Ranking Kirk Ferentz's Top 10 Iowa Teams: The Results

By RossWB on August 24, 2016 at 2:02 pm
Go Iowa awesome.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
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So a few weeks ago we polled you to see how you would rank the ten best teams of the Kirk Ferentz Era at Iowa.  Defining "best" or "greatest" is always a tricky endeavor. Is it the team with the most wins?  The team with the most impressive hardware?  The team with the best wins?  How much does the quality of the opposition matter?  Is it the team who simply passed the "eye test" best -- i.e., the one who just plain looked the best?  That was all up to you.  Here's what you came up with. 

1) 2002 Iowa (11-2, 8-0 Big Ten, lost in Orange Bowl) -- 55.3% of the vote

There wasn't much debate about who you thought was the best -- the 2002 squad that went 8-0 in the Big Ten, claimed a share of the Big Ten title, stole Minnesota's goalposts, and went to the Orange Bowl earned the top honors by a large margin (the second-most popular pick was the 2009 team, which grabbed 28.8% of the vote).  And, frankly, it's a decision that's hard to argue with -- the 2002 team made history (first Iowa team to ever go 8-0 in the Big Ten), put together an incredible season that featured plenty of thrills (the Penn State and Purdue games) and plenty of dominance (too many to list, but most memorably Michigan in the Big House), and returned Iowa to a level they hadn't been at in almost 20 years. They were fun, they were excellent, and they set the path for all of the success Iowa has had for the last 13 years. 

2) 2009 Iowa (11-2, 6-2 Big Ten, won Orange Bowl) -- 33.3% of the vote

Things were much more split for the second-best team on the list.  The '09 squad, who started out 9-0 and rose to the Top 5 in the polls and won Iowa's first major bowl game in over 50 years, narrowly earned the spot, beating out the 2015 team (29.4% of the vote) and the 2002 team (24% of the vote). The 2009 team married outstanding results (11 overall wins, Orange Bowl triumph) with unforgettable memories better than perhaps any other Iowa team under Ferentz (give or take the '04 Hawkeyes, who we'll get to shortly).  Where do you even begin with the memorable moments from this team? The two blocked kicks to snatch a win over UNI? Tyler Sash's hat trick of interceptions against Iowa State? Adrian Clayborn's blocked punt touchdown in the rain against Penn State? A primetime thriller over Michigan?  The Pinball Pick-Six? 7 got 6?  Clayborn seemingly devouring the entire Georgia Tech triple-option offense?  This team had (almost) everything. 

3) 2015 Iowa (12-2, 8-0 Big Ten, lost in Rose Bowl) -- 35.8% of the vote

After just missing out on the #2 spot, last year's record-breaking Iowa team was a solid pick for the third spot on this list.  The 2009 team finished runner-up herewith 25.1% of the vote. I'm curious to see how time will shape the perception of this team.  They finished 3rd here, but they almost #2 in the rankings and they had the third-most support (13%) for the #1 spot, too.  As we get further removed from the heartbreak of the Big Ten Championship Game and the bloodletting of the Rose Bowl, will the pain fade away and be replaced by all the happier memories the season produced?  It seems very possible.  This team was undeniably historic -- the first 12-0 team in Iowa history, the first trip back to the Rose Bowl in 25 years -- and their rise was every bit as unexpected as many of the other out-of-nowhere success stories we've seen at Iowa over the years.  The last time we saw this team before the 2015 season they were getting played off the field by Tennessee in the infamous HawkSlayer Bowl. 12 months later they were getting ready for the Rose Bowl.  The 2015 season didn't have quite as much unforgettable drama as some of the other teams ranked around them (though the finish of the Pitt game was a corker), but there's something to be said for taking care of business, too. 

4) 2004 Iowa (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten, won Capital One Bowl) -- 50% of the vote

No doubt here.  The '04 Iowa team -- the last to win a Big Ten championship and the architects of some of the most incredible Iowa highlights of the last 20 years -- ran away with the voting for the fourth spot in the rankings.  The quality of the 2004 squad may matter less than the fact that they were one of the most likable and easy-to-root-for Iowa teams in memory. Between the genesis of AIRBHG, which led to the decimation of the Iowa running game, Ferentz's personal tragedy (losing his father only days before the infamous 6-4 win over Penn State), and the feature film's worth of heart-stopping highlights that this team produced (too many close wins to count, the first win over Ohio State in 15 years (and the only win over the Buckeyes in the last 25 years), the euphoric Big Ten title celebration on the Kinnick Stadium grass after the Wisconsin game, and (of course) Tate-to-Holloway... well, 2004 may not be the best Iowa team, but it's easy to see why they're one of everyone's favorite Iowa team (me included). 

5) 2003 Iowa (10-3, 5-3 Big Ten, won Outback Bowl) -- 49.1% of the vote

Another heavy winner at the #5 spot -- the final 10-win team of Ferentz's tenure at Iowa is the least celebrated of the squads that have posted double-digit win totals, no doubt because they didn't win any part of a Big Ten title (hard to do when you lose three league games), "only" posted 10 wins (versus 11-12, like the 02, 09, and 15 teams), and didn't feature as many standout moments or games as some of the teams ranked higher on the list.  But their win over Michigan remains one of my all-time favorite Iowa game experiences and in Robert Gallery the 2003 team may have had the most dominant individual performance by a Hawkeye player in the KF Era (all respect to Desmond King, Brandon Scherff, and Shonn Greene). That 2003 defense was absolute nails, too, and the team as a whole had a lot of great personalities -- Gallery, Bob Sanders, Matt Roth, Chad Greenway, Abdul Hodge, Fred Russell, "Razor" Ramon Ochoa... I get why they're ranked where they are, but there's certainly a lot to love about the 2003 team.

6) 2008 Iowa (9-4, 5-3 Big Ten, won Outback Bowl) -- 47.1% of the vote

Hands down the best Iowa team under Ferentz that didn't manage to win 10 games; if they had managed to crack that threshold, I suspect they would have ranked much higher on this list.  The '08 team married brilliant individual performance (world, meet Shonn Greene -- he's going to be running all over you for the next three months) with some of the best team performances of Ferentz's tenure. The thrilling win over Penn State is an all-timer and arguably the best win of Ferentz's Iowa career and the 55-0 thrashing of Minnesota was one of the most dominant Iowa wins under Ferentz. Minnesota was actually solid that year -- they and Iowa entered that game with identical 7-4 records.  Then Iowa proceeded to absolutely thrash them for three hours and close out the Metrodome with one hell of a Hawkeye party.  Iowa also throttled a good South Carolina team in the Outback Bowl; if you want to say that no Iowa team under Ferentz has ever played better than the '08 team was at the end of the year, well, I wouldn't argue with you much.  

Of course, that also makes the '08 team one of the most frustrating "what if" teams of Ferentz's tenure -- how'd they lose four games?!  A few bounces of the ball could have changed this list dramatically -- if Tyler Sash doesn't secure the Pinball Pick Six or Marvin McNutt doesn't become "7 Got 6," the '09 team isn't held in such high esteem.  Likewise, if the '08 team gets a touchdown at the end against Northwestern (four shots from inside the 10-yard line... nada) or ekes out wins against Pitt or Michigan State instead of losses, this team is remembered even more fondly.  So it goes, though. 

7) 2010 Iowa (8-5, 4-4 Big Ten, won Insight bowl) -- 44.3% of the vote

If 2008 Iowa isn't the biggest "what if" team of Ferentz's run at Iowa, it's the 2010 team, another phenomenally talented team that didn't produce as many wins as they could/should have.  Of course, the narratives for both teams were very different -- the 2008 team was the surprise success, the team that no one expected much from that turned into a worldbeater by the end of November.  The 2010 team was the much-hyped squad expected to be the breakthrough for Iowa -- the team that would contend for a Big Ten crown, go back to a major bowl game, and (gasp) maybe even vie for a national title.  Expectations were as high as they'd been in a long time for Iowa (give or take the 2005 season); when reality failed to live up to those expectations, the frustration was massive.  That said, this team showed glimpses of its huge potential, stomping teams early, picking up another impressive win over a top-5 opponent, beating a good team in a bowl game, and playing some very good teams (Wisconsin, Ohio State) tight in losses.  Still, close only takes you so far (especially when you also lose to Northwestern and a lousy Minnesota team). 

8) 2013 Iowa (8-5, 5-3 Big Ten, lost Outback Bowl) -- 29.5% of the vote

Now we hit the part of the rankings without much consensus.  Four teams grabbed at least 20% of the vote here, led by the Weismania-fueled 2013 Hawkeyes with 29.% of the vote. The 2010 team had 23.2% of the vote, the 2005 team had 22.7% of the vote, and the 2001 team had 20% of the vote.  There's not a lot to separate those teams, frankly -- they all had five losses, after all.  2013 had its moments, though, like Iowa's first win over Nebraska since the Cornhuskers had joined the Big Ten (and the first win, period, over Nebraska in decades) and a win over a solid Michigan team (those never get old).  

9) 2001 Iowa (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten, won Alamo Bowl) -- 34.1% of the vote

The first Ferentz team with a winning record -- and a bowl win -- checks in here.  In hindsight, this team probably underachieved relative to the talent they had on hand -- the '01 team had one of the best offenses of the Ferentz Era and several of the defensive stalwarts that anchored the '02 team's success.  Like the '05, '08, and '13 teams, they also had a few close losses that stung.  But there wasn't much of a sense of underachievement around this team at the time and there still isn't, likely because they were such a massive improvement on the preceding 3-4 years of Iowa football.  When you're just two years removed from a 1-10 season and getting housed in several Big Ten games, well, 7-5 looks awfully damn good. 

10) 2005 Iowa (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten, lost Outback Bowl) -- 34.8% of the vote

That leaves the '05 Hawkeyes for the last spot in these rankings.  They were the prototype for the 2010 Hawkeyes, a heavily-hyped team that came undone and never challenged for major league or postseason honors.  I have a lot of "what if" moments about this season, though -- what if Drew Tate doesn't get concussed running down an interception against Iowa State? What if Iowa doesn't inexplicably lose against Northwestern (not the first or last time that's happened, but still one of the most baffling losses I can ever recall)? What if Iowa is able to hang on against Michigan (one of the worst-officiated games I can ever recall)?  Or what if their chance to tie the game against Florida after a recovered onside kick isn't (wrongly) taken away from them?  That's a lot of "ifs," certainly, but this team was very close to being a 9-10 team and being remembered very fondly.

Finally, here's a breakdown of how the Go Iowa Awesome staff ranked these teams: 

  ROSS PAT ADAM MIKE RICK MATT FFI HEC H6894
1 2002 2002 2002 2009 2015 2009 2015 2002 2002
2 2009 2015 2015 2002 2002 2002 2002 2008 2009
3 2015 2009 2009 2004 2009 2015 2009 2003 2015
4 2004 2004 2004 2003 2004 2004 2008 2009 2009
5 2003 2003 2008 2015 2003 2008 2003 2015 2004
6 2008 2008 2003 2010 2008 2003 2004 2004 2003
7 2010 2010 2001 2008 2001 2010 2010 2010 2010
8 2005 2013 2013 2013 2013 2005 2013 2001 2001
9 2001 2005 2010 2001 2005 2013 2005 2013 2013
10 2013 2001 2005 2005 2010 2001 2001 2005 2005

So how'd it turn out?  About like you expected?  Or were some teams much higher (or lower) than you expected?

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