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Tuesdays with Torbee

The Hawkeyes celebrate their tenth win of the season.
The Hawkeyes celebrate their tenth win of the season.

“You are what your record says you are, and never mind how you got that way,” Bill Parcells

The Big Tuna was certainly not the first coach to trot out this hoary sports cliché, but he is its most famous champion.

Last Friday in Lincoln, the truth underlying the observation was once again laid bare.

For around three quarters of the battle for the Heroes Trophy, the 3-8 Nebraska Cornhuskers looked like the better team. The Huskers’ young quarterback confidently ran an old school-looking option and the vaunted black shirts defense stymied the mistake-prone Iowa offense enough to build a 21-9 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

But because water always finds its level, the outcome was really never in doubt. Iowa – a team that consistently finds unique and head-scratching paths to victory – made key plays and remained focused and disciplined. Nebraska – a team that consistently finds new and unique ways to stub its own toe – predictably tightened up and made devastating, game-losing mistakes.

So it was ordained, so it became so.

What I don’t want to hear is how Iowa was “lucky” or “dodged a bullet.” Yes, the 28-21 win was achieved despite the Hawkeyes only scoring one offensive touchdown (on a banal quarterback sneak, no less.) But luck had nothing to do with the game-turning plays Iowa made.

Luck also had nothing to do with Caleb Shudak being an unflappable, iron lock on field goals, one of which surpassed 50 yards on a blustery Nebraska afternoon. And luck absolutely played zero factor in the brilliant punt block play installed by Iowa special teams coach LeVar Woods and executed to perfection by Henry Marchese and Kyler Fisher that changed the momentum of the entire game.

The thing is, Iowa is built to withstand and overcome adversity. Nebraska is destined to wilt under pressure. So it was ordained, so it became so. You are who your record says you are, and Iowa are winners and Cornhuskers are losers.

Thanks to unexpected but welcome help from a Minnesota team that gave Iowa all it could handle earlier this month, the gritty Hawkeyes find themselves Big 10 West Division champions with a date to take on a Michigan team that exorcised its scarlet and gray demons in a championship game no one saw coming.

There is some delicious irony in the fact Iowa clawed its way to a division title in a season where its critics (most claiming to be fans of the team they disparage) used the lack of recent first-place finishes to insist the Ferentz approach to winning games was fatal to conference title hopes.

Iowa now is only the fifth of the 14 Big 10 teams to reach multiple Big 10 title games. Ohio State and Wisconsin lead with six appearances each; Michigan State has been there three times with Iowa and Northwestern at two each. Michigan is making its first appearance and joins Nebraska and Penn State as the other one-time participants.

Be honest – if in 2014 when the title game was instituted and someone told you Iowa would reach the championship game more often than Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska, you wouldn’t have believed them, would you?

The Hawkeyes are double-digit underdogs against Michigan, which is fair. While Iowa has scrambled and played from behind in several of its recent wins, the Wolverines have been rolling. Jim Harbaugh finally has the kind of team he’s wanted – able to run the ball in a punishing style and disrupt opposing offenses with overwhelming talent on the defensive line.

But I don’t think the mountain is impossible for Iowa to climb. With the offensive line finally getting regular push, Tyler Goodson finding his fleet footing and the defense and special teams remaining opportunistic and hungry, there is a path to (undoubtedly ugly) victory.

The Nebraska team Iowa held to 21 points put up 29 in a three-point loss to Michigan. Rutgers only fell to the Wolverines 20-13 at the Big House. While the task is immense, it is not impossible. Besides, the West Division team has never won this game in its seven-year history. We are due!

Whether Iowa wins or loses in Indianapolis, I am very curious to see how the 2021 season is evaluated in retrospect. My suspicion is much of the angst and anger engendered by the herky-jerky offense and quarterback controversy will retroactively turn into fondness for the never-say-die resiliency of a team that refused to give up on its season goals despite adversity.

I will be in Indianapolis this coming Saturday, and even if Iowa fails to nab that ever-elusive conference championship trophy, I will salute this tenacious team. This season has been a roller coaster of emotions, but it’s never failed to entertain.

Follow me on Twitter @ToryBrecht