IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Each day when University of Iowa football players walk into the Hayden Fry Football Complex, there is a not-so-subtle reminder motivating them for the 2012 season: four empty trophy cases.
"That is a big focus for us," said UI senior quarterback James Vandenberg, who threw for 3,022 yards and 25 touchdowns in his first season as a starter in 2011. "Those are all games that we look forward to playing every year, great border rivalries. It's a reminder every day seeing those empty trophy cases."
For the first time since 2000, the Hawkeyes are without at least one of the four rivalry trophies.
Iowa State claimed the Cy-Hawk Trophy last September in Ames, outlasting the Hawkeyes in three overtimes, 44-41. Wisconsin hoisted the Heartland Trophy during the 2010 season, edging Iowa, 31-30, inside Kinnick Stadium. Minnesota won its second straight Floyd of Rosedale matchup, downing the Hawkeyes, 22-21, on Oct. 29 in Minneapolis, and Nebraska won the inaugural Heroes Trophy on Nov. 25 in Lincoln, 20-7.
"Unfortunately, that's a reminder that we haven't been winning," said UI senior center James Ferentz. "We haven't been doing a great job; we've been playing below-average football. With this being my last time around, we're looking forward to going out, turning the course and trying to win a Big Ten championship."
Outside of the UI locker room, expectations are lukewarm for the 2012 Hawkeyes. Athlon Sports and the preseason media poll both have the Hawkeyes fourth in the Legends Division. Whether there is preseason hype, or lack thereof, the Iowa mantra remains the same.
"When there are no expectations, it's a little easier to ignore the noise," said Ferentz. "When you have a good season, the next season you're going to be ranked higher and people have high expectations. When you have a mediocre year, people overlook you a little bit. Either way, we need to ignore that noise, focus on our goals as a team, and try to live up to our standards."
With no current player on the Hawkeye roster with a Big Ten title on their resume, Ferentz says the team knows it must do more than ever to succeed.
"We laid it out," said Ferentz. "None of us have been on a Big Ten championship team, and none of us know what it takes. We need to over prepare and do more than what we think is necessary. In August during fall camp, we need to improve more than we ever have."
With the loss of 12 starters, Vandenberg acknowledges that the Hawkeyes are going to be a young team, but his goals remain the same.
"You want to win every game you play," he said. "That's not realistic every year, but that's the goal. We have a really tight-knit group of seniors and want to go out the right way. That's not 7-5 (overall) or 4-4 in the Big Ten."
While the three trophy games (Iowa will not play Wisconsin until Nov. 2, 2013) will surely be circled on the 2012 schedule, Ferentz says the Hawkeyes need to maintain their focus on a week-to-week basis.
"It is going to be one step at a time, and the first step is Northern Illinois," he said. "We need to be ready to play them and try to get a win."
Iowa opens the season against Northern Illinois in Chicago's Soldier Field on Sept. 1, beginning at 2:30 p.m. (CT). The game will be televised on ESPNU.
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