Well, dear readers, the holidays have come and gone and we all know what that means.
Yes, college football season is over.
If you've been able to wake up from the nap you likely took during the national championship game on Monday, you've probably been trying to make sense of everything we saw in the past few months. Far be it from me to tell you what you saw or thought, but I'll take a shot at it anyway.
Starting at the local level, University of Iowa fans saw one of the most disappointing Hawkeye seasons in recent memory. Senior quarterback James Vandenberg's career came to an unceremonious end and the team's running back curse continued to become that much more real.
Understandably, a lot of the criticism of the team landed in the lap of coach Kirk Ferentz. The two camps of pro- and anti-Kirk then formed, and the battle over whether he should continue coaching has basically been raging non-stop since the season ended.
Over to the west, Iowa State completed a 6-6 regular season and reached a bowl game for the third time in four years under Paul Rhoads. Unceremonious would be a kind word to describe the Cyclones’ season finale in Memphis. In the days after the game, ISU received just as much criticism for not being able to perform in the postseason, and especially when all eyes were on them.
Yes, there has been some negativity around our state’s two biggest programs, but there is a silver lining to it all. When there’s this much talk and debate over unmet expectations, that means that there are at least high expectations both programs are expected to meet.
Iowa fans have become used to success on the football field, and that’s why this year’s 4-8 record was such a letdown. On the other side, ISU fans are beginning to expect more out of the program, and 6-7 apparently won’t cut it for them for much longer, even if they do qualify for bowl games.
Speaking of bowl games, here’s a quick aside about my experience in Memphis this year. After enjoying one night of fun on Beale Street and the basic tourist activities like Graceland, I picked up some kind of bug that kept me on the shelf for the next few days. I missed the game, spent most of New Year’s Eve in a Memphis hospital and left town with a souvenir of antibiotics.
My girlfriend believes that was probably karma for me leaving her alone on New Year’s Eve for two years in a row to attend ISU bowl games. I’m starting to believe her.
Back to football!
In addition to trying to find the silver lining in Iowa and ISU’s seasons, I also got to witness how college football can bring a non-college town together at the same time. When I went home for a few days around Christmas, I visited my favorite local watering hole on the night of the MAC championship game between Northern Illinois and Kent State.
My hometown of Roscoe is roughly 45 minutes away from DeKalb, and most of the town holds allegiance to either Illinois or Wisconsin. On that night, however, everyone was a Husky fan. Even if most of the people cheering and hollering at the screen that night were bandwagon jumpers, it was still interesting to watch them band together and share that camaraderie for a few hours.
That’s apparently the power of college football.
It would be ridiculous to think I could sum up the entire season in one column, so I’m just going to stick with Northern Illinois. Bear with me. While there was all sorts of excitement about the national championship game between two of college football’s traditional powers, the game ended up being a snoozer. I actually had to cover basketball that night, but was relieved when I found out I didn’t need to re-watch it on DVR.
Meanwhile, Northern Illinois took some major flack for making it to a BCS game. First of all, I still don’t understand why they received so much hate when all they did was play themselves into the game, but that’s a completely different topic. And although that game ended up lopsided, the Huskies made a run at it and, in my opinion, justified their position in the game.
Underdog stories like that are aplenty in college basketball, but not so much in football. Hopefully, this season was the beginning in that shift that will allow more mid-major programs into the fold. We all love a good Cinderella story during March Madness, why not one in December or early January?
Yes, college football and all of the joy, frustration and tailgating it brings is now done until next year. Thankfully, college basketball season is beginning conference play and will help distract us until next fall. Of course, if your favorite NFL team is still alive in the playoffs, you’ll get to enjoy a few more weeks of football action until it’s gone for good.
On that topic, all I can say is I’m glad hockey is coming back.