Erratic Iowa sends mixed messages to fans

The emails began streaming in minutes after Minnesota players paraded the Floyd of Rosedale around TCF Bank Stadium for the second consecutive year.

"Time for Ferentz to go," wrote Andrew from Iowa City.

"Is there any possibility that Iowa hires Mike Stoops as the DC?" wrote Adam from Ohio, echoing an increasingly popular sentiment.

The angst even grew on other side of the world, as Aditya from Bangalore, India, wrote: "Its part of the Ferentz cycle. Underachieve a few years, get off the radar, then over achieve for a couple years. When everyone assumes we will be good, drop back down to average again, rinse, and repeat. It happened after '04 and '09, or so it seems. I'm dumbfounded."

It's hardly unusual for a fan base to criticize the coaching staff after a shocking loss -- and to any Iowa fan, Saturday's loss to Minnesota qualified as a shocker.

Typically, my first response to these emails is to take a deep breath. Iowa has been a solid to very good program during Kirk Ferentz's tenure as coach, reaching nine bowls and winning eight or more games six times. There are some inherent obstacles Iowa faces, particularly in recruiting, but Ferentz and his staff have consistently taken unheralded recruits and walk-ons and transformed them into NFL players.

What is Iowa football? A good program that sometimes has great seasons.

But it's also a program that loses far too often to teams that, in most years, it should beat. Whether it's Iowa State, Northwestern or, more recently, Minnesota, Ferentz's Hawkeyes seem to struggle against certain opponents.

Aditya is right. It's dumbfounding.

Does Iowa simply play to the level of its competition? Or, is this program simply not at a point that it can reload and take care of business year after year?

Until this season, Iowa had tormented Penn State. The Hawkeyes also have fared well against most of the upper-tier Big Ten teams, other than Ohio State. But just when the program seems to be turning a corner and becoming a power, seasons like 2005 and 2010 happen.

Iowa seems to be sending mixed messages to its fans. It pays Ferentz handsomely, putting him among the top earners in college football. I've supported this decision, as I believe a big step toward becoming a big-time program is paying your coach a big-time salary.

But with that comes expectations. Among them: not losing to Iowa State and Minnesota.

Ferentz's response? Iowa isn't alone.

"There's a team in the Big 12 that went to a pretty prestigious place, beat a team that had a long win streak, beat them in their stadium," he said Tuesday, referring to Texas Tech's upset of then-No. 3 Oklahoma on Oct. 22. "I think they were 29-and-a-half point underdogs. I did look it up. That's something we talked about. That's exemplary of college football."

It is, but these types of losses seem to happen with Iowa more than with most programs.

From Mike Hlas of The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette:

From 1999 to 2005, Ferentz’s first seven seasons as Iowa’s coach, the Hawkeyes were 18-0 straight-up when they were favored by 10 or more points. Since 2006, they are 19-9. That isn’t especially good. It looks even worse when you compare it to the same records of the other Big Ten programs as double-digit favorites since 2006:

Wisconsin 31-0

Penn State 29-0

Indiana 6-0

Ohio State 42-2

Michigan 21-1

Nebraska 29-3

Northwestern 8-1 .

Michigan State 16-2

Purdue 14-2

Illinois 12-2

Iowa 19-9

Minnesota 2-2

That's a lot of times to disappoint your fan base, especially one led to believe Iowa has reached a different level. More discouraging is that the program Iowa most closely resembles, Wisconsin, has repeatedly taken care of business during the same span.

"The team we lost to this past weekend [Minnesota] had a couple tough outings," Ferentz said Tuesday. "They also lost to Southern Cal by two points at the Coliseum. Southern Cal played Stanford into overtime. If you pay attention to what's going on in the landscape of things, I'm not making any excuses, but that's football. As much as we all want to know what's going to happen before things happen, that's why you play games."

Can't argue with that. It's why Iowa might surprise everyone by sweeping its final four games, winning the Legends division and heading to Indianapolis. Stranger things have happened.

Ferentz said his primary responsibility is to his players and helping them turn the page on the Minnesota loss and prepare for Saturday's game against Michigan.

"That being said, we don't ever want to disappoint our fans," he added. "... The people that are pulling for us, I'm sure they're all dying a thousand deaths, just like we do. It's tough to lose."

It might be tougher to have no idea what to expect from the team week to week and year to year.