The Hawkeyes clinched the Big Ten West with a game to spare and the road to getting back to Indianapolis was anything but easy. Suspensions, in-season coaching changes and injuries to their top players didn’t derail the season. And the emotions of a valiant journey came pouring out.

“I just feel like this team’s been through so much this season,” Jay Higgins said. “This is a testament to how we stayed together in the locker room. I feel like we’re player-led, we’re led by a good head coach. I feel like we did a good job staying together this year. We had countless opportunities where guys could have starting separating, but that never happened.”

“As a team we’ve gone through a lot this year and it just shows the resiliency of this team,” Deacon Hill said. “Just how determined everybody is, we just keep pushing forward each and every day.”

“We’re just an improvement-driven team,” Joe Evans said. “I’m just so proud of those guys. It was every single day. It was that 12-10 loss to Minnesota and it was that same stuff and we just kept working and working.”

“But this group is really – they’ve endured a lot,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Coming out of State College, things weren’t looking too good for us. And then going into our bye week, things weren’t looking too good. But the guys don’t buy that narrative. They don’t buy into all the stuff out there.”

“And that’s really what it gets back to, when you work with quality people that are looking forward, not backwards, and you’ve got a chance.”

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Iowa linebacker Jay Higgins (34) runs off the field after an NCAA college football game against Illinois, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 15-13. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)