SIOUX CITY | The good news about having one week of the college football season already in the books is that we’re off and running on a time of year so many of us truly savor.
The bad news is the impatient howling from fans whose teams didn’t fare so well in their opening assignments. If you’re a Hawkeye or Cyclone diehard, for example, that glass sure seems to be half-empty.
In the immortal (paraphrased) words of our old friend Ed Nottle, though, “Don’t give up the ship until your (derriere) hits the water!’’
Not to say this is something you can exactly count on, but I’ve marveled over the years at how many teams overcome a tough season-opening or early season loss to have seasons in the pretty good to downright terrific range.
I don’t think Iowa’s 30-27 loss to Northern Illinois is a harbinger of doom for the Hawkeyes. Nor do I think Iowa State can’t still have a quality season after a 28-20 loss to Northern Iowa.
Northern Illinois, after all, has one of the premier quarterbacks in college football with senior Jordan Lynch, an early Heisman candidate after becoming the first FBS quarterback in history to combine more than 3,000 passing yards with over 1,500 rushing yards last season.
Lynch, seventh in the nation in rushing (1,815 yards), which is rarefied air for quarterbacks, is a winner whose talent and experienced did as much as anything to spoil Iowa’s season debut.
Lynch and his teammates, lest we forget, followed up an 18-17 loss to Iowa in Week 1 last year to reel off 12 wins in a row before an Orange Bowl loss to Florida State.
Iowa, meanwhile, had quite a few positive signs canceled out by a few too many negatives.
Redshirt sophomore Jake Rudock, whose 259 passing yards tied for the fourth best effort by an Iowa quarterback making his starting debut, will only get better, which is to say I think he’ll be quite good. On Saturday, though, he threw some costly interceptions and made a couple decisions you learn to not make when you’ve played a little.
Some of that, I think, could have been avoided if Coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff had gotten Rudock a little playing time last season, when he simply burned up a year of eligibility without leaving the sideline.
Then, too, I’m not in love with the no-huddle offense, particularly for teams that aren’t well-oiled machines. So often it just seems like a hurry-up-and-punt approach and that’s not a pretty thing or, for that matter, the best way to settle down a rookie quarterback.
The Iowa offensive line, featuring Denison’s Brandon Scherff at left tackle, looks like a definite plus. Also, it looks like there will finally be enough running backs and wide receivers to do some damage.
Defensively, I’m afraid, there are a couple of major concerns, the biggest of which is the lack of a pass rush, which plagued the Hawkeyes throughout last season’s hard-luck 4-8 campaign. Saturday, too, the secondary got burned a few too many times, letting receivers get wide open for a quarterback thoroughly capable of taking advantage.
Of course, up went the latest wave of anti-Ferentz attacks, following up a summer in which Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated named the 15th-year Iowa coach one of the five worst head coaches in the country. Howie Mandel, I know. Stewart is evidently a writer trying to get himself known the easy way -- stirring the pot.
I’d hash over those bad old days when Iowa went nearly two decades without a winning season, observing how challenging it has been for Ferentz to fashion a 100-76 record. However, we don’t really need to have this conversation when a contract running through the 2019 season -- six seasons after this one -- has a buyout price tag somewhere north of $15 million.
Certainly, there can’t be as much grumbling in Ames over Paul Rhoads after one disappointing loss to an FCS opponent. Rhoads has done far too many good things (for a fraction of the money as Ferentz is paid) for Cyclone supporters to get too bent out of shape.
Like Northern Illinois, Northern Iowa deserves some credit, to be sure, for making yet another statement on behalf of the former Division I-AA crowd (see North Dakota State over Kansas State and Eastern Washington over Oregon State, among others).
It was the second UNI victory over ISU in recent seasons, following up a 2007 triumph, and the Panthers, a perennial Top 25 team in the FCS, look like they could be there again.
Quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen, a sophomore who started all 11 games as a redshirt freshman last fall, is rather special, which is no surprise when you’ve started three seasons for tradition-rich Jenks High School in Oklahoma and fashioned a 33-3 record. His team was ranked as high as No. 5 nationally in his senior year.
And, as usual, UNI cherry-picked several in-state sleepers that I’m only calling sleepers because Iowa and Iowa State neglected to grab them. How about running back David Johnson? The 6-foot-3, 214-pound junior won some national honors after burning ISU for all four UNI touchdowns -- two on pass receptions and two from his 23 rushing attempts for 199 yards.
Johnson operated a bit under the radar at Clinton High School, which enjoyed a rare 11-1 finish in his senior year with a second consecutive playoff appearance. The River Kings have made only one other playoff trip since 1996 and that speaks volumes in an era when 32 of the 48 schools in Class 4A qualify.
Another UNI stalwart who was definitely under-recruited is senior linebacker Jordan Gacke, who led Central Lyon/George-Little Rock to three straight state championship games and also won two state titles in wrestling.
Two more Northwest Iowa prospects who’ll likely redshirt this fall for the Panthers are true freshmen Bryce Sweeney and Zach Skibinski, former Bishop Heelan all-staters. Sweeney, an offensive lineman, is now listed at 6-6, 310 pounds, while Skibinski, the remarkable defensive end who won the Drake Relays 100-meter dash last spring, is at 6-4 and 250.
Iowa State has a quirky September schedule with two open dates -- this Saturday and also Saturday, Sept. 21. After hosting Iowa on Sept. 14, the Cyclones play again Thursday, Sept. 26, at Tulsa, the team they faced twice last season, winning an opening game in Ames and then losing a Liberty Bowl rematch. Then, Rhoads’ team has another two weeks to prepare for their Big 12 opener on Oct. 3, another Thursday night, hosting Texas.
Little meaning as can be attributed to Iowa’s loss to Northern Illinois, it will be a lot more chaotic if the Hawks don’t win and win handily in a home game Saturday against Missouri State, an FCS foe coming off a 3-8 season.
Roads games with Iowa State and Minnesota are sandwiched around a home contest with Western Michigan (4-8 last season) in a four-game September slate that has the potential to either cool off some of those critics or turn them even more obnoxious.