Iowa football’s senior class leads Hawkeyes to bowl game

Iowa’s 27 seniors have endured many ups and downs during their careers in the Black and Gold. This season, they led the Hawkeyes to a 7-5 record.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell runs outs before a football game between Iowa and the Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium on November 25, 2022. The Cornhuskers defeated the Hawkeyes, 24-17.

Kenna Roering, Sports Reporter

Iowa football’s 2022 senior class will be remembered for its ability to fight through adversity.

From enduring a COVID-19-shortened season in 2020 to starting a season 3-4 for the first time in 15 years in 2022, the Hawkeyes’ 27 seniors can take credit for keeping the program’s head above water. 

“Can’t say enough about our seniors,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said after the Hawkeyes’ 24-17 loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers Friday. “All of our upperclassmen have done a good job of being leaders, but our seniors, it all starts with them. Really proud of them and proud of the way they’ve led our football team, and proud of all of our guys. They never quit. They just keep fighting.”

It would’ve been easy for the Hawkeyes to be down on their luck after they started October 0-3, falling to Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio State in a four-week span.

But Iowa’s seniors kept their focus inside the locker room and rallied to four-straight wins against Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The Hawkeyes’ four-game win streak positioned Iowa for a second consecutive run at a Big Ten West title.

“Coach mentioned it before the game, that coming out of that Ohio State game it all looked very grim, but the senior leadership that we had is some of the best we’ve ever seen,” quarterback Alex Padilla said. “Guys like Jack Campbell, Sam LaPorta, Kaevon [Merriweather] — guys like that kind of willed us to get back on our feet and have a goal that we wanted to win five. We were really close to doing that. I credit that to the senior leadership that we had.”

The Hawkeyes came into the Heroes Trophy game on Friday in control of their own destiny in the West. But the 3-8 Cornhuskers charged into Kinnick Stadium and beat the Hawkeyes for the first time since 2014.

Senior quarterback Spencer Petras, who ranks tenth in program history with 5,190 passing yards, sustained a shoulder injury in the first quarter against Nebraska and did not return. 

The Iowa offense showed signs of life after a 44-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Kaleb Johnson in the third quarter. But four turnovers leading to 17 points for the Cornhuskers were too much for the FBS’ 130th-ranked offense to come back from. 

The Iowa defense — made up of seven senior starters — gave up 278 passing yards to Nebraska, including an 87-yard touchdown pass from Cornhusker quarterback Casey Thompson. The Hawkeyes came into Friday’s matchup allowing 164.4 passing yards per game.

The Hawkeye defense limited the Cornhuskers to 51 rushing yards, marking the eighth time this season the Iowa defense has allowed fewer than 100 yards on the ground.

Senior starting linebacker Jack Campbell, who leads the Hawkeyes with 118 total tackles this season, is taking the loss to Nebraska and the missed opportunity to make it back to the Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis as a chance to grow.

“Obviously, an opportunity to go to Indianapolis is huge,” Campbell said. “We’re going to keep pushing and focus on the next one. We will look at ourselves and reflect to see how we can change. I feel like it all starts with me. I need to do a better job of making sure everyone, including myself, is ready to go from the first snap.”

Senior linebacker Seth Benson, who has started alongside Campbell for much of his career in the Black and Gold, said he is going to miss the memories he’s made with his teammates off the field. 

“The things I am going to remember the most are the guys I came in with,” Benson said. “… That’s what I’m going to miss the most — getting up with each other and going to lift, getting some refuel sandwiches, and sitting down at the table before meetings. Win, lose, or draw, I am going to miss those moments the most.”

Campbell — one of five finalists for the Dick Butkus Award— said he will not opt out of Iowa’s bowl game, despite his rising NFL stock. The Dick Butkus Award is given annually to the nation’s best linebacker.

The Hawkeyes will receive a bowl designation during ESPN’s College Football Playoff and bowl selection show on Dec. 4 at 11 a.m.

“The opportunity to throw the tigerhawk on the side of your head and put that jersey on, that is something that every kid should try to seize,” Campbell said. “ … I’m proud to be a Hawkeye and always will be.”

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