Iowa Senior Day sendoff still special

Iowa has never been the type of team that draws motivation from outside forces.

That's probably a good thing this week. There's a lot of doom and gloom in the Hawkeye State.

The talk around the program has centered on unfilled expectations after the Hawkeyes dropped their third game last Saturday. Many had raised the bar for Iowa after an 11-2 season in 2009 that culminated with an Orange Bowl championship.

Undoubtedly the biggest reason for the optimism was a sizable and decorated senior class that included players like defensive end Adrian Clayborn, quarterback Ricky Stanzi, defensive tackle Karl Klug, receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and punter Ryan Donahue.

Saturday's game against No. 9 Ohio State was pegged to be much more than Senior Day before the season. Most figured the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes would be playing for a Big Ten title, like they did last year, and possibly even a trip to the BCS championship game. While Ohio State is in the thick of the league championship hunt, No. 20 Iowa has dropped back after another loss to its recent nemesis, Northwestern.

"We're just playing for the seniors, for ourselves and just the last game at Kinnick," Clayborn told reporters this week. "We're pretty much out of the title race, but that's the least of our worries."

Senior Day will have to suffice for the Hawkeyes, but all is not lost. Far from it.

"We had a good year last season," Stanzi said. "That put us up there, and people were talking about us competing for the Big Ten championship, which is fine. Now that we're out of that picture, we're not happy about it, obviously it's not something we want to do. … At the same time, it's still a football game we have to get ready for. It's us against them.

"We're not throwing in the towel or anything like that."

Iowa still has plenty at stake Saturday, especially the 26 players who will make their final appearance at Kinnick Stadium.

Ohio State is the lone Big Ten team the Hawkeyes' seniors haven't beaten in their four years. If Iowa wins out, it will claim consecutive 10-win seasons for just the third time and record the second-best three-year stretch in team history (30 wins, trailing only the 31-victory surge between 2002-04).

And if things fall right with both Wisconsin and Michigan State, Iowa could climb back into the league title race.

"There's always something to play for," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We were 1-9 back in '99, and those seniors in our last game against Minnesota thought that was an extremely important game. Our season's not over yet, we have not surrendered. The chances of us being in the title talk are basically reduced to a very slim percentage.

"And that's not our focus right now."

Stanzi certainly isn't focused on last year's game against Ohio State, which he missed with an ankle injury. Backup James Vandenberg performed admirably at Ohio Stadium, and the Hawkeyes took Ohio State to overtime before falling.

"To say that we're thinking about last year or trying to get revenge is kind of nonsense," Stanzi said. "It's not really how we operate."

Iowa has responded well from its previous two losses, crushing Ball State 45-0 and ending Michigan State's perfect season with a 37-6 thrashing on Oct. 30. The Hawkeyes expect a much tougher challenge from Ohio State, which has won 11 of the teams' past 12 meetings.

Stanzi allowed himself to reminisce a bit Wednesday, calling it "an honor" to merely receive a scholarship offer from Iowa. He acknowledged that Senior Day is important but doesn't expect the true significance to sink in until several years down the road.

"For them to be the memories you want them to be," Stanzi said, "it's important to take care of business right now."