The Hawkeyes came into 2008 as a damaged squad.
After looking like they were on the precipice of the mythical "next level," the Hawks crashed to the ground in 2006 and 2007. They failed to go to a bowl in 2007 and were beset with a slew of legal and disciplinary issues. It looked as if Kirk Ferentz had lost his team.
Iowa began the year 3-3, dropping close ones against Pittsburgh, Northwestern and Michigan State. Then it looked as if the corner had been turned. The Hawkeyes took convincing victories against Indiana and Wisconsin, as running back Shonn Greene ran over every Hoosier and Badger in his path.
However, the next week saw Iowa take a step back, losing 27-24 to a hapless Illinois squad.
On the other hand, Penn State was 9-0 and looked to be on the way to the national title game.
The offense averaged 41.8 points per game, and the PSU defense, as usual, was one of the best in the country. The previous week saw the Nittany Lions go into Columbus and beat a solid Ohio State squad.
With their final games against Iowa, Indiana and Michigan State, the national championship game seemed to be a matter of course.
And in the first half, it looked like Penn State would roll over the Hawks. The Nits held onto the football for almost 24 of the first 30 minutes. They piled up over 200 yards in the first half, while Iowa squeaked out 70 total yards.
Nonetheless, due to a botched PSU snap and the Hawks forcing the Nits to settle for field goals, the halftime score was 13-7.
The second half began badly, with Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi throwing an interception. Penn State once again couldn't get the ball into the end zone, so it took the field goal and a 16-7 lead.
Then the Iowa offense came alive, moving the ball 73 yards in 10 plays and bringing the Hawks to within two points of mighty PSU.
The defense forced a three-and-out, but Iowa fumbled the ball away, and Penn State scored four plays later.
The two teams headed into the fourth quarter by trading punts, and then Iowa drove the ball 44 yards to close the lead to two points. The only problem was there was just over nine minutes to go, and Penn State had the ball.
The Nits played the possession game, moving the ball 37 yards and taking over five minutes off the clock. Then they got greedy—the bend-don't-break does work—and were picked off.
The Hawkeyes had the ball at their 29 with 3:46 to go. Fifteen plays later, Kirk Ferentz opted to go with his more experienced kicker—who hadn't attempted a field goal since missing opportunities at Pitt and Iowa State—and Daniel Murray booted a 31-yarder, which threw PSU out of the national title game and threw Iowa back into the national spotlight.
Final Score: Iowa 24, Penn State 23