By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – In late July, I did something that irritates, confuses, annoys, amuses and bewilders some Hawkeye fans.
I picked the Iowa State football team to defeat Iowa on Sept. 9 in Ames.
This column was written less than 48 hours from Saturday’s much-anticipated 11 a.m. kickoff and I’m sticking with my pick, but will admit that I’m wavering.
I keep picturing Iowa running back Akrum Wadley leaving Cyclone defenders grabbing for air and Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell leaving absolutely nothing left on the field with regard to energy and effort.
That’s a potent combination. But I’m still not changing my prediction because what’s the point in making a prediction if you change it barely a month later?
Common sense says that Iowa should control the line of scrimmage on both sides, and that its rushing attack and front seven on defense both should have clear advantages.
But in this rivalry, common sense often gives way to the weird and improbable, and usually at the expense of Iowa, as evidenced by Kirk Ferentz’s 9-9 record against the Cyclones.
Both teams are 1-0 with Iowa coming of a 24-3 victory over Wyoming last Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, while Iowa State whipped Northern Iowa 42-24 on the same day in Ames.
“Iowa State was very, very impressive in their opening night victory,” Ferentz said on Tuesday. “The other night they played a really good football game. And on top of that, we're traveling to go a place that's very, very tough to play. We've been there many times every other year, and it's always a tough environment. Those two things combined offer us a real big challenge right now.”
This isn’t the first time that I’ve picked Iowa State to defeat Iowa in football, but it always seems like the first time because some react as if I’m crazy or that I'm just trying to be contrary. I still get the your-freaking-kidding-me looks from some who apparently can’t bring themselves to believe that Iowa State might win despite the series being tied 10-10 over the past two decades.
What more will it take than two decades of back and forth to bury the misguided belief that Iowa is above losing to Iowa State?
I would prefer that Iowa wins on Saturday from a personal and from a professional standpoint. But when I made my prediction in late July, my head didn’t agree with my heart.
My reasons for picking the Cyclones include home-field advantage, its talent and experience at the skill positions with players such as receiver Allen Lazard, running back David Montgomery and cornerback Brian Peavy; Iowa’s lack of experience at quarterback and at receiver, and because only once since 1998 has Iowa State lost three consecutive games to Iowa.
That happened from 2008-10 and could happen again on Saturday, but the series is tied 3-3 over the past six games.
Iowa State also has stability at quarterback where junior Jacob Park is now the starter, while last year’s starter, Joel Lanning, has switched to linebacker, although Lanning still could be used at quarterback in special situations.
“Lazard, obviously, is the guy they want to get the ball to,” Iowa linebacker Ben Niemann said of the 6-foot-5, 222-pound Urbandale native. “A big, physical guy who can go up and get the ball. They’re going to throw jump balls, so we’re going to have to play the ball in the air.
“They have some guys in the slot that are quick and can move, and really at all skills positions. Their (running) back is good, too, and their quarterback situation is different now that Lanning has moved over to defense. But they’re improve there.”
Another thing that influenced my pick is that Matt Campbell seems poised for a signature win in his second season as the Iowa State head coach.
Ferentz earned his first signature win in his second season at Iowa in 2000, a 21-16 victory over then No. 25 Michigan State at Kinnick Stadium.
Ferentz entered that game with a 1-15 record as the Iowa coach, whereas Campbell is 4-9 at Iowa State, with arguably his worst loss being the 42-3 drubbing against Iowa last season at Kinnick Stadium.
“I’m not an expert but just an outsider's opinion, it looks like they transitioned a lot faster than we did,” Ferentz said. “It took us quite a while to get some traction. From my vantage point, midseason on, they were playing much better. The first half of the season, you take all those tapes, really and just throw them out. They are not much value for us to look at.
“But I think midseason on, they started to – people kind of started embracing what they were doing, what the staff was selling, at least watching on film. They started playing together and got really positive results. Had a couple really good wins, but also losing to Oklahoma, Kansas State the way they did; they were playing and certainly we saw further progress Saturday. Looked like a really good football team on Saturday.”
The Cyclones will be in serious trouble if Iowa avoids turnovers and has a dominant rushing attack because that would help protect quarterback Nate Stanley, who will be making his first start on the road. Ground and pound with few turnovers is the one scenario that probably could withstand the strange and unusual that often occurs in this game at Iowa's expense.
Should that happen and Iowa prevails, I’ll be the first to say I was wrong. Actually, with Twitter, I probably won’t be the first to say it.
Prediction: Iowa State 24, Iowa 23