Losing to a team fresh off an Orange Bowl appearance usually isn't seen as a panic moment, yet as Iowa watched a 36-yard field goal sail through the uprights to send it to a 30-27 defeat at the hands of Northern Illinois on Saturday afternoon, that's exactly what should be going on in Iowa City.
No, not because it just lost to a MAC opponent or any other holier-than-thou statement about the Big Ten in general. Rather, it is because what took place on the field should have reminded a lot of people of exactly what has doomed Iowa over the past few seasons—inexcusable mistakes at the most inopportune of times.
Iowa had the Huskies exactly where it wanted them, tied 27-27 with one minute, 48 seconds left and the ball near midfield.
All the Hawkeyes needed was a quarterback not to make mistakes and get them 25 or 30 yards to set their kicker up for a game-winning field goal. Simple enough, right?
Instead, Jake Rudock, making his first ever collegiate start, made a bad mistake and threw an interception to Jimmie Ward at midfield that was returned 20 yards to set up the visiting Huskies at the Hawkeyes' 30-yard line with just 1:24 remaining.
Eleven yards and one minute, 13 seconds later, the Hawkeyes watched on as Mathew Sims' 36-yard field goal put the Huskies up 30-27 with just four seconds left on the clock. Game, set, match to the visitors.
Thankfully, not all was lost in this game for Rudock, who was 21-of-37 for 257 yards passing in his debut.
However, even those numbers are misleading, as Rudock also threw two interceptions, suffered some bad drops from his receivers and couldn't get any help when he and the rest of the team needed it from the secondary or special teams.
It sure seems like we've seen that script play out over and over before in the Kirk Ferentz era.
2006 against Indiana surely is the best example of what I'm talking about as Drew Tate was leading the 15th-ranked Hawkeyes on a comeback drive late against the Hoosiers, only to throw an interception at the Indiana 14-yard line and effectively end their comeback bid.
Iowa lost that one despite an amazing performance on offense (even from Drew Tate), yet it was this loss that broke open the floodgates for a bad season—as Iowa finished 2006 with a 6-7 overall record.
Then there is the whole mountain of mediocre-at-best performances from the Hawkeyes since they won 10 games or more for three straight years (2002 to 2004). Since then, Ferentz has had all of one season in which his Hawkeyes have won 10 or more games (2009).
Take that 2009 season out of the equation, and Ferentz is all of 47-41 since those three straight 10-win seasons, and in fact, he's just 100-75 in his 14 years and one game at Iowa.
But, that's not even the worst of it.
What Should Iowa do with Kirk Ferentz?
The biggest issue of all for Ferentz? This loss marked the seventh straight for his Hawkeyes. That's simply not going to cut it for the $3.8 million man in Iowa City.
So, what exactly is keeping the Hawkeyes from taking action and getting their program back to the competitive level it was at in the early part of the 2000s?
Well, there is that 75 percent buyout clause hanging over this whole situation.
Iowa would owe Ferentz roughly $15 million following this season if it wanted to let him go (while he would owe nothing to the school if he left—how do you like them apples?).
If you are Ohio State or Michigan or anyone in the SEC, that's a drop in the bucket for your athletic department. However, at Iowa (where budgets are tight on an annual basis), that amount looms large in the decision-making process.
At the end of the day, it will be up to Director of Athletics Gary Barta to figure out what he values more—money coming into the athletic program from a winning football team or not paying Kirk Ferentz's buyout?
Sooner or later, Hawkeyes fans are going to stop donating at the pace they currently are in direct correlation to the product they see on Saturdays. Much more of this and Bret Bielema's phone may start ringing with Iowa on the other end of the line.
For more coverage of all things Big Ten, follow the author on Twitter.