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Is This Team the Best Ever?

Is This Team the Best Ever?

11/18/2002 by Jon Miller of Hawkeye Nation


Alright, I know that this topic is getting a lot of run right now, but I think that it bears more than a casual look.

Just how good are the 2002 Iowa Hawkeyes

Before diving into that on the whole, I think that we must take a look at individual players and the units they belong to and compare that to Hawkeye history.

Receivers: Mo Brown tied Quinn Early’s school record of 10 touchdown receptions in a season last week. CJ Jones is one off of the mark with nine. Browns YAC yardage is very impressive and his average yards per receptions is off the hook. Jones runs the WR screen to perfection and is also a dangerous deep threat. Ed Hinkel has been solid and has several big third down catches and who will ever forget his diving touchdown catch in the back of the end zone at Penn State? Clinton Solomon may turn out to be the best of the lot after a year with Chris Doyle in the weight room. He is a budding star, as we saw with his one-handed catch earlier this year against Utah State, I believe.

If you throw Dallas Clark into the mix of receivers, and I think you should, this is the best group of pass catchers assembled at Iowa. They can beat you deep, they are fearless across the middle and they make the big conversion catches. Clark is perhaps the best tight end in America.

Running backs: Fred Russell has 1,219 rushing yards on the year, which is good for 4th best in a single season in Iowa history. He will not catch Tavian Banks’ single season record of 1,691 yards and it would take a 250+ yard effort in the bowl game to move past Sedrick Shaw’s 1,477 yard season in 1995, but Russell will likely move past Dennis Mosley’s 1,267 yard season of 1979.

But what would have happened had Russell not missed two full games due to injury (Utah State and Wisconsin) and another five-plus quarters due to being banged up (2 nd half against Iowa State, much of the second half against Michigan and last week’s 4th quarter against Minnesota at a minimum), who knows what he could have done.

In his stead, Jermelle Lewis has gained nearly 700 yards rushing, making Russell and Lewis as popular in Iowa as Lewis and Martin were to Las Vegas patrons back in the middle portion of the 20 th century. Shaw and Banks were a formidable duo in 1996, but Russell and Lewis have left them in their wake with one more game to play. Lewis has topped the 100-yard mark in two games and has started two games this season. These two are still ‘sophomores’ from an eligibility standpoint, yet they already are the best tandem in the last 30+ years.

Quarterback: In my opinion, Brad Banks is having the best season ever by an Iowa quarterback. Long and Hartlieb were pure passers and better than Banks in that regard, but neither Chuck had the legs of Banks.

Brad has rushed for 387 yards this year and gains more than 32 yards per game. When he throws the ball, good things happen.

His completion ration is nearly 60-percent and his touchdown to interception ratio is an out of this world 25-4. With two more TD passes, he ties Long’s single season record of 27 set in 1985. Long also had 16 interceptions that season. Banks’ passing efficiency rating is tops in the nation by a large margin and his 166 rating laps Chuck and Chuck.

One out of every 6.2 completions goes for a touchdown and 9.7-percent of his attempts are TD passes. That is also #1 in the nation by a large margin. For a season, I think Banks is the best.

Offensive Line: Maybe there is enough limestone up in Northeast Iowa to construct our own version of Mt. Rushmore. As in, RUSH more. Robert Gallery, Eric Steinbach, Bruce Nelson, Andy Lightfoot, David Porter and Ben Sobieski would take up a couple of mountains, but their efforts have truly paved the way for the offensive explosion of 2002.

Some experts feel that three if not four of those players could hear their names called in April’s NFL draft . Gallery is just a junior and he seems intent on coming back for the 2003 season and a run at the Outland Trophy.

'The Plows’ as Dolphin and Podolak call these guys have come a long way. Three converted tight ends, players who were 250-pound starters as freshmen; basically, players who had their share of sand kicked in their face. But now, they are the champions.

Place Kicker: Nate Kaeding added another record this weekend, catching Tavian Banks as the most prolific scorer in Iowa history. With one season left to go, Kaeding is the best kicker Iowa has ever had. Sorry Rob Houghtlin. But Rob will still find free drinks at whatever establishment he chooses to visit in the state of Iowa.

The Defense: While this unit will not be remembered as the best ever, they are certainly playing lights out as of late.

During the second half of the season (the last six games), Iowa has allowed 283.2 yards per game of total offense. If that were their mark for the entire season, it would be a top 10 national effort. Iowa has moved up to 38 th in total defense nationally.

Iowa has really tightened up its pass defense over the last six games, allowing just 203.2 passing yards per game, a far cry from the 330+ they were allowing through the first six games of the year. Also know that Indiana gained 335 passing yards on Iowa, which is included in the final six game tally. Iowa is #2 in the nation in interceptions with 20 on the season.

Iowa’s rush defense has been spectacular all season long and they are going to shatter the single season record for rushing yards allowed per game. Their 68.2 yards per game mark is a full 11-plus yards per game ahead of the former standard set by Iowa’s 1981 Steel Curtain squad.

Iowa is 17th in the nation in scoring defense and they are 7th in the nation in turnovers gained. They are 39th in passing efficiency defense.

So no, they are not the best ever, but they have evolved into a solid group that is playing as good as any defense in the nation right now.

The Offense: I just reminded you about the individual performances, but it should be noted that Iowa is putting together an offensive juggernaut of sorts.

Last year, Iowa averaged 32.6 points per game, a mark that was 4th best in school history.

In 2002, Iowa is averaging 38.9 points per game. That is good for 7th in the nation and would also be an Iowa record for a single season. The current record is 36.7 points per game in 1985. If Iowa scores 12 or more points in its Bowl game, the 2002 team breaks the record. Iowa has not scored less than 20 points in any game this season.

Iowa is averaging better than 222 yards per game on the ground. To crack the all-time Iowa Top 10 Iowa needs to average 217.0 rushing yards per game. Iowa could gain just 175 yards rushing in its bowl game and crack the top 10. If they hit their average, it would mark the 8 th best single season performance. Iowa needs just 34 yards rushing to break the single season mark for total rushing yards gained, but few Iowa teams have played in 13 games. In 1987, Iowa was 10-3 and gained 1,789 yards rushing. Iowa is averaging 5.0 yards per attempt this season. While my pre-season prediction of 7-5 was wrong (thankfully), I did say on several radio shows that Iowa would average at least 5.0 yards per rush. I was laughed at a little bit, but that is all right. Iowa’s 432 yards of total offense per game ranks 4th in school history. The 1983 Hawkeye offense might still be the most prolific and balanced ever, as they averaged 200.7 yards per game on the ground and 269.9 yards per game through the air. But the 2002 Hawkeyes are just one notch below.

I guess Ken O’Keefe has gotten real smart over the last two seasons.

Special Teams: While it is hard to view the 2002 Iowa special teams from a historical sense as there are not ‘historical’ stats kept for special teams, all one has to do is look at how dominant Iowa has been this season ‘amongst their peers’ and you can make an argument that the 2002 Iowa Specials Teams units are at worst one of the best groups as a collective in Iowa history.

Iowa is #2 in the Big Ten in kickoff return (17th nationally) average, punt return average (32nd nationally), net punting average (15th nationally) and they are number one in the league in kickoff coverage. They punt coverage unit allows a scant 3.1 yards per return.

Iowa has a Lou Groza award finalist in Nate Kaeding. Iowa has blocked two punts, they have not allowed a block, they returned both of those blocks for touchdowns, they have returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown and a blocked extra point for a two-point conversion.

Not a bad season at all.

So, is this the best Iowa team ever? It is so hard to compare one era to another because football changes. But the one great thing about the 2002 Iowa Hawkeyes is that they are a classic Big Ten Champion. They want to run first and pass second. They stop the run and play a physical brand of football.

I will let history decide where this team belongs in the record books, but I know that this was the most exciting season of Iowa football I have had the pleasure of watching in 23 years of cognizant memory I have of Iowa football, and this team and coaching staff are certainly to be commended.

No Iowa team had ever won more than 10 games until Saturday in Minneapolis. Iowa has won nine-straight Big Ten games dating back to last year and nine straight overall this season. They are ranked in the Top 5 in the nation after not being ranked to start the season. They have finalists for the Heisman, Walter Camp, Davey O’Brien, Groza and Mackey Awards.

And they have a head coach that a lot of fans didn’t want.

Man am I glad I was on the Ferentz bandwagon from day one!

Hawkeye NationHawkeye Nation was founded by Jon Miller, and later acquired by Rivals and Sports Illustrated. You can visit them at

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