Seeing is believing

The question originated locally during the summer months, but has since spread like wildfire across the entire state.

Just how good is the Fort Dodge football team?

The Dodgers are currently ranked fourth in Class 4A with a 4-0 record. Because we aren’t talking about a traditional, resource-driven power like Valley, Dowling, Ankeny or Waukee, there are both skeptics and critics – just like there were for eventual 2009 state finalist Marshalltown, or the consensus Top-5 Mason City squad of 2002.

It’s not that the Dodgers have struggled in recent years. After all, this is the fourth time in the last seven seasons that head coach Matt Miller’s squad has cracked the Top-10.

In this sport, though, there is a big difference between being rated in the 6-10 range and establishing yourself as a UNI-Dome contender. For as many quality teams as this program has produced over the last quarter-century – 1989, ’90, ’93, ’94, 2000, ’05, ’08, ’09, ’10, ’14 were all legitimate, playoff-caliber groups – this is the first to reach the Associated Press Top-5 in 31 years.

Adding a little spice to the equation, these Dodgers aren’t just winning – they’ve been pounding opponents into submission. We’re a full month into the season, yet the starters have only played together for nine complete quarters out of a possible 16.

Fort Dodge has out-scored Sioux City West, Sioux City North, Waterloo West and Waterloo East by a combined point total of 171-0 in the first half alone. The cumulative numbers are downright intimidating: the Dodgers rank at the top of 4A in scoring, scoring margin, total offense, yards per play, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, total defense and scoring defense.

Granted, Miller’s ballclub hasn’t faced a murderer’s row of opponents to date. But Fort Dodge can only play the teams on its schedule. And so far, the Dodgers have shown very few weaknesses and no sign of letting their guard down. The intensity and focus has been palpable since the first snap of the season.

Five years ago, when FDSH went 8-1 and captured its first outright CIML conference championship ever on the gridiron, I reminded Dodger fans to catch as many games as possible in person while they still had the chance. This team deserves the same sales pitch.

There are only three guaranteed home dates left on the schedule, beginning with this Friday’s contest. The weather is supposed to be perfect. Fort Dodge is facing arch rival Mason City for its district opener, with the Decker Sporting Goods traveling trophy on the line.

Just how good is the Fort Dodge football team? The question is understandable, but should probably be rephrased given what we already know.

How much better will the Dodgers get in the weeks to come? Go see for yourself and find out.

GOTTA HAVE HEART: Winning is the simplest way to pacify a football fan, meaning Iowa’s 3-0 record has the Hawkeye faithful back on board with head coach Kirk Ferentz’s program.

On the surface, consecutive victories over Illinois State, Iowa State and Pittsburgh appear to be the main reason that black and gold backers are doing an about-face.

I don’t think it’s quite that basic.

The Hawks are showing a collective spirit and emotion that’s been missing from the equation in recent memory. That starts with Ferentz, who seems to have gone from stoic and disconnected to empathetic and soulful.

The bottom line in this business is still wins and losses. But Iowa appeared to also lose its identity during a recent four-year stretch that included a 26-25 overall record and no bowl victories.

It’s still relatively early, but Ferentz and the Hawks seem to have found their way again. They’re playing inspired football, which has led to a strong start.

Execution is important, but so is passionate play. Iowa fans are seeing enough of the former and a lot of the latter, which has, in turn, restored their belief in Ferentz and the program.

AN EARLY CROSSROADS: Iowa State should be 2-1 at worst heading into its bye week.

Instead, the Cyclones are taking a long look in the mirror after Saturday’s devastating double-overtime loss at Toledo.

Cole Netten missed a field goal attempt that would’ve sent the Cyclones back to Ames a winner at the end of regulation. Netten is a player in the blame game, but relatively speaking, it’s a bit role.

Head coach Paul Rhoads needs to decide if Sam Richardson is the quarterback that will keep the program – and quite possibly his job – afloat. Richardson took an inexcusable sack on fourth-and-goal that finished Iowa State’s chances against the Rockets. The Cyclones outgained and outplayed Toledo, but never got out of their own way.

The ground game is suspect, thanks to an unproven stable of running backs and a shaky offensive line. But a fifth-year senior signal caller has to be better and more consistent than Richardson, especially with a deep corps of receivers at his disposal.

I really don’t like singling out a quarterback, because I feel like either the successes or failures of a football team are much more complicated than who is under center. In this case, though, Rhoads might want to start giving back-up quarterback Joel Lanning a serious look.

Statistically speaking, Richardson has been a relatively productive quarterback for ISU. The Cyclones are just 5-21 overall and 0-15 in Big 12 play, however, with Richardson in the starting lineup.

Switching gears and giving the keys to Lanning may not be the solution that turns everything around, but Rhoads needs to start somewhere – before it’s too late.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net