For Hawkeyes, style points not their style

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Despite owning an 8-0 record against a very formidable schedule, Iowa is having a tough time convincing poll voters that it belongs in the national championship discussion.

The fourth-ranked Hawkeyes are having an even tougher time convincing themselves.

"Realistically, I still have a hard time picturing us in the top 10," head coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday.

Add that line to the growing list of brutally honest statements Ferentz has made about his team this season. He has called Iowa "not the prettiest car in the lot" on more than one occasion and often talks about the Hawkeyes' minuscule margin for error.

This attitude is nothing new for Ferentz, who told me way back in the spring, "Nobody's going to mistake us for Southern Cal." For the record, Iowa is ranked one spot ahead of USC in the latest BCS standings.

Given these statements from Ferentz, you can probably guess how he approaches the subject of style points, one of the tools voters use to differentiate top teams. Style points are simply not his style. And the same goes for his players.

"The way that [Ferentz] presents our team and the way that our mentality should be really trickles down through everybody," junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi said. "We're not trying to be the prettiest car or whatever metaphor you can use. We're just trying to win ballgames, if that means a close game or if we're able to get a big win.

"You have to be honest with yourself and know what kind of team you have and what hard work needs to go in to be successful."

Some coaches will downplay their teams in public and take a different approach behind closed doors. Not Ferentz.

"He says the same stuff to us," Stanzi said. "He tells it like it is. It's hard to win football games, he always says that. There's nothing easy about it, and a lot of work goes into it."

Added linebacker A.J. Edds: "It’s refreshing and it keeps you grounded to have a head coach, the guy in charge of the whole operation, be that honest."

Margin of victory doesn't factor into the BCS computer rankings, and that's a good thing for Iowa, which has won its games by an average of just 8.9 points. Texas, which ranks No. 3 in the standings, has an average victory margin of 28.3 points.

The Hawkeyes have been the nation's most clutch team this season and seem to play their best with their backs against the wall. But they could certainly use a few convincing wins down the stretch, beginning Saturday against Indiana (ESPN, noon ET). The toughest part of Iowa's schedule is in the rearview mirror, and while there are no gimmes left, the Hawkeyes have a chance to fatten up a bit against Indiana, Northwestern and Minnesota.

Ferentz would never approach a game that way, and neither would his players, though they wouldn't mind a fourth quarter without much drama, if only to keep their blood pressure down.

When I asked Ferentz if he'd like a 21-point win right about now, he started laughing.

"That'd be really nice," he said. "That sounds like fantasy football. That's a big sport now, right? Fantasy football? That's what that sounds like to me."