Iowa And The Good Omen Of A 4-0 Start

By RossWB on October 4, 2019 at 2:53 pm
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© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
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Iowa's win over Middle Tennessee State last Saturday put them at 4-0 on the year. That's a good start -- and not a particularly common one under Kirk Ferentz. This is just the fifth time in Ferentz's 21 years in charge at Iowa that Iowa has started the season 4-0. But good things have often resulted when Iowa wins their first four games.

Three of the previous four times that Iowa started out 4-0 they went on to win 10 or more games. The last two times they started out 4-0 they went on to have two of the greatest regular seasons in recent Iowa history. In 2009, Iowa won their first nine games of the season (part of an overall 13-game winning streak) and ascended to dizzying heights. In 2015, they managed to one-up even that mark, going a perfect 12-0 in the regular season. That was a truly special season and an incredibly fun ride to be on as an Iowa fan. 

Let's take a brief look at the other 4-0 starts: 

2003: Iowa jumped out to a 4-0 record behind a stifling defense. In the opener, Iowa smothered Heisman dark horse (and future Top 5 pick in the NFL Draft) Ben Roethlisberger in a 21-3 win over Miami (OH). (The infamous "Iowa Hawkeye pride" game.) After battering Buffalo 56-7, Ferentz picked up his first win over Iowa State with a 40-21 win in Ames. Then the defense showed up big again, stifling a good Arizona State team 21-2 to push their record to 4-0. Much like this year, Iowa's fifth game of the year took them out of the state of Iowa for the first time -- with a trip to Michigan, no less. Unfortunately, Iowa's perfect record ended there, as they fell 20-10 to Michigan State in a windy East Lansing. They rebounded to upset Michigan in one of the signature wins of the KF Era after that, though, and won five of their final six games to finish 10-3 overall. 

2006: This is the lone outlier in the "4-0 starts means very good things for Iowa" trend line. Iowa began the year with an easy 40-7 win over Montana, then went out to Syracuse for a supremely ugly 20-13 2OT win over the Orange (which featured the famous goal line stand to clinch the win). They returned to Iowa for a win over Iowa State and then beat Illinois in Champaign to start 4-0. Their fifth game of the year was a heavily-hyped showdown with Ohio State -- College GameDay came to town and it was the first night game in Iowa City in several years. The game itself was... well, not good. Iowa bounced back with a blowout win over Purdue in their following game, but that was pretty much it for good times that season. Iowa lost six of their final seven games (a win over Northern Illinois was the lone victory), including their last four in a row. That stretch featured the infamous "fat cats" loss to Northwestern. As we found out after the season, this was a team with downright poisonous internal chemistry, which played a big factor in the utter meltdown at the end of the season. 

2009: It's the ten-year anniversary of this magical campaign, which we all remember fondly. Iowa started the year with the miraculous win over UNI, absolutely steamrolled Iowa State 35-3 in the next game, and toppled Arizona after that. They made it to 4-0 with the legendary 21-10 upset of top-five Penn State in Happy Valley (thank you, Adrian Clayborn) and stretched it to 5-0 (barely) with an ugly escape against Arkansas State. A night game with Michigan followed and a win over Wisconsin pushed things to 7-0. "7 Got 6" pushed Iowa to 8-0 and Tyler Sash's pinball pick-six keyed an improbable Iowa comeback win over Indiana that got them to 9-0. With a chance to get to 10-0, Iowa came up short against Northwestern when Ricky Stanzi went down to injury. A Big Ten title eluded their grasp in Columbus the next week, but they still managed to finish the year 11-2 with a win over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. 

2015: Iowa's most recent 4-0 start resulted in one of its most improbable -- and successful -- seasons. They began the year with a win over Illinois State and followed that with a comeback win over Iowa State in Ames (strange but true: four of Iowa's five 4-0 starts have involved wins over Iowa State in Ames) and then a narrow win over Pitt thanks to Marshall Koehn's incredible 57-yard game-winning field goal. An easy blowout win over North Texas gave Iowa a 4-0 start and they pushed it to 5-0 after a narrow, hard-fought road win over Wisconsin that featured a beastly performance by the Iowa defense. Iowa picked up wins over Illinois, Northwestern, and Maryland to push their record to 8-0. Then they ran the table in November, with wins over Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue, and Nebraska to finish off the 12-0 regular season. Postseason play didn't go in Iowa's favor, sadly, but that three month ride to 12-0 was still some spectacular stuff. 


Does any of that history mean anything for Iowa in 2019? Probably not. Those were different teams with very different schedules, playing in a different Big Ten. This year's Iowa team has a foreboding schedule remaining. Get by #19 Michigan in Ann Arbor this weekend and a night game against a Penn State team on the cusp of the Top Ten awaits next week. Games against Purdue and Northwestern follow and while those teams look down this year, Iowa is still 1-5 against them over the past three seasons. November brings a trip to a Wisconsin team that looks terrifyingly good and some potentially tricky games against Minnesota (also off to a 4-0 start) and Nebraska in Lincoln. Navigating that schedule won't be easy. 

There are a few interesting parallels between the start of this season and the start of that 2015 season, too. Just like that year, Iowa's third game was a nervy, back-and-forth affair that came down to a late field goal kick. Marshall Koehn was the hero then, Keith Duncan was the hero this year. Just like that year, Iowa's fourth game was a dominant romp; that year it was North Texas getting gouged on the scoreboard and this year it was Middle Tennessee State. Just like that year, Iowa's fifth game involved a challenging road trips; that year it was Madison to play Wisconsin and this year it's Ann Arbor to face Michigan. 

You usually can't have a really good season without a good foundation and Iowa's been able to lay that foundation with a 4-0 start. Time to see what comes next.

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