This is Iowa’s snap-back game.
I’m so sure the Hawkeyes will rebound from their loss to Central Michigan last week to defeat Minnesota today, that ... OK, I’m not completely sure.
But recent history suggests the Hawkeyes quickly rise from the ashes of their most-discouraging losses. They don’t get much more discouraging than last Saturday’s 32-31 defeat to the Chippewas.
Crazily, perhaps, Iowa had similar losses in 2010 and 2011, both to Minnesota. In 2010, the Hawkeyes ended their regular-season with an ignominious loss to the Gophers, but beat a favored Missouri team in the Insight Bowl.
Last year, Iowa had Ignominious II at TCF Bank Stadium. It returned home to play 13th-ranked Michigan, and notched a 24-16 win over a team that went on to finish 11-2.
So the capacity for the Hawkeyes’ coaches and players to free themselves from the shackles of bitter disappointment, and a lot of criticism from the outside world, is there.
Plus, outside of maybe three or four teams in the nation if that many, no college squad is consistently potent every week. These are college kids facing other college kids who are often of similar talents. They play a chaotic game that sometimes boils down to one or two mistakes at key moments.
The maddening part from the Iowa fan’s perspective, of course, is that their team has been in this position too much for the liking in recent years. This is the third-straight season of enduring a truly bad loss to an undistinguished foe, the kind of thing that prevents a program from having a winning image.
Those two Minnesota teams that beat Iowa went 3-9. The Central Michigan club that downed the Hawkeyes was also 3-9 in 2010 and 2011. You can’t lose that game if you’re a serious Big Ten program.
But it happened, with eight games still to play. With the dawn of another Big Ten season today, can Iowa put it in the rear-view mirror?
The answer, obviously, is yes. The players, who have far more invested in this than any fan, don’t act like they’re stuck in a moment and can’t get out of it. They have too much motivation, too much to prove.
“You put in the work all spring, all summer, camp,” Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg said. “There’s so much hard work that goes into it, and then you only get 12 guaranteed opportunities.”
“We don’t really have a choice to sit back and cry after a loss,” said Hawkeyes offensive guard Matt Tobin. “Coaches always say don’t let one loss make you lose another game.”
The chattering class, of which I am a card-carrying member, can dwell on last Saturday’s debacle from the end of that game all the way to the start of today’s contest, and for years afterward. The teams themselves need short memories, or they’re toast.
“It’s easier for anyone who is actually doing the competing,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said this week. “It’s not easy, but it’s easier for them. Their focus has to change.
“If I were a fan at home, I don’t have to get ready for Minnesota so all I will do is think about the 300 things we did poorly Saturday. That is sports, it’s always been that way.
“We have to move on. If we don’t, we will pay for it this Saturday. That is worse than losing last week.”
Iowa fell to Iowa State and bounced back with a good showing in a win over Northern Iowa. It lost to Central Michigan, but should get back on the horse today against Minnesota.
There is a bit of an obstacle, though. The Gophers are motivated to win, too.