The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Opinion | Top five wins in recent Iowa football history

Under the tenures of Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz, Iowa has established a winning culture that has proven to last for over 40 years. Here’s a look at Sports Reporter Brad Schultz’s top five wins in recent program history.
Grace Smith
Iowa fans storm the field after a football game between No. 3 Iowa and No. 4 Penn State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions, 23-20.

Iowa has experienced some memorable moments under Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz. Here are five best wins in recent program history, and a few honorable mentions:

No. 5 | 1981 Iowa vs Nebraska

 As the calendar turned to 1981, Hayden Fry was looking for a spark. The Hawkeyes had not had a winning season in 20 years but had been competitive in Fry’s first two seasons.

The 1981 season opener pitted the heavy underdog Hawkeyes against the perennial powerhouse Cornhuskers. 60,000 fans were in attendance that day, and every one of them witnessed a turning point for the Iowa football program.

Iowa stunned the Huskers, 10-7, in a defensive slugfest. Despite being outgained in total yards, the Hawkeye defense stole the show and forced five Nebraska turnovers.

This was easily the biggest win of Hayden Fry’s Hawkeye career up to that point, and he showed the country what Iowa could become.

Iowa finished the 1981 season 8-4, its first winning record in 20 years. The Hawkeyes also won a share of the Big Ten title and appeared in the 1982 Rose Bowl.

No. 4 | 1991 Iowa at Ohio State

The only road game on this list is significant for many reasons, but it’s most notable for the tragedy that occurred the previous day.

On Nov. 1, 1991, a horrific event shocked the Iowa campus: Gang Lu, a 28-year-old doctorate graduate, shot and killed five people, before later taking his own life.

There was doubt that the game would even be played the next day. But with the game being scheduled in Columbus, the Hawkeyes decided to still make the trek and play.

On Nov. 2, Iowa players walked out onto the field in Ohio Stadium wearing no logos on their helmets in recognition of the tragedy.

With their hearts heavy, the Hawkeyes defeated the Buckeyes, 16-9. Senior quarterback Matt Rodgers completed 20 of 27 passes and threw for 258 yards.

The win improved Iowa to 7-1 on the season and certainly brought some sort of happiness to the Iowa City community. The Hawkeyes finished the 1991 season, 10-1-1.

No. 3 | 2021 Iowa vs Penn State

Both Iowa and Penn State came into this game undefeated at 5-0, and the capacity crowd at Kinnick Stadium did not disappoint.

After Penn State stormed out to a 17-3 lead, it looked like Iowa would squander a golden opportunity in the national spotlight. The raucous crowd took over and forced eight false starts, roaring as loud as 118 decibels.

Iowa’s offense came alive and propelled the Hawkeyes to a 23-20 victory. The winning play was a 44-yard touchdown pass from Spencer Petras to Nico Ragaini.

With the win, Iowa improved to 6-0 and rose to No. 2 in the AP Poll. The Hawkeyes finished the season 10-4 and earned their second Big Ten West division title.

When talking about the 2021 season, this is the victory that Hawkeye fans come back to.

No. 2 | 2010 Orange Bowl, Iowa vs Georgia Tech

 Before the 2009 season, the Hawkeyes had not won a major bowl game since the 1959 Rose Bowl, which all changed in one night.

The temperature at kickoff in Miami, Florida, was 49 degrees, marking the coldest Orange Bowl game of all time. The weather made Hawkeye players and fans feel right at home, and Iowa won the game, 24-14, shocking heavily favored Georgia Tech.

Led by a strong rushing defense, the Hawkeyes held the high-powered Yellow Jacket triple-option offense to only 143 rushing yards, well below their season average.

After being injured for the last few games of the regular season, junior quarterback Ricki Stanzi returned for this game and didn’t miss a beat.

He threw for two touchdowns and 231 total yards.

Adrian Clayborn was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after earning nine tackles and two sacks to lead the Hawkeye defense. Iowa finished the 2009 season with an 11-2 record and a No. 7 ranking in the final national poll.

Honorable Mentions

Before we get into our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions that didn’t quite make this list.

2004 Iowa vs Wisconsin  

Following an Ohio State upset of Michigan, a win over the Badgers meant the Hawkeyes would earn a share of the Big Ten title.

Iowa won the game, 30-7, and secured its 11th conference title.

Drew Tate powered the Hawkeye offense with his dazzling playmaking ability, throwing for 186 yards and three touchdowns.

Iowa fans rushed the field to celebrate the conference title and an undefeated home season.

2015 Iowa at Nebraska

Iowa came into this game with an 11-0 record, playing for a perfect regular season and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff.

The Hawkeyes won the game, 28-20, despite not converting a single third-down play all game.

Jordan Canzeri paced the Iowa offense by rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns. With the victory, Iowa set the program’s single-season win record at 12-0.

No. 1| 1985 Iowa vs Michigan

The Hawkeyes and Wolverines came into this game ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.

Iowa prevailed, 12-10, on a last-second field goal by Rob Houghtlin.

The Hawkeyes had success moving the ball all day long but couldn’t find the end zone.

Chuck Long completed a pass to wide receiver Scott Helverson early in the first quarter. Helverson caught the ball in the back of the end zone and seemed to drag his left foot in.

However, the officials ruled that Helverson was out of bounds. Television replays clearly showed otherwise, but without instant replay in effect, the Hawkeyes had to settle for a field goal.

Then, Long, who completed 26 of 39 passes for 297 yards, led the Hawkeyes on one final march that set up Iowa 29 yards away from victory.

With two seconds remaining in the game, Houghtlin calmly nailed the kick and sent the Kinnick Stadium crowd into a frenzy. Iowa finished the season with a 10-2 record, clinching its first outright Big Ten title in 27 years, as well as a trip to the 1986 Rose Bowl.

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About the Contributors
Brad Schultz
Brad Schultz, Sports Reporter
Brad Schultz is a sophomore at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in Sports Studies. This is first year working as a sports reporter and he has a deep passion and love for sports. Outside of the Daily Iowan, Brad is a contributor for Saturday Blitz, a college football site, with his content primarily covering Iowa and the Big Ten.
Grace Smith
Grace Smith, Senior photojournalist and filmmaker
Grace Smith is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic Arts. In her four years at The Daily Iowan, she has held the roles of photo editor, managing summer editor, and visual storyteller. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Grace has held an internship at The Denver Post and pursued freelance assignments for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Des Moines Register.