Iowa’s season isn’t over — not yet, anyways


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COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Kirk Ferentz settled into a seemingly uncomfortable plastic chair in a tiny media room full of people who were just as puzzled as he was. He looked tired and frustrated, as though he didn’t want to be there.

Couldn’t blame him, really.

Iowa had just been beaten soundly by Maryland here at Byrd Stadium. Questions were all over the place. Beliefs had seemingly disappeared. Fans were yelling again, upset at another lackluster performance.

“Today wasn’t much fun for us,” Ferentz said. “But we got what we deserved.”

This game, a 38-31 victory for Big Ten newbie Maryland, was much, much worse than the score says. This was a game where the box score doesn’t tell much of the story, if any at all. The Terrapins embarrassed the Hawkeyes on Oct. 18 in the teams’ first-ever meeting, and embarrassed might not be a strong enough word.

Iowa struggled to establish the running game. The once-vaunted offensive line looked pedestrian against Maryland’s pass rush. Receivers weren’t getting open against one of the worst pass defenses in the Big Ten.

Even more, the defense couldn’t tackle, allowing the Terrapins to rush for 200-plus yards. Penalties continually impeded Iowa on both sides of the ball. You and I could probably go on and on and on.

It was uninspiring. It was ugly. It was the worst kind of wake-up call, where seemingly all of Iowa’s holes and weak links were exposed in a single game.

And despite this terrible, terrible game — despite the sky falling after Iowa’s worst performance of 2014 and despite the fans clamoring that this team is nothing more than “average” — the Hawkeyes still have a chance to make something of this season.

It’s probably hard to believe after such a disheartening performance, but it’s true. This season is not lost. In many ways, it is just beginning. The Hawkeyes are 5-2, and are 2-1 in Big Ten. They are, for the most part, right where we thought they’d be through seven games.

Look, Iowa’s loss to Maryland was bad. Real bad. I get that. But there’s still an opportunity for the Hawkeyes to win the West Division and get to Indianapolis for the conference title game.

We knew this team wasn’t going to contend for a spot in the inaugural college-football playoff, but we knew that a trip to play in the Big Ten championship was a legitimate possibility.

The Big Ten’s West Division is still up in the air. Iowa is tied with Nebraska with a 2-1 conference record. Northwestern is still in the hunt at 2-2. Wisconsin is 1-1.

Minnesota is the current leader of the West at 3-0, but still has to play the Hawkeyes, Ohio State, as well as both Nebraska and Wisconsin on the road. The toughest Big Ten team the Gophers have beaten, so far, is Northwestern (they also beat lowly Michigan and squeaked by Purdue).

Iowa will be idle this next week, which comes at a perfect timing. The run defense needs some work. The offense still has some kinks to fix. Those issues, and more, must be addressed before the Hawkeyes begin the final month of the regular season.

November will go a long way in deciding how we define and remember this Iowa football team. Each of its next five games — Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska at home; Minnesota and Illinois on the road — are winnable games, but only if the team plays smart, disciplined football, which it is more than capable of doing.

A lot can, and likely will, happen between now and the end of the season. Most of the division will beat up on each other during that span, and there’s a chance Iowa can emerge from that group as winners of the West.

Ferentz knows this as well as anybody — that it’s both possible, and that it’ll first require some work.

“We have a mentally tough football team. But talk is cheap, so we have to go back to work,” he said.

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