Iowa had overcome seemingly every manner of adversity en route to its 9-0 start -- last-second deficits, four-interception quarters, season-ending injuries to two running backs -- but Saturday against Northwestern, the Hawkeyes finally suffered a setback they couldn't overcome: Losing their starting quarterback.
Prior to that play, the Hawkeyes led 10-0 thanks in part to a 74-yard Stanzi touchdown pass on the third play of the game. With the Wildcats' own quarterback,
Then Stanzi went down, and Iowa's BCS championship hopes -- and possibly even its Rose Bowl hopes -- gradually went down with him.
With little-used redshirt freshman
The oft-criticized Stanzi committed a combined seven turnovers over the past two weeks, but he was the unquestioned leader of Iowa's offense. His game-winning touchdown pass against Michigan State averted one scare, and his fourth-quarter eruption last week against Indiana helped Iowa survive another. His injury transformed what looked like a possible yawner early into one of the biggest upsets of the 2009 season.
By knocking off Iowa for the second straight season and fourth time in the past five years, Northwestern (6-4) -- whose lone previous conference wins required enormous comebacks against Purdue and Indiana -- assured itself a second straight bowl berth for the first time since its back-to-back Big Ten title seasons in 1995 and '96. It's a huge victory for fourth-year coach
Iowa (9-1), on the other hand, is suddenly in danger of seeing its storybook season end in nightmarish fashion. The Hawkeyes travel to No. 15 Ohio State next week. If Stanzi can't play, it's tough to imagine Iowa beating the Buckeyes. And a second Iowa loss would almost certainly send the winner of Saturday's Buckeyes-Penn State game to Pasadena.
The Hawkeyes have overcome no shortage of hurdles so far. They may be about to face their biggest one yet.