The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Commentary: Iowa appears headed for losing season, no bowl game

Inexperienced. Undisciplined. Little to no execution. Shades of ineptitude.

Mark Weisman may be the best running back on the team and he isn't even a running back. Just one of many signs that the Hawkeyes may struggle to win games this year. (Matthew Holst/Getty Images North America)

This year’s Iowa football team has been associated with those at one time or another through these first four games. But after this past Saturday’s game against Central Michigan, a 32-31 loss, it’s justified.

The Hawkeyes headed into the 2012 campaign with the smallest senior class in the Kirk Ferentz era, and thus also one of the youngest squads Ferentz has had. Expectations weren’t too high.

However, the schedule was favorable, especially in the non-conference portion. Two games against MAC teams, one against an FCS team, and a matchup with in-state rival Iowa State. A 3-1 record wasn’t inconceivable and some even clamored for a 4-0 start going into Big Ten play.

Not this year, though. And it really wasn’t even close. Rather, Iowa’s outlook now is a lot more dull than it is bright.

That’s what happens when you barely escape with a victory at a neutral site, have a offensive-less performance in week two, and then eventually let a lowly MAC team defeat you — and at Kinnick Stadium no less.

That’s right, the loss to Central Michigan may be one of Iowa’s worst in recent memory. The Chippewas had won three games each of the last two seasons and were picked to finish last in their division by most preseason publications.

Iowa will begin conference play this week with a .500 record for the first time since 2000, a season in which the Black and Gold posted a measly 3-9 record.

But this recent downturn started a lot longer ago than you imagine. It may not be just that there is an incredible talent deficit littering the Hawkeyes’ roster this fall. Or that there has been a steady amount of attrition — cue the running back “curse” — over the last handful of years, although that does factor into the equation somehow.

Remember when Iowa was 7-2 heading into its final three games in 2010? Well, Ferentz and Co. lost their last three games, took some solace in an Insight Bowl win over Missouri, and then went 7-6 in 2011. That’s a lot of losses since that final stretch two seasons ago, resulting in perhaps a very average Big Ten program.

And if you’re beginning to wonder if quarterback James Vandenberg had his best game in his collegiate debut against Ohio State in 2009 — almost helping the Hawkeyes reach the Rose Bowl in place of longtime signal-caller Ricky Stanzi — that’s understandable.

It’s hard to believe Vandenberg, a 5th-year senior, threw for over 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns last year. He gets rattled pretty easily and seems fidgety outside of the pocket. But how about this for his career record as Iowa’s starting QB? Just 10-9.

The Hawkeyes have finished 4-4 in the Big Ten each of the last two seasons.

Glancing at the schedule, Iowa faces the following teams to round out its season: Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue and Nebraska at home,while facing Michigan State, Northwestern, Indiana, and Michigan on the road. I see three wins over Penn State and Indiana out of that plus a toss-up game, maybe Purdue, for a 3-5 B1G record.

Do the math, and that makes three more wins for a record of 5-7.

That would mean in his last eight years at the helm, Ferentz has had one 10-plus win season, one BCS bowl appearance, and seasons totaling six or seven victories five out of those eight times.

So 5-7 overall this year with no bowl game, huh? It seems likely.

But should we be surprised?

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