ANN ARBOR, Mich., — No one saw this coming, and yet here it is.
Iowa’s bowl game is this Friday. It’s against No. 17 Nebraska (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) in the exotic locale of Iowa City. There’s a trophy involved, but with the Hawkeyes (4-7, 2-5) in the throes of a five-game losing streak, in which they’ve been outscored 31.8 to 18.6, the Heroes Trophy will be on display out of ceremony.
The Hawkeyes are in the role of spoiler, something thrust on them by the Michigan student section before and after the 42-17 drubbing the No. 20 Wolverines put on them last Saturday. “Beat Nebraska,” the students chanted. Going into the the Big Ten’s final weekend, the Huskers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Michigan for the Legends Division title and a berth opposite Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.
Meanwhile, Iowa is bowl-less for the first time since 2007 and will post is first losing regular season since 2000. Iowa is four quarters from turning in the gear.
“We’ll do our best to show up ready to win on Friday,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said in the Michigan postgame. “We’ll get as much work done as we can in the next six days, and then when that’s over, we’ll address what’s in front of us, just like we did after the ’07 season, or the ’99, 2000 season as well.
“It’s not much fun, but we’ll go back to work and focus on finding solutions and focus on seeing what we can do to get back to where we want to be.”
The college defiance is gone. This team has been through five weeks of decapitation. Reality has set in for even the most hopeful competitors.
“We’re getting what we deserve,” said wide receiver Keenan Davis, who was held without a catch for the first time in 24 games. “We’re not playing well enough to win games and that’s the thing. The good thing is with this team, we’re going to keep trying. That’s what I love about this team. Everybody is going to keep fighting.”
Iowa’s offense has generated just 306 yards a game in November. That’s No. 115 in the country. Also in November, Iowa is No. 106 in rushing with 99.3 yards a game and No. 106 in total defense, allowing 492.0 yards a game.
Iowa is 0-3 this month and will post its fourth straight non-winning November. The 2008 Hawkeyes finished 3-1 this month. Since then, it’s been 0-3 this season, 2-2 in ’11, 1-3 in ’10 and 1-2 during the 2009 Orange Bowl season.
“Obviously, this hasn’t turned out as we wanted,” quarterback James Vandenberg said. “We talk about we’re always building, whether you’re building for one this year or building for a championship next year.
“Obviously, we’re building for next year now. That hurts as a senior, but it’s something I still want to be a part of.”
Ferentz has been conscious of setting a tone the last several weeks that has nothing to do with surrender. Practices have been among the most physical of the season. Ferentz short circuited during a radio interview coming out of halftime against Purdue and kept that fire lit through two news conferences last week.
Saturday, he sat forward in a chair and leaned on the table set out in front of him. He spoke in hushed, matter-of-fact tones, which, after five defeats, is appropriate. The build is now for next year and beyond. That point wasn’t going to be made in the minutes following 42-17 at Michigan Stadium.
“The last game is about pride,” senior cornerback Micah Hyde said. “It’s a rivalry game. We obviously don’t have any postseason play, so we’ve just got to out there and lay it on the line. It’s about pride now.”
Several different ways to look at Friday. A first step in a build might be the healthiest for everyone Iowa.