Last year, the Iowa Hawkeyes were the cardiac kids—that or pretty much any other cliche for the luckiest team in the country.
Sure the Hawkeyes were good. They beat Penn State in Happy Valley, knocked off Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, and nearly beat Ohio State in the Horseshoe with a freshman quarterback making his first career start.
Mathematically, Iowa was the best team in the land for a couple of weeks in 2009, and the BCS computers are proof.
But adding in the human element, voters were wary to rank the Hawkeyes too high—and with good reason.
In the first game of the season, Iowa needed two consecutive blocked field goals at the end of the game to squeak by Northern Iowa 17-16, and a few weeks later it held off a late Arkansas State rally, beating the Red Wolves 24-21.
Ferentz's opinion summed it up quite well, "Computers have not seen us play. If they had eyes and could see us play, they would say, are you kidding me?"
This year, with a top ten preseason ranking and title aspirations, the Hawkeyes know that they need to impress the pollsters as well as the computers. And there is reason to believe that maybe 2010 will be a little bit easier on the hearts of Iowa fans than 2009.
Why the optimism?
Namely, experience. The offense, which was almost single-handedly responsible for the near misses last season, returns a majority of its skill players.
Mr. Interception/Mr. Fourth Quarter Ricky Stanzi is a year older and a year smarter. This offseason he has worked on making better decisions with the football and not forcing plays.
"It's careless on my part, and it puts everybody in a bad position," Stanzi told ESPN. "Interceptions are part of playing quarterback, but to have as many as I had, really there's no excuse for it. It wasn't anybody else's fault, they weren't tipped passes or anything. They were bad reads, bad decisions."
But Ferentz is confident that his quarterback will have his turnover problem figured out by the start of the season.
"Nobody's harder on Ricky Stanzi than Ricky Stanzi," Ferentz said.
Stanzi's development will be crucial for the Hawkeyes, who are perceived as a team that plays down to their opponents. If he can stop throwing the early game interceptions, Iowa can put teams away early, thus resulting in fewer close games against inferior opponents.
Of course, improvement isn't a guarantee. But because of his experience, Stanzi gets the benefit of the doubt.
He always works to improve and always wants to get better, and although he's been less than impressive some games, he's a proven winner (18-3 in games that he has started and finished).
With so much senior experience, the Iowa offense as a whole will be smarter than last season. That alone can contribute to a better season, and the maturity is definitely better than last year.
Does this mean that the Hawkeyes will win the National Championship? No, not necessarily. But Iowa certainly shouldn't have close games against inferior talent like it did in 2009.