A sweet taste of Orange for Hawkeyes
MIAMI -- On Monday, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz acknowledged that since August, there had been "a lot of Big Ten bashing going on."
On Tuesday night, the Big Ten's critics were drowned out by the sounds of the Hawkeyes and their fans celebrating throughout Land Shark Stadium following Iowa's 24-14 win over Georgia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl.
After two BCS bowl wins, a winning 4-3 conference bowl record and four wins against ranked teams, there wasn't much left for the Big Ten to prove on Tuesday night after Iowa did its part by stifling the nation's No. 2 rushing offense with a disciplined defensive performance. It was Iowa's first BCS bowl win ever and first major bowl win since the 1959 Rose Bowl.
"We've beaten a couple of conference champions, as well," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said after knocking off the ACC's champs. "It's a good feeling. I think each and every one of us, every member institution takes a lot of pride every time we go out and take the field against a nonleague opponent. That's certainly part of the turf, but that being said, my No. 1 concern is our football team and our players. It's gratifying, but it's way too easy just to generalize, 'this conference is down, that conference is down.' Maybe this will put some of those theories to rest for at least six more months, four more months, I don't know."
Considering that the Big Ten's one win in the 2008 bowl season was brought up repeatedly for an entire year -- along with the conference's overall struggles in BCS games -- the Big Ten's bragging rights should extend for at least that long. The conference had gone 4-11 in BCS games in the past nine seasons, but Iowa and Ohio State did their part in helping reverse that trend. Ohio State earned a marquee win with its 26-17 win over Oregon, which gave the conference its first BCS win since 2006.
Iowa cheered for Ohio State and the Hawkeyes aren't afraid to admit it.
"Not at all," linebacker Pat Angerer said. "If they're going to beat us, I'd rather have them win the Rose Bowl, you know?"
So would the rest of the conference.
Penn State, Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin all defeated teams that were supposedly faster and more athletic. They were the myth busters of the BCS, scoffing at the "power vs. speed" plotlines. Georgia Tech and Oregon had the sexy offenses, but the Big Ten teams won with the time-tested formulas of defense, special teams and just enough offense.
"We definitely wanted to end the season on a good note and put an exclamation point on the season," Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki said. "I think we did, and it's a really great feeling. We wanted to carry the Big Ten torch, if that's what you want to call it. I'm a Big Ten fan myself, and I think we played good, tough, football, and it was good to see other teams win."
Iowa controlled the clock and outrushed Georgia Tech 172 to 143 yards. The Jackets had only nine first downs, were beat up front on both sides of the ball, and held to 155 yards of total offense.
Iowa's win marked redemption not only for the conference, but also for Iowa and its beleaguered quarterback, Ricky Stanzi, who had an inconsistent season and missed the final two-and-a-half games of the regular season with an ankle injury. Iowa started the season 9-0 but hardly looked convincing in its climb to No. 4 in the nation, and fell to 1-2 without Stanzi in the lineup. Stanzi said he didn't feel any pain against Georgia Tech, and aside from one gaffe -- an interception return for a touchdown -- he didn't look at all like the Stanzi who threw five interceptions against Indiana.
"It was just nice to be back out there with the guys and to get another game in on such a big stage," Stanzi said. "I mean, everyone did a tremendous job. It starts at the top with Coach Ferentz and the way he prepared us last year and following up this year, both those bowl victories. You can't say enough."
The Hawkeyes consistently depended on fourth-quarter rallies all season -- and their win over Georgia Tech also came down to the waning minutes. Running back Brandon Wegher sealed the win with his 32-yard touchdown run with less than two minutes to go in the game.
"For us, this is a rout," Ferentz said with a smile. "Ten points is a rout. We were all breathing a sigh of relief."
This year, the entire Big Ten can exhale.
Heather Dinich covers ACC college football for ESPN.com.
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