Insight Bowl 2010: Iowa Back To Underdog Role Against Missouri

Kevin TrahanAnalyst IDecember 26, 2010

IOWA CITY, IA - NOVEMBER 20:  University of Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz takes the field with his team for the Ohio State Buckeyes NCAA college football game at Kinnick Stadium on November 20, 2010 in Iowa City, Iowa. Ohio State won 20-17 over Iowa. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
David Purdy/Getty Images

Under Kirk Ferentz, Iowa has become known as the team that defies expectations, whether those be good or bad.

Typically, the Hawkeyes are underestimated and surprise the college football experts with a solid Big Ten finish and a New Year's Day bowl game.

However, twice in Ferentz's tenure, Iowa was supposed to be a truly special team that could compete for a BCS bowl. Both squads, 2005 and 2010, fell flat on their faces.

There is no single reason for Iowa's constant disproving of preseason polls. One theory is that the teams who overachieve are filled with players who nobody wanted, and thus work harder to succeed. The 2005 and 2010 teams had an overwhelming amount of talent, so maybe they didn't work as hard as the other Ferentz-coached teams.

Another theory is that Iowa is built to go 8-4, and typically lands somewhere between 6-6 and 10-2, depending on how lucky it is during the year.

While these theories have their backings within the state of Iowa and from college football media members, there is no set reason why the Hawkeyes overachieve some years and underachieve in others.

Did this year's Iowa team lack some of the great leaders that the less-heralded quads enjoyed? Sure. But injuries and lack of execution late in games had just as much to do with the five losses this year.

Nevertheless, after a disappointing season, Iowa is back to playing the role of the underdog in Tuesday's Insight Bowl against Missouri.

The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, are limping into the bowl game, riding a three-game losing streak, including blown leads to Northwestern and Ohio State and a loss to 3-9 Minnesota.

To make matters worse, all-time leading receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was suspended for numerous drug charges, prompting an investigation into possible drug problems on Iowa's football team. No more players were suspended on drug charges, but running back Adam Robinson was suspended for the Insight Bowl for "failing to meet team expectations."

Meanwhile, Missouri has plenty of confidence heading into Tempe.

The 10-2 Tigers started the season 7-2 before losing consecutive games to Nebraska and Texas Tech. However, they won their last three games to regain their composure before the bowl season.

Each team's emotional standing is at an opposite end of the spectrum. Iowa, as put by defensive end Adrian Clayborn, has "lost its will to win." Missouri's current emotional standing is best summed up by quarterback Blaine Gabbert's tweet on Friday: "Great practice today, we are flying around."

Because of its epic collapse at the end of the season and its inferior record, Iowa has become the underdog once again. This time, it's the Hawkeyes' time to be the spoilers.

The Tigers are "flying high," and Iowa, which was supposed to be unbeatable, is now playing against a team that thinks it can't lose.

The experts would say one of two things: Either Iowa is a broken team, or Kirk Ferentz has his team and his opponent right where he wants them.

The numbers don't lie, and clearly Ferentz relishes in a role out of the spotlight. His opponent is overconfident and probably thinks it can win by 50. His team, however, is being overlooked by the national media, but seemed cautiously optimistic about its chances on media day.

In other words, Kirk Ferentz has Iowa and Missouri right where he wants them.

So right now, half of Hawkeye fandom—those of you who think Iowa can only win as an underdog—is rejoicing, with a gut feeling that Iowa can prove the experts wrong once again.

It's impossible to tell which Iowa team will show up, the team that has "lost its will to win" or the team that has something to prove.

All we do know is that if Iowa wants to come out of Tempe with a win, it will have to do so playing a role it rarely has had to this year: the underdog.