By Zach Wagner
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – In light of Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game between Iowa and Michigan State, I spoke with the Des Moines Register’s senior sports reporter Rick Brown about a couple of topics related to the Hawkeyes’s outstanding season. Brown has been with the Register since 1978 and spends most of his time covering both of the University of Iowa’s football and men’s basketball team’s.
Undefeated at 12-0, Iowa is still looking to garner the respect they fell they deserve from national audiences, who view them as a product of a very diminished Big Ten West Division. Nothing would silence their critics more than a win in the Big Ten championship Game and a berth in the College Football Playoff.
Q: Coming into the season, what were the expectations for the Hawkeyes? Were they any different than from year’s past?
A: There were no expectations, coming off a 7-6 season and two poor performances against Nebraska in the Big Ten regular-season finale and to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Coach Kirk Ferentz was also catching some heat from the fans. But Iowa football underwent a culture change. Ferentz made some subtle changes, and the players became unified. The result has been a 12-0 season.
Q: What has it been like for you to be able to cover this particular Iowa team? Would you say that this has been one of the more unique experiences in your sports journalism career?
A: Yes, I would say it has been unique. I say that because history tells me so. An Iowa team had never won 12 games in a season. This was Iowa’s first undefeated regular season since a 7-0 record in 1922. It has been interesting to watch this team embrace a “one game at a time” mentality. That single-minded approach has taken pressure off as the victories continued to build.
Q: Do you get the sense that this team has an us against the world mentality, as many across the country have questioned their legitimacy all season long?
A: The players say all the negative talk doesn’t matter, but deep down I think it does. It’s rare for a coach like Ferentz to be able to coach an undefeated team and still legitimately sell the chip on the shoulder mentality. None of the people criticizing Iowa for its weak schedule picked it to go 12-0 at the start of the season.
Q: What has the response been like from the fan base, with their team embarking on perfection for the last four months?
A: The biggest thing that has happened is fans who were critical of Ferentz are admitting they were wrong. This team has united the fan base again. The excitement for Iowa football hasn’t been this high since the 2009 team started 9-0 and won the Orange Bowl over Georgia Tech to finish 11-2.
Q: Lastly, what are a couple of keys to Saturday night’s Big Ten Championship Game for Iowa, if they want to emerge as champions?
A: Iowa can’t turn the ball over, first of all. It has to establish the run, secondly. And defensively, the Hawkeyes need to put pressure on Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook and not let him get comfortable in the pocket.