I put in about a 17-hour day on Saturday and I’m feeling it a day later, but I suspect there are a number of staff members within the University of Iowa Athletics Department who are every bit as worn down today as I am after putting on one of the most unique (and successful) days of Hawkeye sporting events at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.
At 11:00 a.m. Saturday, Iowa’s wrestlers, ranked fourth in the country, hosted top-ranked Oklahoma State – outdoors at Kinnick Stadium – in November. The Hawkeyes topped the Cowboys 18-16, with each side claiming five of the ten matches, but the result is not what people will remember about the event.
My son and I were among 42,287 that paid our $10 per ticket to be on hand to watch “Grapple on the Gridiron”, matching two wrestling programs that, between them, account for 57 national championships. Iowa organized the event with the intention of smashing the meet attendance record set by Penn State two years ago. Mission accomplished and then some. Penn State’s record was “only” 15,996.
Back in late summer, when Iowa announced plans for this event, I thought Athletic Director Gary Barta had finally gone off the deep end. I probably could have thought the same of wrestling coach Tom Brands, but I think we all know he’s been more than a little crazy his whole life, so nothing he does comes as a surprise. But Barta had to sign off on the nutso idea of holding a wrestling meet outdoors at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa in the middle of November.
Can you imagine what that would have been like if there was ANY kind of typical November weather issues? Wind, rain, sleet, snow or just plain really cold temperatures all had at least even odds of showing up. Sure, they had Carver-Hawkeye Arena to move the meet (and 15,000 of the ticket buyers) to, if necessary, but you don’t recover costs of staging by moving indoors.
No matter, though, because the weather was absolutely ideal. Calm winds, sunny and 60 degrees, and a perfect day for big walk-up ticket sales from fans showing up for a bit of early tailgating before the headline event of the day. That, of course, would be Iowa’s undefeated and 5th ranked football team Iowa hosting Minnesota in the battle for Floyd of Rosedale.
We did not tailgate for the 4+ hours we had to kill between wrestling meet and football game. Instead, a quick drive up to Red’s Ale House in North Liberty allowed us to kill the time watching afternoon football games, eating some really good food and enjoying a craft beer or four. (Red’s was featuring pours from Surly and Toppling Goliath. I won’t go in to my reviews of those beers here. That’s what the “Untappd” app is for, right?)
At 5:15 or so, it was time to head back to Kinnick Stadium. We caught the Hawkeye Express Train in Coralville and were in our 25-30 yard line seats a half-hour before kickoff.
The Hawkeyes came away with a 40-35 win over the Golden Gophers, to raise their record to 10-0 for the first time in Iowa football history, but it was a frustrating game from an Iowa fan’s perspective. Iowa never trailed and I thought it was pretty evident Iowa was the better team, but the damn Gophers just would not go away.
I’m not going to lie. Iowa needs big wins as they try to impress the folks who put together the College Football Playoff rankings, so I wanted the Hawks to just bury Minnesota and bury them deep. That didn’t happen at all, obviously.
My phone battery pretty much died by the time the football game started, so those of you who follow me on Twitter were spared having to put up with my frustration. Then again, the cell phone service in Kinnick (at least for Spring customers like me) is atrocious, so I probably wouldn’t have gotten anything out during the game anyway.
The other result of not having a working phone is that I didn’t see the final scores of all of the other night games across the country until I got home somewhere around 12:30 in the morning…
… which is my segue into discussion of the College Football Playoff rankings and Iowa’s place within that conversation.
You’re probably thinking I’m going to argue that Iowa should be ranked in the top four of the CFP rankings, in position to make the NCAA football playoffs. I’m not. Yet. But the results of some of the games yesterday are getting me closer to believing they should be.
One of the games I watched at Red’s yesterday was Clemson-Syracuse. I haven’t watched a lot of their games, but I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I would be. Still, they’re the team you have to rank at the top, despite an unimpressive win.
Ohio State is the defending National Champion, has almost everyone back from among the key contributors to that team, and hasn’t lost a game. They have to be in your top four right now. But I’ve watched them quite a bit and, honestly, it might be the same guys in the same uniforms, but they just haven’t looked all that terrific to me.
Through last week, I’d have had Oklahoma State in the top four. But another of the games I watched at Red’s Saturday was the Cowboys and Iowa State. We left before the game was over, so I didn’t see how Okie State won that game, but during every bit of that game I did watch, the Cowboys looked pretty bad. Still, they are undefeated and they beat TCU a week ago, so maybe you allow a little hangover. I’d have them in top four right now, too, but barely. I don’t think they’ll stay there.
I would reluctantly have Alabama filling out my top four. They’re playing very well now and you credit them for that. I don’t think that totally makes up for the fact that they do have a loss and that loss is to Mississippi, a team that hasn’t turned out to be anything all that special.
I would have Iowa somewhere in that next group of five teams. Where, exactly, isn’t all that important because it’s going to sort itself out over the next three weeks, anyway.
Oklahoma is coming on really strong, as their win over Baylor showed. Notre Dame has only lost to Clemson, so they certainly are in position to be considered to make the field if they win out.
By the way, is there a fan base more defensive than Notre Dame’s? I Tweeted out an observation that Notre Dame doesn’t play as tough a schedule as they used to before they became partially-affiliated with the ACC, yet still get residual credit in many corners for playing a difficult schedule. As a result, I got a bunch of irate responses from, I imagine, Irish fans. I didn’t say they have an “easy” schedule. But you don’t take Michigan and Northwestern off your schedule and replace them with teams like Virginia, Wake Forest and even Temple (which has been overrated all year, as we’re now seeing) and still get credit for an extremely difficult schedule. Not with me, anyway. I also don’t buy the, “we have the best loss,” argument that Mike Golic of ESPN keeps harping about. It’s a LOSS. You don’t get credit for playing somebody you lost to. You have to win the game for it to be a positive factor.
I think that’s basically it, now. The group of current legitimate contenders for the playoffs got whittled down this week. Stanford lost, essentially ending any chance that a Pac-12 team will be considered. Baylor lost to the Sooners, which is no disgrace, but the brilliant minds of the Big 12 decided to backload their schedule, assuring that any loss by their top teams will be “late losses,” and pretty much eliminate those teams from contention. Well done, Bob Bowlsby & company (I’m really glad he’s screwing up the Big 12 now and not still as Athletic Director at Iowa).
Could Michigan State run the table, beating Ohio State and then Iowa in the B1G Championship game, to work their way back into the playoff picture? Yes. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did exactly that.
Florida should get some appreciation, I suppose. But they lead the SEC-East, which is just as questionable, in terms of top to bottom strength, as the B1G-West and you have to ask yourself: how much consideration would a 1-loss Iowa be getting? The answer is, “none,” and that’s exactly the amount I would give Florida.
Finally, Wisconsin puzzles me, in that I’m puzzled why they aren’t given a lot more respect than they’re getting. Like half a dozen teams ranked above them in this week’s AP Coaches’ Poll, they have two losses. Unlike any of the teams ranked above them, their two losses are to two teams with combined 19-1 records and both ranked in the top six teams in the country. Sure, their best win is over Nebraska, but it’s almost like Badger fans gave up on the season after the Iowa loss and the rest of the country decided, “hey if you think your team sucks, we’ll just agree with you and ignore them, too.”
If Bucky wins out against Northwestern and Minnesota, they’ll end up in a pretty nice bowl game. I wonder if anyone in Wisconsin will even notice, much less attend the game.
Enough words. Here are a few not-really-very-good photos from my day at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday:
The Hawkeyes went to get Floyd of Rosedale from the Minnesota sideline in a calm, unified approach – for a while, anyway.