Orange Bowl: Iowa could be in title hunt next season

Orange Bowl: Iowa could be in title hunt next season

by Erik Brady/Contributing Writer

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Iowa Hawkeyes are flying high. They’ll find out how just how high when the USA TODAY coaches’ and Associated Press writers’ polls come out after Thursday’s Bowl Championship Series title game — perhaps as high as No. 6 or No. 7.But the real question is how high they can go next season, when they have a chance to be in the national championship hunt. Iowa gets nine of 11 starters back on a defense that crushed Georgia Tech 24-14 in the FedEx Orange Bowl on Tuesday and held Tech’s vaunted triple-option offense to 155 total yards and one touchdown.The Yellow Jackets’ other TD came on a 40-yard return of an interception of Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi. That was his fourth pick-six of a season in which he had 17 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.That doesn’t sound so good, but the other thing Stanzi did all season was win — and he also returns. Iowa’s only losses in an 11-2 season came to Northwestern, a game in which Stanzi sprained his right ankle badly, and Ohio State, when he didn’t play.No..11 Iowa last won a major bowl more than half a century ago. How did it feel to win a BCS game for the first time? “Fantastic,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I haven’t really focused too much on that.” Des Moines Register columnist Sean Keeler did. Of the 2010 Orange Bowl upset he wrote: “Hang it on the wall next to those two Rose Bowl championships of 1956 and 1959, where it belongs. The three biggest postseason victories in the program’s history.”Defensive end Adrian Clayborn, the bowl’s most valuable player with nine tackles and two sacks, is coveted by the NFL, but he said a few weeks ago he will be back, a point he reiterated after the game. “Nothing changed,” he said. “I’m here for the long haul. I’m going into my fifth season as a senior, and I’ll be back with the Hawks.”Ferentz interrupted with a smile: “He’s shooting for national awards now. That was a little prelim.” Iowa specialized in come-from-behind nailbiters for much of its magical season. Even its losses were close. “Was it 10 points?” Ferentz said of Tuesday’s margin. “This is a rout for us. I think it’s a real credit to our players. They’re a mentally tough group, and that’s what it takes to finish games.”If no one goes pro early, Iowa’s defense loses only senior starters Pat Angerer. and A.J. Edds., “two linebackers that are very, very savvy guys,” as Ferentz put it. “That being said, we’ve got a very strong junior class and some (other) guys coming back up the ladder.”Even so, he cited Iowa’s season opener, a shaky 17-16 win against Northern Iowa, as a cautionary note. “We’ll get some players back, but we’ll have some challenges,” Ferentz said. “You flash back to our first ballgame coming off the field. I don’t think anybody envisioned us sitting here tonight with our 11th win. That’s just a good reminder of how tough it is to win in college football.”Nothing comes easy. It just happened. Doesn’t matter how many (rising) seniors are experienced players, we come back and we’ll have to earn it all again next year. But it’s going to be fun trying.”