a shot in “The Granddaddy of Them All.” Once again, you can thank the old BCS formula for that fact.
Couple this all with the possibility that Ferentz and the 2015 Hawkeyes could win Iowa's first Rose Bowl game since the 1958 squad defeated Cal 38-12, and it really should make this game against Stanford look pretty attractive to the Iowa faithful.
It's not politically correct to say this, especially given the lack of respect that was shown to this year's Hawkeyes by national media and pundits. But let's face it. A No. 4 Iowa squad, facing off with a No. 1 Clemson squad, could've had recruiting disaster written all over it for the Hawkeyes and their staff. That game would've been watched closely by all those future SEC recruits in the Deep South, where Iowa needs to continue to make more in-roads to remain consistently competitive looking into the future.
And a possible old-school shellacking to Clemson certainly would've meant many doors in the region got closed for the Hawkeyes’ future prospects. Not to mention the whole “credibility” issue it would've created for the Hawkeye staff as they work to ensure the 2016 squad can come anywhere near the success of this year's team.
Now in fairness to the Hawkeyes, they managed to win 12 games, and nearly got number 13 but for that final 17 seconds against Michigan State. So there's no surefire way of saying they would've lost to Clemson. But it's a far better scenario to have Iowa fans say “we coulda won that game” than to have Clemson fans and national media saying, “Iowa never even shoulda been there.”
No one is saying it... yet. But there can be no question that the 2015 Iowa Hawkeyes have set a very high bar for next season. On a team that will return a significant portion of the talent which got it to 12-1 in 2015, and with a schedule which will be very favorable to a repeat of this team's success, a Playoff appearance and semifinal loss in 2015 could've sent the Hawkeyes and their faithful's outlook into a tailspin before the New Year had even arrived. But instead an Iowa Rose Bowl victory on New Year’s Day over a very talented Stanford team, means that the season ends on an high note heading into spring practice.
Throw in the fact that prior to this season, Hawkeye faithful had been calling for Ferentz' head on a platter, and you have to think that even he didn't want to go to the Playoff and be handed a smack down at the hands of Clemson. The fact that Iowa lost its last game is probably what people would have remembered. A result that likewise may have led to another call for Ferentz to step down from his position, thus ensuring his legacy in the annals of Iowa football as the coach who gave Hawkeye fans their winningest season ever yet still wasn’t able to fully capitalize on the Hawkeyes’ best shot at winning a national championship.
What Does This All Mean?
At the end of the day, no matter what happens in Pasadena on Jan. 1, 2016, Kirk Ferentz and his team did the unthinkable in the last four months. And in the process, left themselves a little room to grow for the future, without the typically unreasonable expectations of Hawkeye fans who too easily forget the good times when losses start to accumulate.
But this Hawkeye squad isn't done silencing the doubters just yet. Look for a competitive matchup against David Shaw's Stanford squad, similar in style to the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State game, but with the outcome being reversed.
Since I’m the Hawkeye fan who thinks winding up in the Rose Bowl is a good thing, I’ll pick the Hawkeyes to win in Pasadena for the first time since 1959, beating the Cardinal 27-21. Victory No. 13 on the season makes Ferentz King of Hawkeye Nation once more. And this time, Ferentz also gets his due for putting his program into good position headed into next season too.
— Written by Robert A. Boleyn, a member of the Athlon Contributor Network and a native Iowan currently based in Southern California. Boleyn attended both the University of Iowa and UCLA, and is a former contributing writer for The Daily Iowan and a die-hard Hawkeye. Follow him on Twitter @BoleynRobert.