Iowa limps to 7-6 finish after bowl loss to Tennessee

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said in December that finishing 7-5 was ''not acceptable.''

So what does a 7-6 season capped by a blowout loss in a January bowl game mean for the Hawkeyes?

Whatever momentum Iowa had heading into 2014 is gone. The Hawkeyes didn't beat an FBS team with a winning record, and their only home sellout came when rival Iowa State visited Iowa City.

The Hawkeyes were expected to challenge for the Big Ten West title this season. But they now look like they need major improvement on both sides of the ball simply to be competitive in 2015.

''I don't believe it's going to go down the drain. That's what I believe and how I live. It's how I look at the world,'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said after losing to Tennessee 45-28 in the TaxSlayer Bowl Friday.

Most Hawkeyes fans aren't nearly so optimistic.

They saw a team exposed by the Volunteers in Jacksonville.

Iowa allowed 28 points in the first 18 minutes, and its offense failed to generate much of anything under quarterbacks Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard.

The result was one of the worst losses for Iowa in Ferentz's 16 seasons as coach.

There were plenty of defeats that were tough to swallow in 2014.

They lost at home to an Iowa State team that finished 2-10; fell at Minnesota by 37 points; and dropped back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Nebraska when two victories would have earned them a spot in the league title game.

Iowa is 34-30 since Ferentz signed what was essentially a lifetime contract extension prior to the 2010 season. Ferentz still has five years and roughly $20 million left on his deal - including a prohibitive buyout at just over $13 million.

''We're 7-6. We've been 7-6 before. We've been 4-8. We've been 11-1, 11-2. That's where we're at. Your record is what you say it is, your record says what you are, according to Bill Parcells. We came up short this year in several games,'' Ferentz said.

The same thing might happen in 2015 if Iowa can't find replacements for several players it'll lose to graduation.

Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff will likely be a first-round pick in the NFL draft. Standout defensive tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat will also move on, as will wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley.

Iowa's schedule looks manageable in 2015. The Hawkeyes avoid Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State, and Pittsburgh, Maryland and Minnesota have to visit Kinnick Stadium.

But a favorable schedule was one of the main reasons Iowa was among the preseason favorites in the West this season. The Hawkeyes couldn't take advantage, and now they head into one of the most crucial offseasons in the Ferentz era still searching for answers.

''I feel, as the fans feel, great disappointment. I feel the pain of losing (Friday) and of not meeting the expectations this year. But what I do see are student-athletes who are 100 percent behind their coach. I see a group of coaches are still behind each other and that's important. Because I've been around programs where a coach loses a team, and that's not the case at Iowa,'' Barta said.

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP

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