Crunch Time

Oct. 30, 2004

Let’s start with the numbers and a history lesson.

The Iowa football team has won seven of the 10 games its played in the month of November during its 2001 Alamo Bowl, 2003 FedEx Orange Bowl and 2003 Outback Bowl seasons.

Tack on another two wins in three games during Iowa’s 2000 “turnaround season” and toss in the fact that two of Iowa’s three November 2004 games will be played in historic Kinnick Stadium – where Iowa has won a record 16 straight games — and you have a rather compelling argument for exciting times on the immediate horizon for fans of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

To borrow a phrase used often by a former college football coach turned television analyst, “Not so fast, my friend.”

Iowa has enjoyed November under Kirk Ferentz. This year against this schedule, they’ll also enjoy playing two of their November games in Kinnick Stadium.

Sure, as good as the Hawkeyes have been in “crunch time” for college football teams in the last three seasons and as good as they are playing today – Iowa’s 23-13 victory over Illinois Saturday afternoon in Champaign, Ill., was, after all the team’s fourth in a row and second straight on the road — this isn’t a run-of-the-mill three-game set.

Far from it. One look at this year’s November slate and it’s no surprise that it comes fast on the heels of Halloween because the trio of games awaiting Kirk Ferentz’s squad is downright nightmarish.

First comes Purdue on Nov. 6 in Kinnick.

Yes. The same Purdue program that dealt Iowa its only November loss a year ago, the one with the native Iowan pulling the trigger for one of the nation’s most explosive offenses and the one that just three weeks ago was unbeaten and being touted as the Big Ten Conference’s likely Rose Bowl entry. And, yes, while the Boilermakers have stumbled twice at home and on the road Saturday at Northwestern, they could have easily won all three

Hang on to your hats, Hawk fans.

Next comes Minnesota Nov. 13 in the Metrodome in the annual battle for Floyd of Rosedale.

Yes. The same Minnesota program that gained 563 yards of offense last year against the Hawkeyes in Kinnick, the one that boasts one of the nation’s most punishing rushing attacks and the one that is a perfect 5-0 in home games in 2004.

Don’t hit that speed dial for the travel agent yet, Hawk fans.

And, if that isn’t enough, last comes Wisconsin Nov. 20 in Iowa City with the new Heartland Trophy on the line.

Yes. The same Wisconsin team that will take an unblemished 9-0 record to Michigan State next week, a mark that has been achieved thanks in great measure to a defense that leads the Big Ten Conference and is among the very best in the land. And the same Wisconsin team that is no doubt still smarting from its last-second loss to Iowa last November in Camp Randall Stadium.

To quote another college football television personality, “Whoa Nellie!”

Ferentz and his staff have made playing football at a high level in November a priority for the Hawkeyes. Everyone involved in the Hawkeye camp understands clearly that championships are won in November, not September. And, again this year, Iowa is definitely on track to be playing very good quality football when it matters most. The defense has been golden and continues to get even better. Special teams are once again difference makers. The offense continues to get healthier, stronger, steadier and, at times, is spectacular.

However, this November is a little different than most. All three opponents are eager to take the field each week, well prepared to march to another victory and another level in the college football pecking order.

All boast all-Big Ten caliber talent and national rankings.

All are also eyeing the same prize as the 2004 Hawkeyes – an opportunity to play on January 1 or better.

The Hawkeyes ran the table in October despite several obstacles including a mounting list of injuries to its ball carriers. Iowa may have lost two more running backs in the win over the Illini.

What about November?

“The coaching staff is doing a fantastic job job and what can I say about the players? They’re playing very hard and getting better and better every week,” Ferentz said after his team’s most recent victory, a hard-fought win at Illinois that guaranteed Iowa another winning season and gave Ferentz his 50th career victory.

“They’re playing gritty, playing tough each and every week,” he continued. “Some how, some way, they’re figuring out how to win each game. And, that’s probably a key…one game at a time.”

Ditto, said wide receiver Ed Hinkel. “We have Purdue next week at Kinnick. That’s the focus. One at a time,” said the junior from Erie, Pa., who scored twice in Iowa’s victory at Illinois, the Hawkeyes’ sixth of the year.

Hinkel and his teammates know that Iowa will play in a bowl game for the fourth straight year. Now it’s a matter of where the team planes will land.

Monday is the first day of November….let crunch time begin.

Click HERE for a look at year-by-year results of the Iowa Hawkeyes.