Opinion | Iowa football is on the precipice of one of the greatest turnarounds in Kirk Ferentz’s head coaching tenure

The Hawkeyes defeated the Minnesota Golden Gophers, 13-10, Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium. Iowa now controls its own destiny in the Big Ten West race.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa fans cheer for the Floyd of Rosedale Trophy during a football game between Iowa and Minnesota at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. The Hawkeyes defeated the Gophers, 13-10.

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

MINNEAPOLIS — Iowa football is one win away from what might be the most impressive midseason revitalization in the Kirk Ferentz era.

Four weeks ago, the Hawkeyes lost to the Ohio State Buckeyes, 54-10, in Columbus and dropped to 3-4 overall on the season. Now, Iowa is in the middle of a four-game winning streak and a last-minute push for a Big Ten West Division title.

“I mean, it’s more about the team,” Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras said Saturday. “This team has been through quite a bit. You know, this team has been through a lot of rough patches early in the season. Our ability to be resilient and continue to push the thing through has been pretty cool to see. A lot of really nice team efforts these last four weeks.”

My first seven columns of the season were about how bad Iowa’s offense was in some way, shape, or form. And I’m still not ready to declare that the Hawkeyes’ offense is fixed.

But I am prepared to acknowledge how unprecedented the wave Iowa’s riding is. Iowa’s offense has been outgained by about 100 yards in each of its last two games. Yet, Iowa beat Wisconsin by two possessions last week and downed Minnesota, 13-10, on Saturday.

Iowa’s turnaround is inexplicable. 

I realize the Hawkeyes’ offense has been better. But I wouldn’t call moving from last in the 131-team FBS to 130th a massive improvement. The Hawkeyes still rank outside the top 100 in red zone, scoring, passing, and rushing offense. 

Iowa’s defense hasn’t budged much in the national rankings either. The unit still ranks inside the top 25 in a number of key statistical categories like total and scoring defense.

The Hawkeyes say they haven’t changed much in practice or on the field during their newfound winning streak. And to their credit, the Hawkeyes have looked pretty much the same on the field.

The only thing that’s changed is Iowa’s confidence level. No matter how badly the odds seem to be stacked against them, the Hawkeyes appear to have an undying belief that they will make a big play when they need it most.

Linebacker Jack Campbell forced two turnovers on consecutive drives in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Iowa-Minnesota game. First, he generated a fumble at the Iowa 13-yard line and prevented a Gopher score late in the game. Then, he intercepted a pass from Minnesota quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis near his own 25-yard line and returned the ball to the Gopher 45.

Campbell’s pick set up a game-winning, 21-yard field goal from true freshman Drew Stevens.Iowa produced a third fourth-quarter turnover after Stevens’ field goal, forcing the Gophers to turn the ball over on downs on their final drive of the game.

“It’s November football,” Ferentz said. “It’s whatever it takes to get something done. It took the full 60 today, for sure. I’m just really pleased for our guys to get [the Floyd of Rosedale] back in Iowa City with us.”

Were many of Iowa’s early season losses just one or two plays away from being flipped into victories? At times, it sure didn’t look like it. Though, two of the Hawkeyes’ four losses this season have come by one possession.

I never want to chalk something up as being dictated by magic, but it’s all I can come up with when I think of the source of the Hawkeyes’ resurrection.

The Hawkeyes haven’t been shy to call out reporters for pinning them as “dead” earlier this season. In a tweet following Saturday’s game, Iowa safety Kaevon Merriweather appeared to welcome fans back on Iowa’s bandwagon.

While I appreciate Merriweather’s tweet and the thoughts Iowa’s players have shared about early season fan and media opinion, I don’t think pushback is entirely warranted. The fact of the matter is, Iowa was objectively bad two months ago.

Iowa was dead, but it found a way to roar to life. And with a win over Nebraska next week, Iowa will have gone from buried six feet under ground to the Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“People wanted to cancel our season,” senior linebacker Seth Benson said of Iowa’s tumultuous start to the year. “People didn’t want us to play another game. Like, I heard Jack say, ‘No one believes in us.’ But we believe in ourselves. We never quit.”

I’m not buying the idea that the Hawkeyes are hot enough to go to Indianapolis and win a Big Ten Championship. They’ve already lost to Ohio State and Michigan this year.  There’s proof from this season that Iowa isn’t likely to go to Lucas Oil and win. 

But, even without a win in the league title game, Iowa will have proven all it needs to. The Hawkeyes have rallied from under .500 to what will likely be a desirable bowl game bid like the Reliaquest Bowl in Tampa Bay or the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona.

Everything after its Week 13 matchup with Nebraska is a bonus for this Iowa team. Many people — myself included — thought the Hawkeyes wouldn’t play beyond the regular season. Now, Iowa is guaranteed a postseason and poised to find some success in December or January.