Iowa running back Jordan Canzeri (33) breaks a tackle by Nebraska linebacker Chris Weber (49) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Lincoln, Neb., Friday, Nov. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Nati Harnik
November 28, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) This incredible football season unfolding for third-ranked Iowa has left Jordan Canzeri in a reflective mood.

The running back has missed so much playing time because of injuries over his time in Iowa City that while everyone whose wardrobe includes black and old gold was celebrating the best regular season in 93 years, he was simply grateful to be part of it all.

Canzeri hasn't escaped injury problems in his senior season, yet he's played a huge role in Iowa (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten, No. 4 CFP) getting this far. He had long touchdown runs on back-to-back plays in Friday's 28-20 win over Nebraska and finished with 140 yards on 17 carries. He's the team's season rushing leader at 96.4 yards a game, and he's run for 12 touchdowns.

''It's a tough thing to even think about because sadly there are some people who go through things I have - injuries, tough times in their lives - but they don't see the positive outcome in the end,'' Canzeri said. ''So it's a continual grind for me. For me to be lucky and blessed that I've been given this opportunity, and as a whole we've had this success.''

Next Saturday he'll be in Indianapolis as Iowa plays sixth-ranked Michigan State (11-1, 7-1, No. 5 CFP) for its first conference championship since 2004 and likely a spot in the College Football Playoff. The accomplishment was almost unimaginable coming into the season after the Hawkeyes lost five of the last seven while going 7-6 in 2014.

Canzeri arrived at Iowa from Troy, New York, in 2011 as a lightly regarded two-star recruit. He got his first start in the Insight Bowl loss to Oklahoma after starter Marcus Coker was suspended. But Canzeri injured a knee the following spring and was forced to redshirt in 2012.

Canzeri in 2013 was the backup to Mark Weisman and rushed for 481 yards, and he ran for 494 yards last season but had to play through heel and ankle injuries.

The plan for Canzeri this season was to be a third-down, change-of-pace back behind LeShun Daniels. But ankle problems limited Daniels early, and Canzeri started the third through seventh games. He ran a career-high 26 times for 125 yards in the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin and the next week carried a school-record 43 times for 256 yards against Illinois.

Just when Canzeri's career was at its highest point, he injured his ankle in the first quarter against Northwestern and missed the next two games.

Daniels started the last three games and alternated with Canzeri. Against Nebraska, Canzeri was the hot hand and the only Iowa running back to get carries in the second half.

His two biggest plays came on consecutive snaps in the third quarter. He followed his fullback left both times and went untouched for TDs of 29 and 68 yards to put the Hawkeyes in control.

''They're a great defense that had a lot of personnel up front that are tough and physical,'' Canzeri said. ''We knew the creases would be there if we continued to pound the ball and grind. It's that next-play mentality. Even if we got stopped, just focus on the next series. It was a great feeling to be able to do that and help out my team. I barely did anything at all. All I did was run.''

And he'll run some more next week in Indianapolis.

''When you put yourself in that mindset of being positive all the time, no matter the circumstances that come your way, great things can happen,'' he said.

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AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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