IOWA CITY, Iowa – Luckily, mullets, Member’s Only jackets and stonewashed jeans left with the 1980s. And along with favorable fashion changes, Northwestern football rose from the ashes after that decade concluded.
The Wildcats ended a 59-year streak without a conference championship by winning the Big Ten in 1995 and ’96. They did it again in ’00.
While Northwestern hasn’t won a title since that six-year stretch, it’s no longer the league’s punching bag. It’s been in a bowl game after 7 of the last 12 years. Indiana (1), Illinois (4) and Purdue (6) are conference members who have been to fewer of them in that time.
The Wildcats still face a perception that they’re stuck back in the Miami Vice days. Other fan bases view it as an upset to lose to them.
"I think a lot of people maybe fall victim to remembering (former Iowa QB) Chuck Long throwing for 17 touchdowns in that one game, whatever year that was, ’84 or ’85. They weren’t very good," Hawkeye Head Coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Ferentz coached Iowa’s offensive line during the 80s. When he returned as the head coach in ’99, the landscape had changed dramatically.
"Not to be disrespectful, but I think sometimes we have a perception problem here. Like some people are living in the 80s," he said.
Hayden Fry helped open up the Big Ten from Ohio State and Michigan total dominance by rebuilding Iowa in the 80s. It opened the door for a school like Northwestern to move up the standings.
Gary Barnett coached the Wildcats’ rise. He’s set to serve as the team’s honorary captain Saturday as the program pays tribute to the 20th anniversary of their breakthrough title in ’95 at homecoming against the rival Hawkeyes (11 a.m., ABC).
"They have been really good since that time. They have had a few exceptions, but I have a ton of respect for Gary Barnett. I knew Gary when he was an assistant. We used to recruit against each other. What he did there is phenomenal. To me it’s very similar to what Barry (Alvarez) did at Wisconsin," Ferentz said.
Current Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald played linebacker on the ’95 title team. He and Barnett have said they were inspired to raise the level of play at the school after watching the Hawkeyes rebirth in the 80s.
This year’s match-up pits the No. 17 Hawkeyes (6-0 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) against No. 20 Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) in a key West Division clash. These teams won a combined 12 games all of last year before turning things around.
"They’ve put themselves in that position by the way they’ve played. They’ve won their games. They’ve found ways to win close games, tough games," Fitzgerald said. "That’s a hallmark of Kirk (Ferentz’s) teams. They’re tough. They’re physical. They do what they do. They do it well. They execute fundamentally. They don’t make mistakes. They typically don’t beat themselves. You’ve got to execute to beat them."
The same could be said for the Wildcats, who are the least penalized team in the conference. They’re fifth in turnover margin (+3) while Iowa sits fourth (+5).
Northwestern owns two victories this season against current Top 25 teams. They’re the only blemishes for No. 15 Stanford and No. 25 Duke.
The Wildcats have defeated Iowa in four of their last seven meetings. They’ve won the last two in Evanston.
"Some people fall victim, like back in the 80s. Those days are long gone. That stuff is ancient history. I think there’s a little of that stigma sometimes. Some of those games they beat us, they were pretty good. Wasn’t like we were terrible, but they were really good," Ferentz said.
Time, TV, Announcers: 11 a.m. CT on ABC with Dave Pasch, Brian Griese and Tom Luginbill.
The Series: Iowa holds a 49-24-3 edge after last year’s 48-7 win in Iowa City.
Betting Line: Iowa opened as a 3-point favorite, it quickly dropped to a pick ’em and popped back to the Hawkeyes by 2.5 on Wednesday.
-Northwestern is 5-12 Against The Spread in its last 17 home games.
-Iowa is 2-6 Straight Up in its last 8 games at Northwestern.
Match-up to Watch: Like most weeks, we could go in a few directions here.
Iowa’s inexperienced offensive tackles face once of the conference’s best pass rushers in Wildcat DE Deonte Gibson. They need to keep him and the rest of Northwestern’s strong front seven off of banged up quarterback C.J. Beathard.
While keeping their signal caller upright remains important, the Hawkeyes’ run defense probably faces the best rush offense and running back to date. Iowa ranks second in the Big Ten against the run (78.0 YPG) while the Wildcats boast the No. 2 run offense (213.7 YPG) despite being limited to 38 yards in a 38-0 loss at Michigan last week.
Northwestern Sophomore Justin Jackson leads the nation with 150 carries. He ranks fourth in the conference with 661 rushing yards.
With a freshman quarterback in Clayton Thorson, the Wildcats rely on Jackson to relieve pressure from him. Iowa’s chances of victory increase greatly if Northwestern is forced to pass because its back is bottled up.
Take Note: Iowa allowed a rushing touchdown for the first time this season in Week 6 against Illinois. Boston College and Florida State are the only other two schools in the country to allow only a single rushing touchdown.
Take Note, Take Two: Iowa is 6-0 for the seventh time in school history, and is aiming to start the season 7-0 for the fifth time in program history. Iowa started 9-0 in 2009, its best start in school history. The Hawkeyes were 7-0 in 1985, 1922, and 1921.
Non-Sports Related: The movie "Mean Girls" was set in Evanston, IL but shot entirely in Canada.
Did You Know?: Each year, Northwestern University puts on the nation’s largest student musical. Once a fundraiser for dolphins, the show has morphed into a yearly production of a Broadway musical. Past performers include alumni David Schwimmer, Ann Margret, Tony Randal, and Warren Beatty.
Did You Also Know?: Northwestern has a Happiness Club whose members are dedicated to cheering the student body with free hugs and cheery beverages.
Northwestern Wins If… runs the ball effectively.
Iowa Wins If… it stops the run.
Overview: I predicted Northwestern to be one of the Hawkeyes’ losses before the season. When the Wildcats started 5-0 and reached No. 14 in the country a week ago, I was confident I’d stick with that prognostication.
Since then, the Wildcats have been blown out, 38-0, at Michigan. Iowa moved ahead of them in the rankings and standings. I began to lean its way last weekend.
Then, Tuesday rolled around. Ferentz announced his team’s injury report. Yikes.
Iowa will be without five players who started the season opener against Illinois State. Drew Ott (season-ending knee injury), Boone Myers (undisclosed), Ike Boettger (ankle), LeShun Daniels (ankle) and Tevaun Smith (knee) all were ruled out by the coach. Tight end Jake Duzey (knee) was expected to be limited and quarterback C.J. Beathard has been less than 100 percent since the Pitt game on Sept. 19.
I like the "Next Man In" mantra long used by the Hawkeyes. It empowers everybody on the team and highlights everyone’s investment in reaching goals.
That said, this isn’t one or two next men in. It’s the best defensive player, two offensive tackles, the top receiver and one of the top two running backs. There’s a reason they’re starters.
The Hawkeyes appear like a team of destiny. Maybe they can overcome the health concerns. I’m just not sure they can against the best team they’ve faced this season on the road.
Prediction: Northwestern 24, IOWA 20.