The season started with national title hopes. Those are gone. Midway through the campaign, a conference championship was within Iowa's reach. See ya. With just three games left, a BCS bowl was still in the offing. Um...nada.
Has 2010 turned out to be a disappointment, regardless of how the Hawkeyes finish? In short, yes...and no.
It's not been that often over the last fifty years, that Iowa has been mentioned in connection with a possible national championship. Fans frantically grasped the enormity of the possibility and ran with it.
Why not? The Hawkeyes were returning the core of a tremendously talented defense. They had a charismatic quarterback who embodied everything it meant to be "the very model of a modern major general". (Try getting that song out of your head now) They were three-deep with talented running backs and returned at least two fantastic receivers.
If ever Iowa was going to make a run at a national title, this had to be the year.
As their third game of the season rolled to a close, that dream was left shattered in the arid desert air of Arizona. It was hard not to be just a shade devastated. They had waited far too long to play up to their potential and threw away a shot at true greatness.
Still, there was a shot at the Rose Bowl at hand. After steamrolling through hapless Ball State, manhandling Penn State, and surviving two supermen to get past Michigan, a trip to Pasadena looked promising.
Then there was that one-point slip against Wisconsin. It wasn't a complete killer, but it put the Hawkeyes on the back end of a tie-breaker.
Even if they couldn't get into the Rose Bowl a BCS bowl was still a real possibility. After all, they got an invite to the Orange Bowl a year ago with two losses on their record.
Finally, there came yet another gaffe at Northwestern. With three losses, a BCS bowl would be tough enough to come by. Add to that the fact that Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State all only have one loss. It would require a complete collapse by two of those three teams to even remotely put Iowa in position to petition for such a spot.
Consider that option off the table as well.
With such lofty possibilities and so many returning stars, anything short of a BCS bowl is definitely a disappointment. No matter what Iowa does over the last two weeks, they can't erase the three losses that are on their permanent record. They can't magically re-enter the national title race. They can't (realistically) earn a trip to the Rose Bowl. They won't get a repeat invite to the Orange, Sugar, or Fiesta Bowls.
Compared to what the Hawkeyes should have accomplished, this season is a bust.
However, history has a way of putting things into perspective.
Probably, very few people who read this will remember the 1980 season. That year saw the Hawkeyes go 4-7. They were obliterated 58-0 by Nebraska. Iowa State edged the Hawks 10-7. Purdue mopped up the field with Iowa 58-13. That was not a successful season by any contemporary fan's measure.
Maybe some of you will remember 1992. That year saw Iowa finish the season at 5-7. They started the season with losses to N.C. State (24-14) and Miami (FL) (24-7). They beat Iowa State, but turned around and lost to Colorado (28-12). The Big Ten conference schedule didn't get much better.
In 1998, Iowa finished 3-9. The 1999 season saw only one win for the Hawkeyes (Northern Illinois).
More recently, Iowa finished the 2006 season at 6-7 and followed that up with a 6-6 2007 campaign.
None of these examples even begins to touch the numerous years that Iowa suffered horribly before Hayden Fry took over the program.
It might a little too easy to say "but that's the past; this team was supposed to be better."
Yeah, this team was supposed to be better than what we got. Keep in mind though, that considering all things, this year could have been much worse. They could have failed to hold off Michigan and probably should have lost to Indiana.
Right now, Iowa could just as easily be staring down a 5-7 season as they are looking for a New Year's bowl.
Let's not also forget that Iowa takes on Ohio State tomorrow. A win over a top 10 team could add a measure of confirmation that this team really is pretty darn good.
In fact, Iowa could still end the regular season at 9-3, and with a bowl win, could get their second straight 10-win season. They could still be playing in January (should be).
Even if Iowa fails to beat Ohio State, they could end the season with a win over Minnesota and repeat their record of two years ago, which was considered a resounding success at the time.
As February rolls around, I have no doubt that many of us will still be talking about what "might have been". Iowa's losses have all been close (so far) and have mostly come against quality opponents.
We'll wonder aloud what might have happened if the defense had only held "one more time" or if the offense hadn't taken quite so long to wake up. We'll speculate on how things might have ended differently if a different play was called here or there, or if Coach Ferentz's conservative nature had taken a back seat to a more rebellious attack plan.
What shouldn't be lost in all of this though, is that we're in a pretty darn good place as Iowa fans to be able to grumble about such folly. How many years would we have killed to see Iowa held in such high esteem and given such respect? What would we have traded to see the Hawks knocking on the door to nine wins or more?
Compared to what we were hoping for, the 2010 season has been a pretty big disappointment, and nothing can salvage that now.
Compared to where this program has been though, 2010 is yet another resounding success and stepping stone toward the kind of national respect that we've longed so long for.