Being one of the top 10 sports teams in Iowa, football has always been the main priority for fans of the Hawkeyes. Success has gone hand in hand with the support of the Iowa football team.
Throughout the history of the program, the Iowa Hawkeyes have won 13 conference championships (11 in the Big Ten Conference), and two conference division championships, have appeared in 34 bowl games, winning 17 of them, and have claimed five national championships.
It is quite a task to narrow down the best all-time seasons in a program that has had as much success as the Iowa Hawkeyes, however, there are a few that deserve recognition.
In back-to-back seasons, the Iowa Hawkeyes, one of the best football teams in Iowa, were National Champions. Following an undefeated, 7-0, the season in 1921, as well as a Big Ten Championship, the Hawkeyes, coached by Howard Jones, were named National Champions by both Billingsley and Parke Davis.
The following year, Coach Jones led the Hawkeyes to yet another 7-0 season, as well as another Big Ten Championship, again being named National Champions by Billingsley.
The late 1950s were a particularly exciting time for football in Iowa City. Coach Forest Evashevski led the University of Iowa football team to three National Championships and three Big Ten Championships, in 1956, 1958, and 1960.
Even though the Hawkeyes have never finished the regular season ranked number one in the AP Poll or the Coaches’ Poll, they were still named National Champions by major selectors. Finishing the 1956 season with a 9-1 record, the Hawkeyes were ranked number three in both the AP and Coaches Polls. However, they were named National Champions by Football Research.
Following the 1958 season, with a record of 8-1-1, they were ranked number two in both polls. After defeating the California Golden Bears in the Rose Bowl 38-12, the Iowa Hawkeyes were recognized by the Football Writers Association of America as the National Champions.
Coach Evashevski concluded his reign as one of the premier teams in college football in 1960, with yet another impressive season and top-three finish in both the AP and Coaches Polls.
The 1960 Hawkeyes went 8-1, finishing ranked number three in the AP Poll and number two in the Coaches’ Poll. The Hawkeyes were named National Champions by the Berryman Quality Point Rating System, Boand System, and Litkenhous.
In just his third season as the Iowa Hawkeyes head football coach, Hayden Fry led the team to a Big Ten Conference Championship.
The team finished with a record of 8-4, 6-2 in the conference, which earned an invite to the Rose Bowl.
Unfortunately, the Washington Huskies would win by a score of 28-0. Despite the bowl loss to end the season, the Big Ten champion Iowa Hawkeyes would end their historic season ranked number 15 in the Coaches Poll and number 18 in the AP Poll.
Still, under the leadership of Coach Fry in 1985, the Hawkeyes would win the Big Ten Conference yet again. After a very strong 10-2 season, including a 7-1 conference record, Iowa would receive another invite to the Rose Bowl.
The home-field advantage was very much seen in this matchup, as the UCLA Bruins would upset the Hawkeyes by a score of 45-28.
Iowa would finish the season ranked number nine in the Coaches’ Poll and number ten in the AP Poll, a very impressive and historic finish for the Iowa Hawkeyes. While this did mark Coach Fry’s second Rose Bowl appearance, as well as his second loss at the Rose Bowl, Hayden Fry had led his Hawkeyes to two conference championships in his first seven seasons as head coach.
Without a doubt one of the Iowa Hawkeyes’ most accomplished head coaches, Hayden Fry would lead his team to their third Big Ten Conference Championship during his time as head coach, in 1990.
This year would mark the third and final time Coach Fry would appear in the Rose Bowl as the Iowa Head Coach. The Washington Huskies would, unfortunately, get the best of the Iowa Hawkeyes yet again in Pasadena, by a score of 46-34.
Although the Hawkeyes would go 0-3 at the Rose Bowl under Coach Hayden Fry, they did still win three conference championships throughout his 20-season tenure.
The 1990 season would mark yet another historic season for the Hawkeyes, finishing with an 8-4 record, 6-2 in the conference, a Big Ten Conference Championship, as well as final rankings at number 16 in the Coaches Poll and number 18 in the AP Poll.
In just his fourth season as the Hawkeyes head football coach and only three seasons after an 0-8 conference record, Kirk Ferentz, the current longest-tenured FBS coach with one program and all-time wins leader at Iowa, led his team to an undefeated, 8-0 conference season, 11-2 overall record, and a Big Ten Conference Championship.
The Hawkeyes would meet the USC Trojans in Florida, at the FedEx Orange Bowl. Iowa would finish the season ranked number eight in both the Coaches and AP Polls, which would be the eighth time the team finished top ten in either of those polls and the first time since 1991.
Coach Kirk Ferentz showed Iowa fans that he had turned the team into a premier college football program in 2003. After a five-year skid from finishing in the top 25, the Hawkeyes followed their fantastic 2002 season with another in 2003.
The team finished with a 10-3 record, 5-3 in the conference, and received an invitation to the Outback Bowl. Iowa would travel to Florida, where they would face the Florida Gators. The Gators would prove to be no match for the Hawkeyes, as Iowa would win the game 37-17.
The statement made by the Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl would be enough to raise them to a number eight finish in both the Coaches and AP Polls. This would mark back-to-back top ten finishes in the rankings, as well as back-to-back finishes at number eight.
2002-2004 was a very special span for the Iowa Hawkeyes football program
For the second time over the three years, the Hawkeyes would earn another Big Ten Conference Championship after posting a 10-2 record, going 7-1 in conference play. Following the regular season, Iowa would travel to Florida, where they would face LSU in the Capital One Bowl.
The Hawkeyes would keep their momentum from last season going, defeating the Tigers 30-25. This would mark the third consecutive season in which the Hawkeyes finished ranked number eight in both the Coaches and AP Polls.
Iowa returned with yet another historically strong season in 2009, under the leadership of head coach Kirk Ferentz. Powering through an undefeated, 5-0, nonconference season, the Hawkeyes would go 6-2 in Big Ten play, finishing the season 11-2. This season would earn the team an invite to the Orange Bowl, where the Hawkeyes would meet the Yellow Jackets from Georgia Tech.
Iowa would defeat Georgia Tech 24-14, earning their fourth bowl game win under Coach Ferentz. The season would end with the Hawkeyes ranked seventh in both the Coaches and AP Polls, the fourth time Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa team would finish in the top ten of the rankings, the school’s best finish since the Forest Evashevski era in 1960.
With the Big Ten’s addition of Maryland and Rutgers in 2014, the Big Ten Conference switched to an East and West division. In 2015, current head coach, Kirk Ferentz, led the Hawkeyes to a perfect 8-0 conference season, with a 12-2 overall record.
This would be Iowa’s first West Division conference title since the expansion. The team would go on to play in the Rose Bowl, where they were defeated 45-16 by Stanford. While yet again, the Hawkeyes fell in the Rose Bowl game, they finished the season ranked number ten in the Coaches’ Poll and number nine in the AP Poll, another historic top-ten finish in the major rankings for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
The Hawkeye’s most recent season, 2021, was yet another historical one for the program. For the second time since the 2014 conference expansion, the Hawkeyes won the Big Ten West Division. With a 10-4 overall record, going 7-2 in the conference, the Hawkeyes would receive an invite to the Citrus Bowl.
There, the Hawkeyes would face the Wildcats from Kentucky, where the Wildcats would win in a hard-fought battle, 20-17. Iowa would finish the season ranked number 23 in both the Coaches and AP Polls, the tenth time finishing the season ranked in the top 25 in Coach Ferentz’s 23 years coaching the Hawkeyes.
History has shown the Iowa Hawkeyes to be one of the premier programs in college football. From their five claimed National Championships in the early to mid 1900s, to their current success under arguably the program’s best head coach of all time Kirk Ferentz, the Hawkeyes are a team that has shown consistent success throughout the existence of the program.
Football season in Iowa City has been, and always will be one of the most exciting times of the year for Iowa Hawkeyes fans.
Credits on Featured Image: