LINCOLN – Ending a wild November ride with its second lopsided win over a tradition-rich college football power in four games, Iowa left Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium on Friday with a trophy and one eye on the future.
“It will be good to step back for a couple of days, recharge a bit and then turn our attention to bowl prep,’’ Iowa offensive lineman Sean Welsh said. “Going 2-2 in November isn’t what we wanted, but that is all behind us now.’’
From blowout victories over Ohio State and Nebraska to start and end the month, to totaling 66 yards of offense in a loss at Wisconsin and falling flat in a loss to Purdue, the Hawkeyes have experienced extremes during the final weeks of the Big Ten season.
Welsh believes it all should help the Hawkeyes learn.
“Before the two wins, we had really good weeks of preparation that carried over in the way we executed in games,’’ Welsh said. “We’ve seen what we’re capable of a couple of times this month and it is good to end it on a bit of an upswing.’’
Coach Kirk Ferentz said overall, his team showed growth in its final game in November.
“That is important, after we stalled out the last two weeks,’’ Ferentz said. “Coming off the field (after Purdue) and last Sunday, it was tough, but our guys stayed together. The seniors gave us the leadership it takes to push through that and move forward.’’
Linebacker Josey Jewell viewed that as a necessity.
“It means a lot to get this last win. We didn’t want to go into bowl prep on a negative,’’ Jewell said. “Last week (the Purdue loss), that was tough for all of us and as a team, we needed to get back on track in this game.’’
Iowa responded with a season-high 505 yards of offense, a defense that limited the Nebraska to 67 yards on the ground and special teams which collected 118 yards on kickoff and punt returns.
It all added up to the Hawkeyes scoring the final 49 points in what turned into a 56-14 rout that proved to be Mike Riley’s final game as the Cornhuskers’ head coach.
Riley was fired on Saturday morning by Nebraska, completing his three seasons with the program with a 19-19 record including losses to Iowa in each season.
He said he was “thankful’’ for the opportunity which ended after a 4-8 season.
Iowa’s season will continue, but just where the Hawkeyes will play next remains undetermined.
Director of athletics Gary Barta laid out the Music City Bowl in Nashville on Dec. 29 and the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City on Dec. 27 as the most likely destinations for the Hawkeyes when bowl announcements are made on Dec. 3.
Based on conversations he has had with bowl officials, he said Iowa remains a possibility for the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 28 as well, but Barta described that as “a long shot.’’
Iowa’s assignment – the Big Ten works to place its eligible teams in bowls – will be determined in part by how many conference teams earn spots in New Year’s Six bowls.
The more teams that end up in that mix, the higher a 7-5 Hawkeye team would be positioned in the selection process among bowls with contractual ties to the Big Ten.
“I don’t have to do a lot of research to tell you most of our fans would like to go to Nashville first,’’ Barta said. “I’ve shared that with the Big Ten. We’ll see.’’
The Big Ten’s contract with the Music City Bowl is shared with the TaxSlayer Bowl, leading three Big Ten bowls to each game over the six-year length of the agreement.
The conference has an eight-year contract with the Pinstripe Bowl which guarantees the bowl seven different Big Ten teams over that timespan with a goal of sending eight teams there in eight years.
“While New York is expensive, going there during the holiday is a cool thing,’’ Barta said.