Every year there are certain events that define a season for any team. One play here, an injury there, can all determine how a team will react and either progress into greatness, or regress into obscurity.
This year, the Iowa Hawkeye football program had several key moments that defined their season, and propelled them into their first Rose Bowl appearance in 25 years.
Here are 6 moments that changed the course of the season for the Hawkeyes:
1) Iowa ends the Iowa State hex. Iowa State had beaten Iowa three of the last four years, a galling stat for any Iowa fan and a series of results that had heaped pressure on Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz entering the season. The expectation every year is that Iowa will beat Iowa State, an expectation that's gone unmet for too many seasons in recent years. This year's game was another cagey affair for three quarters -- Iowa actually trailed at halftime and needed a wacky bounce on a fumble to score one of their touchdowns in the game. When Iowa fumbled on the cusp of the Iowa State goal line, it looked like another year of angst and frustration for Iowa in the Cy-Hawk Series. But Iowa flipped the script in the fourth quarter behind some big pass plays from C.J. Beathard and a crucial interception by future Thorpe Award winner Desmond King. In the big picture, a win over Iowa State isn't a huge deal -- but it was a very necessary monkey for Iowa to get off its back.
2) Brett Greenwood inspires tears and Marshall Koehn induces euphoria. The game against Pitt loomed as Iowa's toughest game of the non-conference slate before the season began and it lived up to that billing. It began with former Iowa player Brett Greenwood making an inspirational return to Kinnick Stadium in his first public appearance since suffering a debilitating stroke a few years ago, an appearance that stoked the emotions for everyone in attendance. It ended with a thrilling last-second 57-yard field goal kick bombed through the uprights by Iowa kicker Marshall Koehn to lock up a 27-24 victory. The game in-between was pretty good, too, with big plays on both sides and back and forth action throughout.
3) Defense reigns in Madison. Iowa began Big Ten play with what looked to be their toughest game on paper, a road game in Madison against Wisconsin, the reigning Big Ten West champions and preseason favorites to win the division. Iowa's offense struggled throughout -- they managed just 10 points -- but the defense put together one of their most impressive performances of the season, holding the Badgers to 6 points and forcing four turnovers, including a critical fumble with Wisconsin on the Iowa goal line, poised to punch in the go-ahead score. The game was an ugly, physical slog -- the ur-Big Ten game, in other words -- but winning it showed the mettle of this Iowa team early in the season.
4) Iowa makes a statement in Evanston. It wasn't a game that loomed as a key West Division clash before the season, but as it approached Iowa's mid-October showdown with Northwestern in Evanston emerged as a title-decider for the Big Ten West division. Northwestern began their season with a bang by upsetting Stanford and they followed that up with a 5-0 start. A 38-0 loss to Michigan the week before Iowa game took some of the luster from the match-up, but it was still a key game in the West race. Iowa entered the game down several offensive linemen, then lost Jordan Canzeri to an ankle injury early in the game. They responded with one of their most complete performances of the season, demolishing Northwestern, 40-10, behind a breakout performance from running back Akrum Wadley, 204 yards and 4 TDs on 26 carries. Iowa was rarely better on offense or defense than they were in this game.
5) 12-0. Iowa entered the final week of the season with a program-best 11-0 record, with just a road game against a new rival standing between them and the first ever 12-0 start -- and first undefeated regular season in almost 100 yards. Nebraska entered the game at 5-6, needing a win to guarantee bowl eligibility (they ended up getting a bowl bid anyway, thanks to the bowl game surplus) and eager to spoil Iowa's perfect season. Nebraska was an unassuming foe on paper, but they were probably a little better than their record suggests -- they knocked off Michigan State in Lincoln just a few weeks before the Iowa game, after all. In the end, Iowa rode a ballhawking defense (one that forced four interceptions) and some strong second-half running from Jordan Canzeri to a perfect regular season. And there was much rejoicing in Hawkeye-land.
6) The glory of defeat. The Rose Bowl is obviously designed to match up the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions, but when one of those teams is in the College Football Playoff, the champion's spot goes to the next-highest ranked team in the CFP rankings, so making the Rose Bowl becomes a bit of a beauty pageant and there's a need to impress the members of the playoff committee. Iowa came up short in the Big Ten Championship Game, but in defeat they managed to impress pundits (and playoff committee members) more than they had in 12 regular season wins. They battled Michigan State inch for inch and came up just short at the end. Their performance in that loss impressed the playoff committee members enough to leave them ranked ahead of Ohio State -- which enabled Iowa to make their first trip to the Rose Bowl in 25 years.