IOWA CITY, Iowa – It’s a perception that’s unfair to both parties. Still, it persists.
Iowa State wants it more than Iowa is the reasoning as to why the Cyclones have won 10 of the last 17 meetings and three of the last four. The notion is fueled by the Hawkeyes being favored every year and then usually going on to greater success than their rival.
Last season, despite being a double-digit underdogs that won just two games, Iowa State triumphed, 20-17, in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes played in a bowl game.
It’s difficult to weigh how emotions play into the outcome of any given game. But there’s no denying that the team that performs better most often wins. And with a 17-year sample size here, that’s a safe viewpoint.
But, again, saying one team desires victory more than the other shortchanges both sides. It takes away from Iowa State’s accomplishment and implies that the Hawkeyes don’t care.
It’s a very fragile dynamic when it comes to Iowa, whose long-time head coach, Kirk Ferentz, is very much a live-in-the-moment guy. He encourages his players to perform their best every week, regardless of the opponent. It’s that tunnel vision that has led to him becoming the second-winningest coach in program history.
The "Iowa-State-wants-it-more" view blossomed under former coach Dan McCarney, who it was rumored began preparing for the Hawkeyes in spring ball. His fiery personality contrasted an even-keeled Ferentz, whose calm demeanor has been viewed as one not capable of firing up his team enough in the rivalry.
All these puzzle pieces are put into place to explain what people can’t explain. Why does Iowa State often play its best game against Iowa?
I spoke with Hawkeye players at Tuesday’s press conference here at the Iowa football performance center. Some of their statements were contradictory in that they want it to be just another game while also understanding the importance of the outcome in the state.
It’s a difficult balance.
C.J. Beathard, Junior QB
"Essentially it’s just the next game on the schedule but everyone here knows the rivalry and how big of a game it is. It’s a trophy game for us and we want to get that trophy back in the building. It’s more than just a trophy. It means we out-worked them. We out-played them. I’m sure they want to win this game but we want to win it just as much as they do, if not more. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is, we want to win the game. You can’t say they want to win it more than we want to win."
Drew Ott, Senior DE
"We treat it like a big game. Every game is a big game but we really want to win this one just for state rights and it’s a trophy game so it’s big for us. I think that would be an unfair judgment (that Iowa State wants to win more). Every team wants to win every game so I think it would be shared equally."
Jacob Hillyer, Senior WR
"Our mindset is just to prepare every week likes it’s the biggest game. Just like last week, and this week and next week will be another big game. But for sure we do hear some outside noise because it’s the instate rivalry that this game is a little bit bigger. It’s unfair (to say ISU wants to win more). Give them their credit. Their a good team. And we enjoy it competition wise to show up on Saturday to play a good team. But I think our hard work will show out who wants it more on Saturday."
Travis Perry, Senior LB
"I think every team in college football wants to win every game. You only get 12 guaranteed opportunities and you want to go out there and win. I don’t really look at it that any team wants to win more. Both teams are competing hard to try to win. One team doesn’t want it any more than the other. Being an in-state game, there’s going to be a lot of energy. It’s going to be fired up. And both teams will be ready to go at kickoff."
Greg Mabin, Junior CB
"Every game in college football is a big game. We’re treating this like it’s every other game. It’s still big but we’re not going to do anything different or anything special for it. We’re going to got out there to do our jobs, we’re going to run to the ball, we’re going to hit them hard and we’re going to execute."
Jordan Canzeri, Senior RB
"It’s going to be a great game. We know they’re going to play good against us but that’s not any difference to us. We know it’s a trophy game but we’re going to play the same way we’re going to play with any other team. We’re going to play as hard as possible right away and get the job done."