The Monday Kickoff: The Best Stories Of 2019

Iowa's players celebrate after the Holiday Bowl win over USC. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

John Bohnenkamp

Iowa scored just three points in a loss to Michigan on Oct. 5.

The Hawkeyes scored 12 points in a loss at home to Penn State the following week.

Quarterback Nate Stanley was inches from getting in for a two-point conversion that would have tied the game late in a 24-22 loss at Wisconsin.

The margin of error is always slim in college football, and it's always easy to what-if at the end of the season.

But we won't do that here at the Monday Kickoff. Iowa finished 10-3 overall after Friday's 49-24 win over USC in the Holiday Bowl, closing with a four-game winning streak.

It was Iowa's sixth 10-win season since Kirk Ferentz took over in 1999. It completes a run of 47 wins over five seasons, the best five-season stretch in program history.

Iowa has won three consecutive bowl games, tying its longest such streak in program history. Ferentz has won nine bowl games since 2001 — only Ohio State (10) has won more in that time frame.

So, what-if if you want, but this season produced some great moments, and great stories. 

A look at the best of 2019:

Keith Duncan's season

Let's lead this look back on the season with a look at the kicker.

What we knew of Keith Duncan at the beginning of the season was he had made the game-winning kick against Michigan in 2016, and for the last two seasons was behind Miguel Recinos on the depth chart.

What Duncan did this season proved to be historic.

He made 29 field goals, the most in school and Big Ten history. It was the sixth highest total in NCAA single-season history.

Duncan finished with 119 points, third-most all-time in program history.

Oh, and he was a consensus All-American while also winning the Big Ten's kicker of the year award.

He beat Nebraska with a last-second field goal. He kicked four field goals in an 18-17 win over Iowa State. He had four against Illinois.

The story of the year? It's Keith Duncan.

Stanley's career

Nate Stanley became only the second Iowa quarterback to win three bowl games — Ricky Stanzi was the other.

Stanley threw for 213 yards and two touchdowns in the Holiday Bowl. He was 18-of-27 passing, managing the game with the experience of a player who never missed a start in his final three seasons.

Stanley never lost in rivalry games against Iowa State, Nebraska and Minnesota. His final record in trophy/bowl games was 12-3 (all three losses were to Wisconsin).

Some of the final Stanley numbers:

Record: 27-12 (No. 2 in most wins at Iowa)

Record in bowl games: 3-0 (One of two quarterbacks to win three)

2019 passing yards: 2,951 (His single-season career high, sixth-best in school history)

Career passing yards: 8,302 (No. 2 on Iowa's all-time list)

Career TD passes: 68 (No. 2 on Iowa's all-time list)

• Career total offense: 8,198 yards (No. 3 on Iowa's all-time list)

"Probably the first word that comes to my mind would be steadiness and dependability ... I guess that's two words," Ferentz said on the Thursday before the Holiday Bowl. "They go hand-in-hand. He's just extremely steady. He's so dependable."

Epenesa's finish

Defensive end A.J. Epenesa had 2 1/2 sacks in Friday's game, finishing the season with 11 1/2, the most by any Hawkeye since Adrian Clayborn had 11 1/2 in 2009.

What was impressive with how Epenesa closed the season. He had 8 1/2 sacks over the final four games, all Iowa wins.

Epenesa was blocked, chipped, and double-teamed all season. Yet he finished 2019 with 49 tackles, including 14 1/2 for loss.

His decision on whether to skip his final season to go to the NFL is looming. Epenesa has had a brilliant career. He's played his way into a big payday as a professional.

His dominance down the stretch helped improved his stock.

The quiet season of Kristian Welch

The final numbers for the senior middle linebacker — a team-high 87 tackles. He had nine for loss, three sacks, and three pass breakups.

He did all of that while missing three games because of a midseason injury.

Iowa's defense was one of the nation's best. Welch was the anchor in the middle, always disruptive.

Iowa's 2020 defense is going to be determined by many factors, but finding Welch's replacement is going to be one of the big things to watch in the spring and summer.

The finish

The loss to Wisconsin all but ended Iowa's Big Ten West Division hopes, and there were any number of scenarios to how the season would finish.

Except all the Hawkeyes did was stun undefeated Minnesota at home, defeat Illinois, win on the road at Nebraska after losing a second-half lead, then pulling away in the second half in the crushing of USC.

The Hawkeyes seemed relaxed during those final weeks, and played their best football.

Their goal, after their championship goals were snuffed, was to win 10 games, and they did just that.

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