The Iowa Hawkeyes came into 2008 with a combined record of 19-18 over the past three seasons, and missing out on a bowl game in 2007.
Not many people expected them to do any better in 2008. But with a talented running back and a strong defense, the 2008 Iowa football team began a new era for themselves.
Iowa started off their 2008 season well, defeating Maine (46-3), FIU (42-0) and Iowa State (17-5) in their first three games.
Junior RB Shonn Greene ran for a combined total of 359 yards and 3 TDs in these games, but everyone thought that it was because of a lack of competition (at that time). Iowa's defense didn't allow a single touchdown in any of these games. The 3-0 Hawkeyes would travel to Pittsburgh the next week to face off against the Panthers.
After their hot 3-0 start, Iowa dropped three consecutive games to Pittsburgh (20-21), Northwestern (17-22), and Michigan State (13-16) to even their record out at 3-3.
Shonn Greene ran for a combined 463 yards and 2 TDs (Michigan State the only team to not let him score throughout the whole year), sending a message to everyone that he was among the elite college backs.
Iowa lost these three games by a combined 9 points, and they easily could've turned out differently. Against Pittsburgh, Shonn Greene was taken out for much of the fourth quarter, and backup QB Jake Christenstian came in late in the game only to scramble on 3rd and long for some reason and fumbling, essentialy ending the game for Iowa.
Against Northwestern, Iowa coughed up the ball five times, including a fumble on a punt return with about a minute left in the half (Northwestern ended up scoring a TD just before the teams hit the locker rooms). If that fumble never happened, do the math, one less touchdown, Iowa wins 17-15.
But who knows, if that hadn't happened everything else in the game would've been different.
Perhaps the only team that truly outplayed Iowa was Michigan State, who was the only team this year to not allow a touchdown to Shonn Greene. 2008 was beginning to look the past three years at the halfway point for Iowa.
Iowa bounced back from their three consecutive losses by crushing Indiana (45-9) and Wisconsin (38-16) before their bye week.
Against Indiana, both Shonn Greene and backup RB Jewel Hampton rushed for over 100 yards each (Greene 119, Hampton 116).
Against Wisconsin, Shonn Greene almost gained those two combined. Greene picked up 217 yards and 4 TDs against the Badgers, doing so with some very entertaining runs. Sophomore QB Ricky Stanzi was doing very well, consistently getting a good rating over 130 and had thrown only two picks so far in the year (at that point).
After their bye week, Iowa would travel to Illinois, then come back home to play third-ranked Penn State. Iowa improved to 5-3.
The Illinois Fighting Illini ruined Iowa's hopes for a ten win season, kicking a late FG to win the game 27-24. Illinois held Shonn Greene to a season-low 103 yards.
Iowa had been losing 24-9, but scored two touchdowns and converted a 2-pt. conversion after one of them to tie the game at 24. It wasn't enough, apparently. The loss dropped Iowa to 5-4, with undefeated, 3rd ranked Penn State coming to town.
A huge upset over then-undefeated, 3rd ranked Penn State gave Iowa confidence and also bowl eligibility.
Iowa drove down the field late in the 4th quarter to hit a field goal with one second left in the game, giving them a 24-23 win.
QB Ricky Stanzi, despite having an below-average game, led Iowa down the field on their final, game winning drive and looked very good while doing it. Iowa doesn't look like they'll be staying home this bowl season, improving to 6-4.
Iowa finished off its regular season winning 5 of its last 6 games. Their final two after their huge Penn State upset were wins over Purdue (22-17) and an absolute crushing of Minnesota (55-0).
Shonn Greene picked up 211 yards and two TDs in the Hawkeyes' victory over Purdue, both of which were very impressing. His first run was a 75 yarder that occurred after he completely spun around a Purdue defender and was literally untouched the rest of his way to the endzone, and his second run was a 14 yarder, but he trucked the same defender that he spun around earlier and dove past the goal line.
Iowa then traveled to Minnesota to take on the Golden Gophers for the Floyd of Rosedale. The game was expected to be fairly close, but Iowa took control right away and never let up. Shonn Greene did pick up 144 yards and 2 TDs, which gave him the Iowa school record for single season rushing yards and tied him for Iowa's touchdown record, but the star of the game was QB Ricky Stanzi. Stanzi went 15/28 for 255 yards and three TDs with no interceptions thrown, compiling a 165.43 rating. Stanzi also led an offense that looked more like Oklahoma's on that day. Iowa gained 483 total yards and 55 points on offense. But their offense wasn't the only thing doing good that day.
The Hawkeyes' outstanding defense shut down Minnesota, not allowing a single point to them. Minnesota had 134 total yards, only 7 of which were rushing yards. And you know you had a bad day when your team almost had more 1st downs than yards on the ground (Minnesota picked up 6 first downs- Iowa had 23, nearly four times as many). Iowa finished the season on a very hot streak (their only loss in the second half of their season to Illinois), and were nearly ranked in the polls that came out two days later.
On December 11th, 2008, Shonn Greene received the Doak Walker award in New York City. He also finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting, along with winning the Big Ten MVP, Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, and being named a consensus All American. Greene deserved it, too, after picking up 100+ yards every game this season and had 17 TDs. Greene broke Iowa's single-season rushing record and later their single-season TD record.
In other Iowa news, Iowa accepted an offer to the Outback Bowl vs. South Carolina after some scenarios worked out in Iowa's favor. Oregon State was expected to win the Pac-10 since they beat USC earlier, but (thankfully) lost to Oregon to open that spot up for USC.
If that didn't happen, Oregon State would go to the Rose Bowl, but another BCS Bowl would have taken USC over Ohio State. Since Oregon State lost and opened up a spot for Ohio State, all of the other Big Ten teams moved up in their bowl games, sending Iowa to Tampa.
Iowa completely dominated South Carolina in the 2009 Outback Bowl, winning their second Outback Bowl in 5 years by a score of 31-10.
Shonn Greene increased his Iowa record in yardage, as well as breaking Iowa's single season touchdown record (it was 17- Greene tied it in their regular season finale at Minnesota, then picked up 3 more in the bowl game). He had 121 yards (giving him his 13th consecutive 100+ yard game, which was every game this season) and 3 TDs.Iowa's defense didn't budge, allowing South Carolina's weak offense 10 points in the 4th quarter. The defense also forced five turnovers in the victory.
A week later, Iowa was ranked 20th in both the final AP Poll and the final Coaches Poll. Their final record was 9-4, those four losses by a combined 12 points (showing how close this season was to being much, much better for Iowa). With many starters returning and a lot of talent, Iowa should be even better in 2009.