For the second season in a row, a 7-5 Iowa team will head into bowl season facing off against a seemingly much better, ranked opponent.
Last season, it was the Insight Bowl against No. 14 10-2 Missouri.
This season, it is once again the Insight Bowl and it is once again against the No. 14 team. However, this time, Iowa will face 9-3 national power Oklahoma.
Unlike last season, in which Missouri fans support a program that is about the same level as Iowa, Oklahoma fans are displeased with their program and its coach, Bob Stoops.
After beginning the season with National Championship hopes, the Sooners are 9-3, and suffered a humiliating end-of-the-season loss to in-state rival Oklahoma State.
Meanwhile, the Hawks began the season with humbler hopes, with most fans realizing that the team was one of the youngest in the nation. Moreover, at 7-5, the end result isn't that far from where most—myself included—thought Iowa would finish up.
The two key problems—and the reason for discontent among Hawk fans—are that this season followed up last season's huge letdown, and the way in which this season unfolded.
Specifically, the same problems that have plagued Iowa going on seven years continue to plague Iowa.
Even more specifically, the offense continually falls apart late in the season. This points to a predictable offense that is too simple and too easy for opposing defenses to prepare for, once the defenses in question have half a season worth of game tape.
Moreover, the two-minute offense is and has been deplorable, and over the last two seasons, Iowa's bend-don't-break defense has, at times, broken in two.
Even more disturbing has been the collapse of the once-proud Iowa special teams units.
I would quote numbers, but Jon Miller of Hawkeyenation.com has broken it down admirably. I will also note that when Miller, who consistently errs on the side of egregious positivity, gives the offensive staff a D+, that is a sign of huge problems.
And here we are.
The Hawkeyes go into the bowl game as 14-point underdogs, but ultimately, this a no-win situation for either team.
If Iowa loses, the respective opinions will be that Iowa was supposed to lose and Oklahoma was supposed to win.
On the other hand, if Iowa wins, the question becomes what is wrong with Oklahoma.
Essentially, this game is similar to the annual Iowa-Iowa State matchup, except that Oklahoma is Iowa in this situation and Iowa is Iowa State but with very little to gain.
Last year, Iowa beat Missouri and, as the AP's John Marshall pointed out, the Hawks "needed [the] win," and he was right.
What if Iowa wins this year?
Will it somehow salvage the season? Will it salvage the last two seasons? Will it give the fanbase hope that the program under Kirk Ferentz has not grown complacent and is still heading in a positive direction?
Count me as one that feels it won't mean much more than a win over hapless Minnesota, something Iowa has failed to secure over the last two seasons. In fact, a win over Minnesota would have meant more than winning the 2011 Insight Bowl.
I don't feel this is me being a fan that has been spoiled by the last 10 years of what was statistically the best decade ever of Iowa football.
Rather, this is a fan that sat through the 2011 Penn State and Nebraska games—arguably the most boring, uninspiring football I have ever watched in which I had a stake in one of the competitors.
This is a fan that is tired of seeing the Hawks lose to teams that, talent-wise, have no business being in the same stadium with them.
This is a fan that has to think back to Ohio State 2009, to think of a loss where the team and coaches seemed 100 percent committed—the last loss Hawkeye fans could be proud of.
In the end, a bowl win over an elite, blue-blood team won't do much to change my opinion about where the Hawkeye program is or where it is headed.
I would be more enthused and confident about the direction of the program if Kirk Ferentz announced there would be a staff shakeup.
I'm not calling for Ferentz to throw out his entire staff, or even any individual coaches.
Rather, I am saying that a staff shakeup would indicate that Ferentz realizes something is amiss and he is willing to make the decisions to fix what is wrong.
Over the last two seasons, I haven't seen any indication of that.
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