The Rosster: Seeing Double

BY BEN ROSS | DECEMBER 02, 2013 5:00 AM

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The outlook going into this season for Iowa football was bleak at best. Last year’s 4-8 campaign was, well, insufferable, to put it lightly. Most college football pundits had Iowa winning no more than six games this year, and Stewart Mandel from Sports Illustrated even named Kirk Ferentz one of the five worst coaches in the country during the off-season. (Full disclosure: I picked Iowa to be in the 4-5 wins range and sided with Mandel in some aspects of his argument).

Now, Iowa football has everyone seeing double. The Hawkeyes have doubled the number of wins from a year ago following a convincing 38-17 win over Nebraska in Lincoln on Nov. 29, and they have more or less doubled the amount of fan interest in the program. At the beginning of the season, Twitter was aflutter with pessimistic views on the Iowa team and its head coach, criticizing just about every move Ferentz made on the field. Students shamelessly asked if Iowa had won its football game on Twitter following hours of binge drinking early on Saturdays.

Now, Hawkeye football fandom is at level I’ve never really seen or experienced during my four years at this decent institution of higher learning. The team was arguably better in 2010 and ’11, and there were still Hawkeye die-hards to be found everywhere, but those squads underperformed and didn’t meet expectations. Interest in the team declined faster than the obsession surrounding Vodka Samm.

This season, attentiveness has grown in the football team as fast as its accumulated wins. It’s made optimists and supporters of the University of Iowa population in a way I’ve never seen before.

Social media have blown up praising the Black and Gold’s accomplishments on the gridiron, and Iowa fans became so defensive about Ferentz on Twitter that Mandel more or less apologized for criticizing Ferentz earlier on.

With eight wins, Iowa will get a bid to a more than respectable bowl game against a more than respectable opponent, and a more than respectable number of fans will travel with the team to cheer them on in a much more desirable climate than Iowa’s in late December (or early January, hopefully).

And you know what? It’s better this way. It’s no fun to pick out all the warts of a college football team. The players are our classmates, after all. You’re not being funny if you got so drunk on a Saturday morning you don’t know the outcome of a game that makes the school millions of dollars, you’re being an ass hat. (Full disclosure, again. I have been guilty of the above in my earlier years here).

Hating on Iowa football used to be the cool thing to do. Following the team in 2012 made curmudgeons out of many of us, forcing fans to be hyper-critical and cynical on the views of Iowa football and beyond. I was one of the worst offenders and still approach the team in an  — albeit more cautiously — pessimistic manner. I think much of this melancholy about Iowa football has to do with the recent resurgence of the school’s basketball program. People have seen buzz and success surrounding Fran McCaffery’s squad and want the same for football.

And for the first time, we’re realizing that competitiveness in both sports aren’t mutually exclusive. (You can be good at football AND basketball? What is this sorcery)? It’s not too late to start drinking the Iowa football Kool-Aid, either. The squad should return just about its entire offense next year, and Michigan State loses its defense. So there’s that.

You can call me an optimist and a homer, but you’d be wrong. I still think Kirk has the dumbest friggin contract in sports history, and he did play Iowa out of a game or two it should have won this year. It’s just healthier to be a lover rather than a hater.

All I know is I need to get my vision checked, because right now, I’m seeing double.

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