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Schwartz: What’s So Bad About 8-4?

November 21, 2019

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

Iowa’s win last weekend over Minnesota set them on course for a 9-3 regular season, assuming neither Illinois nor Nebraska upsets them in the final two weeks.

But let’s look at the worst-case scenario. Let’s say the Hawkeyes trip against one of their last two opponents, expectations-exceeding Illinois or the Will Smith of the Big Ten, Nebraska, and finish the regular season 8-4.

Would that be so bad?

Is 8-4 as bad as 0-12 – the old Reese Bobby “If you ain’t first, you’re last?”

The Hawkeyes have finished around 8-4 (meaning a final season total of between seven and nine wins) during 10 of Kirk Ferentz’s first 20 seasons as head coach. They’ll make it 11-of-21 unless they finish the season, including the bowl game, 3-0, which would put them at the 10-win mark, a solid accomplishment in college football no matter how one looks at it.

So let’s get back to this 9-3/8-4/7-5 idea. Is the goal to win more than you lose? Is the goal championship or bust? Most likely that’s a false choice. The work gets done in the gray areas; a team ravaged by injuries that finishes 9-3 warrants praise while a team projected to compete for the national title that finishes 9-3 deserves criticism.

Not long ago, maybe a few years, I came down hard on the Iowa athletic department and many Hawkeye fans for not demanding more of the football program. They seemed content to fall into the “pretty good” range with an occasional peak into great and, rarely, a dip into lousy.

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If they weren’t going to set for themselves the highest of goals, I reasoned, then what exactly were they doing besides making excuses and giving in to a self-fulfilling prophecy of inadequacy?

But it all became too hard – “it” being the will to consistently summon the hope that the Hawkeyes can ever be anything more than they already are. They’re a good program. They’re perfectly fine, and there are programs and fan bases across the country that would do anything to have the sort of sustained good, solid, 7.5-out-of-10 success that the Hawkeyes have had under Ferentz.

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I’ve won the victory over myself. 8-4? 9-3? It’s all one should ever ask for out of Iowa. Anything significantly more than that and I’ll be the first person in line to buy a commemorative book at the end of the season.

One might conclude this is a cynical approach. Resigned realism is more like it.

Resigned realism with a silver lining: It could be a lot worse. Rutgers, Vanderbilt, Maryland, North Carolina, Kansas – major-conference schools where bowl games are major a accomplishment.

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With Iowa, 8-4 – winning two-thirds of your games – represents the baseline. Once every 7-8 years you get to order off the menu without prices. Once a decade or so you’re stuck with a Lunchable. Yet for the most part you know that each meal will include a nice cut of meat, well-seasoned potatoes, and a fresh vegetable, so long as you’re willing to stand far enough back to look at entire seasons as their own snapshot rather than each individual game.

Oh, you lost winnable games to Michigan and Wisconsin? That stinks. Oh, you went 9-3 this year? Cool.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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