In this edition Hawkeye Nation’s “Would You Rather?” we bring together two of the most frustrating “What ifs” in recent Hawkeye history.
Here’s the question: As a Hawkeye fan, would you have rather had quarterback Ricky Stanzi for the entire 2009 season, or defensive end Drew Ott for the entire 2015 season?
The case for Stanzi: I don’t want to pry open this wound any more than is necessary, but here’s the background. The Hawkeyes were 9-0, ranked fourth in the country, when Northwestern came to town, and they led 10-0 after the first quarter.
Then Stanzi went down with a severe high ankle sprain that ended his regular season. The Hawkeyes didn’t score again, and Northwestern won 17-10. The next week the Hawkeyes, behind young backup quarterback James Vandenberg, took Ohio State to overtime in Columbus before losing by a field goal.
Stanzi returned for the Orange Bowl, which Iowa won handily over Georgia Tech, 24-14.
One can never know for certain, but it’s a pretty safe bet that Iowa would have defeated Northwestern if Stanzi hadn’t gotten hurt. Plus, if the Hawkeyes could take Ohio State to OT on the road behind Vandenberg, it’s easy to think a healthy Stanzi might – *might* – have tilted the result of the game toward the Hawkeyes as well.
Bottom line: Having Stanzi could have launched an undefeated Hawkeye squad into the BCS Championship Game. Two undefeated teams, Alabama and Texas, ended up playing, so there’s a chance Iowa could have been left out.
The case for Ott: Ott, a senior and one of the most disruptive defensive ends of the Kirk Ferentz era, severely hurt his elbow against Iowa State during the second game of the 2015 season. He played through it. Then he tore his right ACL against Illinois.
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After six games, his season was over.
Unlike when Stanzi went down, Iowa was able to weather losing Ott. They finished the regular season 12-0 and advanced to their first Big Ten Championship Game.
That was when Ott’s absence took center stage. In one of the more physical college football games of the 2015 season, the Hawkeyes and Michigan State took turns brutalizing each other defensively until the Spartans put together one of the most impressive, most grueling and – for Hawkeye fans – devastating scoring drives you’ll ever see.
Nine minutes. Twenty-two plays. Fourth quarter. And it ended in a touchdown. Spartans win, 16-13.
Iowa’s defense was completely gassed. Michigan State was exhausted, too, but they just kept coming at the Hawkeyes until Iowa’s bend-but-don’t-break defense broke.
Michigan State rushed the ball 17 times during the drive, converted five third downs and even a fourth down.
If Ott had been out there, he likely would have been tired, too. But a tired Drew Ott is still Drew Ott. In his limited action that season, playing with an annihilated elbow before his knee gave out, Ott totaled 7.5 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and five quarterback sacks.
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Bottom line: The Hawkeyes played magnificent defense that day, but one can’t help but wonder whether on any of those final 22 plays, the five third-down conversions or the one fourth-down conversion if Ott could have made a yard or two of difference, which would have changed the game’s final result and likely sent Iowa to the college football playoff.
So now it’s your turn. Which would you rather have had: All of Stanzi in 2009, or all of Ott in 2015?