Ferentz says beating Michigan big challenge

Published 9:50 pm Sunday, November 26, 2023

The Associated Press

Other than the people inside the Iowa football building and the team’s most optimistic fans, few expect the Hawkeyes to pose much of a challenge to Michigan in the Big Ten championship game.

Doubts that the No. 18 Hawkeyes (10-2) can upset the second-ranked Wolverines (12-0) are illustrated by the point spread. FanDuel Sportsbook on Sunday listed Iowa as a 22 1/2-point underdog for Saturday night’s game in Indianapolis.

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The Hawkeyes will show up anyway.

“Yeah, we’ve been here before,” coach Kirk Ferentz said Sunday. “We’ve actually won a couple of games like this in the last 25 years. We’ve got to play our best football. And, you know, anything is possible in sports. I think we’ve all seen that.”

Michigan is going for its third straight Big Ten championship. The Wolverines beat Iowa 42-3 in the 2021 title game and Purdue 43-22 last year. They advanced to the College Football Playoff each time.

Since the Big Ten went to its East-West alignment in 2014, no West team has won the championship game. The Big Ten expands to 18 teams next year and divisions will be eliminated, meaning the top two teams in the standings will play in the title game.

Neither Michigan nor Iowa has had a smooth ride to reach this point.

Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh served a school-imposed three-game suspension to start the season for allegedly making false statements during an NCAA investigation into alleged violations in 2020. A sophisticated sign-stealing operation coordinated by a former staff member resulted in a Big Ten-mandated three-game suspension for Harbaugh and the firing of linebackers coach Chris Partridge.

Iowa began the season with a number of players suspended and facing legal action for underage sports wagering. Injuries ended the season for quarterback Cade McNamara, tight ends Luke Lachey and Erick All and cornerback and return specialist Cooper DeJean. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, son of Kirk Ferentz, was told by the athletic administration a month ago that he would not return next season.

The Hawkeyes have the least productive offense in the nation, averaging 246.3 yards per game. They are in the top 10 in total defense and scoring defense, and their special teams have long been a strength.

Iowa, which beat Nebraska 13-10 on a field goal as time ran out Friday, is the first team since 1991 to have won four games scoring 15 or fewer points.

Ferentz said while his program isn’t able to recruit as many elite prospects as other schools, the winning comes from developing those players.

“If you look at our best players historically, and we’ve had some really good players come through here, not many of them showed up in a limousine at our place,” Ferentz said. “Most of them drove in in a used car or clunker, and they’ve all got a lot of good stories.”

Harbaugh praised the work of everybody in his program, especially acting coach Sherrone Moore, during his absence from the sidelines the last three games. He said he watched the Ohio State game with his wife, Sarah, and that hugs and high-fives were in abundance at his house after Rod Moore’s interception clinched the 30-24 win.

Harbaugh said the perseverance the Wolverines showed during the hard times this season brought to mind Michigan coaching icon Bo Schemechler’s 1983 speech, still quoted at all levels of football, about the importance of the team over the individual.

“Rings from my ears, Bo Schembechler — the team, the team, the team,” Harbaugh said. “This is a very special team.”