On Dec. 30, the Iowa Hawkeyes will participate in their 26th bowl game ever.
They have a 14-10-1 record in bowl games, with a 3-4 record in major—Rose Bowl or BCS bowls—bowl games.
For all of his shortcomings, current head coach Kirk Ferentz is one of the better coaches in the country in terms of bowl prep. He has posted a 6-3 record in bowl games over his career.
This year's matchup against the Oklahoma Sooners might be his biggest test yet.
Vegas lists Iowa as 16-point underdogs. That is the largest spread out of all of this year's 35 bowls.
Nevertheless, this is where the Hawks are best—when nobody gives them a chance.
Favorite or not, hopefully they will post win No. 15, which will belong alongside the other great bowl wins in Hawkeye lore.
Once upon a time, there were only a few bowl games. Moreover, the conference champion was the only Big Ten team that went bowling, and from 1946 forward, the champion in question went to the Rose Bowl.
Second place, third place, six wins—these things didn't matter. It was Rose Bowl or bust.
And for most its history up to 1956, "bust" would be an apt word to describe Iowa.
The Hawks had some glory years—Howard Jones' teams in the early 1920's and the 1939 Iron Men to name two—but the fact is, between the official beginning of the Iowa football program in 1889 and 1955, the Hawks only won four (shared or outright) conference championships and had never been to a bowl.
That was the environment into which new head coach Forrest Evashevski stepped in 1952.
His first four seasons were mediocre, as Iowa went a combined 14-19-2, with only one winning season (5-4 in 1954). Just think, these days, he would likely have been fired after the fourth season.
That would have been a shame, because it was during his fifth season that things turned around.
The 1956 Hawkeyes went 8-1, thereby winning the conference outright and earning their first bid to the Rose Bowl.
They played the 7-2-1 Oregon State Beavers, who were the Pacific Coast Conference champions. The Hawks had played the Beavers earlier in the season—a home game that they won, 14-13.
The Rose Bowl game wasn't as close, as Iowa was victorious by a score of 35-19. The Hawkeyes' final record was 9-1, and they wound up ranked No. 3 in the final AP poll—their highest ranking ever up to that point.
The previous two seasons had seen unprecedented success for the Hawkeyes and their sixth-year coach, Forest Evashevski.
They had compiled a record of 15-2-2, won a Big Ten title and gone to their first bowl game.
Hopes were high as the Hawkeyes headed into 1958 despite the graduation of Outland Trophy winner Alex Karras and All-American end Jim Gibbons.
Part of the reason for the optimism was returning senior quarterback Randy Duncan, who had led the wing-T offense in 1957.
When it was all said and done, only a second-week tie with Air Force and a loss to Ohio State kept Iowa from an undefeated season and being called the No. 1 team in the nation. Nevertheless, the Hawks' 8-1-1 record was good enough to win the Big Ten and put them back in the Rose Bowl.
They were matched up with Pacific Coast Conference champions California, who were 7-3.
The Hawkeyes came into the game favored by 18.5 points, and they delivered. They wound up winning, 38-12. Iowa broke a Rose Bowl record by attempting three two-point conversions—all of them in the second half with the Hawks nursing a comfortable lead (yes, Kirk Ferentz, Iowa has also been known to run up the score in its time).
When the smoke had cleared, Randy Duncan came in second in the Heisman voting, and the Hawks were the No. 2 team in the country.
After 17 straight non-winning seasons, Iowa hired a former Marine from West Texas to get its football program into shape.
That former Marine was Hayden Fry, and after enduring losing seasons in 1979 and 1980, Fry turned the Hawks around in 1981. With an 8-4 record (6-2 in conference), Iowa won the Big Ten and went to its first Rose Bowl in over 20 years. Unfortunately, the Hawks got blanked by Washington 0-28.
For all Fry gave to the Hawkeyes—the Swarm, the pink locker rooms, the Tigerhawk, the black and gold uniforms, a winning attitude—he wasn't a great bowl game coach, and this was especially true in big bowl games.
Fry had an overall bowl record of 6-7-1 and was 0-3 in Rose Bowls.
However, the 1984 Freedom Bowl was a different story.
The Hawks came into the game with a 7-4-1 record. Their opponents, the Texas Longhorns, were 7-3-1.
The Horns were not the force they were under Darrell Royal. In fact, they were nearing the end of the Fred Akers' era. Nevertheless, they were still the Texas Longhorns—a national power.
The game took place under a driving rain, but that didn't stop junior quarterback Chuck Long.
At halftime, the game was close, with the Hawks holding on to a 24-17 lead. Nevertheless, they blew the game open in the third quarter, putting up 31 consecutive points. Long finished 29-of-39 for 461 yards and six touchdowns. Each of the touchdowns was to a different receiver. When the smoke cleared, Iowa won 55-17.
With senior Chuck Long leading the Hawkeyes into 1985, expectations were as high as they had ever been in Iowa City.
This bowl game—and particularly the ending—was the culmination of a magical and unlikely season.
Iowa began the year with four scholarship running backs. By the fifth game, three of them were done for the year with ACL tears, and the fourth had a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss most of the rest of the regular season.
That left the winning up to a great defense, true sophomore quarterback Drew Tate and walk-on running back Sam Brownlee, who hadn't even managed 1,000 yards rushing in high school.
The Hawkeyes wound up with the worst rushing team in the country, but they also ended up 9-2 and co-Big Ten champions.
That led to a bid to the Capital One Bowl, where they faced the 2003 national champions, the LSU Tigers.
The Hawks owned LSU for the first three quarters, but the Tigers came back in the fourth, and took the lead with 42 seconds on the clock.
The way those 42 seconds played out is the stuff of legend.
In the end, Iowa won, 30-25. They were ranked No. 8 in the final BCS poll, and heading into 2005, there wasn't a hotter team in the country.
Unfortunately, that hype turned out to be unwarranted, but how amped up was Hawkeye Nation between January and September 2005?
This might have been the biggest bowl win of the Fry/Ferentz era, and it has certainly been the biggest bowl win during Ferentz's 13 years.
In retrospect, this matchup was one Kirk Ferentz must have savored.
Georgia Tech ran what some felt was an outdated version of the wing T (the same offense Forest Evashevski ran at Iowa, with a few updates and variations). However, the Yellow Jackets' success was undeniable.
They were 11-2 and the ACC champs. The Tech offense was the No. 14 scoring offense in the country, averaging 33.8 points-per-game.
Meanwhile, Iowa was the No. 8 scoring defense in the country.
Defending against the triple option was and is a matter of controlling the line of scrimmage and playing assignment football—something Kirk Ferentz and defensive coordinator Norm Parker drilled into their players, regardless of the opponent.
In the end, Iowa won, 24-14, though the score doesn't do justice to just how dominant the Hawks were. They held Tech to its second lowest rushing total of the season—143 yards—to go with just 12 yards passing.
Iowa finished the season 11-2 and ranked No. 7 in the country.