IOWA CITY, Iowa – So much has happened, both good and bad, since the Iowa football team last played against Illinois at Kinnick Stadium on Oct. 13, 2007.
Michigan has had four different head football coaches during that time, while Penn State and Wisconsin have had three.
Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers all have since joined the Big Ten Conference, which now has two seven-team divisions called the East and West Divisions.
The Big Ten has gone from calling its two divisions the Legends and Leaders to simply east and west after dividing the conference by geography the second time.
Todd Lickliter has come and gone as the Iowa men’s basketball coach.
NBA star LeBron James has gone from playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat and now back to Cleveland again.
Marshal Yanda has gone from being an unheralded NFL rookie offensive linemen in 2007 to one of the best players in the league at his position.
Jerry Sandusky has gone from being a retired and celebrated former Penn State defensive coordinator to a convicted felon in the wake of the Penn State child rape scandal, which also destroyed Joe Paterno’s once-proud legacy.
Barack Obama has started and almost finished consecutive terms as President of the United States.
The mortgage debt crisis, which devastated our economy, has come and gone, forever changing the way real estate is sold.
Twitter has gone from being a seldom-used form of communication after its creation in 2006 to one of the leading social networking sites and services.
Bill Snyder has gone from being retired as the Kansas State football coach from 2006-08 to coaching the Wildcats again, now in his 24th season overall after returning to Kansas State in 2009.
Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz has changed all of his assistants except three with Phil Parker, Reese Morgan and Chris Doyle the only holdovers from the original staff.
Iowa’s football facilities have gone from being outdated to outstanding, thanks to renovations at Kinnick Stadium and to the new $55 million, 178-square foot facility that was built exclusively for football.
I could go on and on, but you get the point.
Iowa and Illinois, despite being long-time Big Ten border rivals and despite only being separated by about a 3 ½ drive by car, have gone nearly a decade without the Illini playing at Kinnick Stadium. The teams finally met last season for the first time since 2008 with Iowa prevailing 30-14 in Champaign, Ill.
It’s ridiculous that two border rivals could go that long without facing each other, but that’s show business. We’re all at the mercy of television these days.
As for Saturday’s game, it concerns me for lots of reasons, not the least of which is timing and circumstance.
If ever there was a spot on the Iowa’s 2015 schedule that screamed of a letdown, it’s Saturday’s homecoming game against Illinois at Kinnick Stadium. The game comes a week after Iowa’s 10-6 victory at Wisconsin and a week before next Saturday’s showdown at Northwestern, whose 5-0 record is even a bigger surprise than Iowa’s 5-0 mark.
The Hawkeyes also will be playing at home, another reason to feel safe and secure.
Why am I being so paranoid?
Because I’ve hardly given any consideration that Iowa might lose to Illinois.
And if I’m thinking that way, it’s fair to assume that some Iowa fans are thinking that way, too, because it’s unusual for me to be this confident.
And if I’m thinking that way, and fans are thinking that way, it makes you wonder about the Iowa players because they’re only human. No matter how much Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz tries to guard against a letdown, it’s always a possibility.
“If we’re going to be a successful football team, if we want to be playing in November in games that are really significant, one thing that we’re going to have to do is have the ability to turn our attention quickly to our next opponent and another big challenge, and that’s really what conference play is all about,” Ferentz said.
This game will test Iowa’s character and maturity because it’s a game the Hawkeyes are expected to win. A victory probably wouldn’t lift Iowa in the rankings very much, but a loss would make Iowa’s current run in the polls short-lived.
Even with all the controversy that festered throughout Tim Beckman’s time as head coach, Illinois still has managed to improve with each season, winning two, four and six games in Beckman’s first three seasons, respectively. Illinois has won 10 games since the start of last season. So the program hardly is in shambles under interim head coach Bill Cubit, who was promoted from offensive coordinator after Beckman was fired in August.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Ferentz said of Cubit, who used to be the head coach at Western Michigan where he led the Broncos to a 28-19 victory over Iowa in the 2007 regular-season finale.
Illinois has been rocked by injuries, most notably star receiver Mike Dudek is out for the season with a knee injury that he suffered in spring practice. Senior running back Josh Ferguson is also expected to miss Saturday’s game because of an injury.
Iowa is also dealing with an injury to its top receiver with senior Tevaun Smith not expected to return until after the bye week in late October because of a knee injury.
The Hawkeyes also are coming off their worst offensive output of the season as they were held to just 221 yards against Wisconsin. Junior quarterback C.J. Beathard only completed 9-of-21 passes for 77 yards, and yet Iowa still prevailed.
“It shows our willingness to win,” Beathard said. “We feel like we can got out there and if the offense is struggling like it did Saturday the defense will pick us up. And the same thing goes if the defense struggles, the offense will pick them up.
“They just shows how close we are as a team. We feel good with our team right now, and we’ve got a lot of confidence and trust in each other and it kind of shows on the field.”
Beathard sounds determined to avoid a letdown. He didn’t get too excited when Iowa cracked the polls this week for the first since 2010.
“It wasn’t nothing crazy,” Beathard said of the reaction to being ranked. “I mean, obviously, it’s cool to be ranked. But right now, the rankings don’t really mean anything. You’re five games into the season and you’ve still got seven games left. And there are a lot of big game in there. And you just have to continue to win.
“I guess it shows that you’re doing something right and something good this early in the season if you are ranked.”
Lose to Illinois, though, and it’s back to being unranked.