Football commentary: Analyzing ‘What if?’


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What if?

It’s a maddening question, especially after Iowa’s 37-6 dismantling of fifth-ranked Michigan State on Oct. 30. The Hawkeyes are now 6-2. The Rose Bowl is still attainable, albeit through an unlikely and convoluted scenario.

But those two losses linger.

Sept. 18: No. 24 Arizona 34, No. 9 Iowa 27.

Oct. 23: No. 10 Wisconsin 31, No. 12 Iowa 30.

Eight points. That’s what stands between Iowa and an 8-0 record. In reality, though, the margin is even slimmer — a few plays here, a made extra point there.

So the question needs to be asked: What if?

What if the ball didn’t ricochet off Marvin McNutt into Trevon Wade’s hands for a pick-six? What if Arizona didn’t block a punt and return a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown? What if Trent Mossbrucker’s game-tying PAT attempt against the Wildcats wasn’t blocked?

Truth be told, if only one of those plays ends up differently, Iowa has a chance to escape Arizona with a win.

What if Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt didn’t block Michael Meyer’s extra-point attempt? What if Badger quarterback Scott Tolzien didn’t shovel a miracle 3-yard pass to Isaac Anderson on what should have been a 10-yard sack? What if Kirk Ferentz ran a punt-safe formation on the game’s next play — a 17-yard fake punt run on fourth-and-4?

This is a fruitless exercise, really. Iowa’s record is 6-2. It has a 0 percent chance of being 8-0 this season. But it’s fun — or painful, depending on your perspective — to look at what could have been.

An 8-0 Hawkeye team would have the Rose Bowl as a fallback, if that whole national-championship thing fell through. The 8-0 Hawkeyes would have finished the meat of their Big Ten schedule, with three games against Northwestern, Indiana, and Minnesota (combined Big Ten record: 2-11) still left.

And an 8-0 team would have a Heisman contender at quarterback.

(Ricky Stanzi — who’s second in the nation in passing efficiency (180.3) — has thrown 19 touchdowns and two interceptions. Those numbers should be good enough for an invitation to New York. But in the perfection-obsessed world of college football, a 6-2 record is simply too mediocre for Stanzi to get consideration.)

In the first-floor hallway of the Hayden Fry Football Complex, a white sheet of paper is affixed to the inside of a windowpane. On it is a quotation: “Don’t bother looking back because we’re not going there.”

During the season, this motto consumes Ferentz. He preaches it to his players and maintains it during his weekly press conferences. To him, games need to be digested and learned from, but shortly thereafter, they should be faint memories.

That’s why when I asked Stanzi two weeks ago if he ever took time to think about the good he has brought this program, the three-year starting quarterback said, “No. Not really.”

Ferentz often admits there’s a time for self-evaluation, a time to think about the “what if’s” — and that time is called the off-season. It’s then when the 12-year head coach will likely lose some sleep over what could have been this season.

That’s why I could never be a player or coach — beyond, of course, the obvious physical and mental limitations. The “what if’s” — the unknowns — would consume me.

For Ferentz, though, they’re not a worry. His team’s two losses don’t linger — and neither do the plethora of plays that could’ve turned them into wins.

What if?

That’s for fans and sportswriters to think about.

The real question: What’s next?

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