The last thing I want to be at this time of year is a buzzkill.
Summer’s dwindling away, after all. Let’s get out the surfboards and hit the beach one last time before Labor Day.
But the following is to re-emphasize what Iowa’s football coaches will tell you over and over. Namely, the Hawkeyes’ No. 9 ranking in the Associated Press preseason football Top 25 doesn’t mean much.
The answer surprised me when I started leafing through poll after poll. It’s 1988.
For all the genuinely good teams the Hawkeyes produced from 1989 to 2009, none between 1989 and 2009 began the season in the AP Top Ten.
Within that same time frame, 13 teams from Michigan, 10 from Ohio State, and seven from Penn State began the season in the Top Ten.
What about the last time Iowa was in the preseason Top Ten, in 1988? Well, the Hawkeyes went 6-4-3. (Yes, kids, there used to be ties in college football. And everyone loathed them.)
That 6-4-3 was a dismal season compared to the five times since 1991 and four since 2002 when Iowa was in the postseason Top 25. It has another name. The Poll That Matters.
This is all just a pile of numbers, granted. But it also shows people who are seduced by polls often find themselves spurned as summer turns to autumn, autumn turns to winter, and our surfboards … wait, we don’t have surfboards.
None of this is to encourage Iowa fans to start chanting “We’re not worthy.” What fun is being a fan if you can’t get puffy when someone says your team ought to be pretty darn good?
In a season in which no one seems to stand out as a surefire national-title contender, who’s to say Iowa can’t enter the conversation?
But what the rankings never tell you is there are always plenty of potholes waiting for every team to navigate. Two years ago, the AP preseason No. 9 team was Clemson. It lost six times.
Each season, a few fine teams begin the season unranked, like the 2002 and 2003 Iowa squads that went a combined 21-5 and finished No. 8 in the final AP poll of those seasons. Iowa turned out to be a pothole on many other teams’ roads.
If you can’t see at least seven such impediments on Iowa’s schedule, be careful not to get blinded by the sun if you remove your black-and-gold glasses too quickly.
Actually, a No. 9 preseason ranking seems like the best of many worlds. You’re high enough to be a few skips and hops to No. 1 should things break the right way, but you’re ranked behind someone in your own conference (No. 2 Ohio State) to begin as the pursuer instead of the pursuee.
You aren’t lacking for national attention and prestige, but you aren’t in a nowhere-to-go-but-down position.
Now all you have to do is win a whole bunch of games. Which, I’m told, is the hard part.
Here’s how Iowa was ranked in the preseason each year since 1981, followed by its highest ranking of the season, and its postseason ranking.
Year Preseason High Postseason
1981 NR 6 18
1982 NR NR NR
1983 16 4 14
1984 10 5 16
1985 4 1 10
1986 NR 8 16
1987 16 16 16
1988 9 9 NR
1989 23 23 NR
1990 NR 6 18
1991 18 7 10
1992 16 16 NR
1993 NR NR NR
1994 NR NR NR
1995 NR 18 25
1996 22 18 18
1997 21 11 NR
1998 NR NR NR
1999 NR NR NR
2000 NR NR NR
2001 NR NR NR
2002 NR 3 8
2003 NR 8 8
2004 19 8 8
2005 11 8 NR
2006 16 13 NR
2007 NR NR NR
2008 NR 20 20
2009 22 7 7
2010 9 ? ?