Defying expectations


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While Iowa’s reputation has been marred in the past because players’ discrepancies with the law, head coach Kirk Ferentz can finally see the forward progress his program has striven for.

“I keep calling it a virus or whatever, whatever we went through. I think we’re back on the track we want to be on,” he said at his weekly press conference Tuesday.

This year, the 9-2 Hawkeyes have the potential of garnering Ferentz’s his fourth double-digit win season since taking over for Hayden Fry in 1999. The last time the Hawkeyes were able to capture 10 or more wins was in 2004. Iowa tied for first in the Big Ten and defeated LSU in the Capital One Bowl, 30-25. The squad toted NFL-caliber players such as linebackers Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway and defensive linemen Matt Roth and Jonathan Babineaux.

Since then, Iowa has struggled to gain a winning momentum, finishing 7-5 in 2005, 6-7 in 2006, and 6-6 in 2007. Last year, Iowa won nine games and nabbed a 31-10 victory over South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.

The interruption of off-the-field issues, spanning two years with 18 players running afoul in the law, has made returning to prominence for athletic ability that much more coveted.

On Saturday for Senior Day inside Kinnick Stadium, Iowa can play for win No. 10.

“It means a lot,” senior center Rafael Eubanks said. “Especially since here, I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, to get to this point — my last year — I’m just excited.

“It feels really fulfilling as a player, and for this team as a whole, that we can finish season off at the minimum with 10 wins.”

Ferentz echoed Eubanks’ sentiment.

“I am thinking about [10 wins],” Ferentz said. “That’s significant. Eleven is more significant, but I know you can’t get to 11 if you don’t get 10. If you don’t get to 10 this week, it’s impossible to do it this year.”

Plagued by injuries to running back Adam Robinson, quarterback Ricky Stanzi, and offensive lineman Dace Richardson, the Hawkeyes have lost their last two games. The loss in key contributors has rippled throughout the team, but Iowa has demonstrated its persevering spirit, its next man in philosophy.

“I don’t what else I could have expected from this team,” Ferentz said. “They’ve handled every bump in the road pretty well. I just hope we finish out well. Again, It’d be nice to win, but I just want to finish out the way we’ve been playing.”

This season, Iowa has capitalized on exceeding expectations, especially when heading into Columbus to vie for a Big Ten championship.

Listed as the underdog against Ohio State, the Hawkeyes trailed the Buckeyes by two touchdowns with just over 11 minutes remaining in regulation. Then Derrell Johnson-Koulianos’ ran back a kickoff 99 yards for a TD, and quarterback James Vandenberg hit Marvin McNutt in the end zone to tie the game with under three minutes remaining.

Although Iowa fell, 27-24, in overtime, Ferentz reflected on his great fortune in the opportunity to do what he loves — coach football.

“I feel very fortunate,” he said. “I love football, and I’m in Ohio Stadium. I’m in a great college environment. I felt the same way in Penn State. I feel that every time I’m in Kinnick.

“I feel fortunate.”

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