By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – There are some things I will never understand, including Algebra, using sour cream and blue cheese as complementary food items and Iowa fans who don’t consider Wisconsin as their most despised Big Ten rival in football.
How can it not be Wisconsin under the circumstances?
How can it not be the Wisconsin program whose athletic director turned Wisconsin into a national power as its former head football coach by taking two key members from Hayden Fry’s staff at Iowa and combining forces to turn the Badgers into a better version of Iowa?
How can it not be the program that has won more Rose Bowls since 1993 than Iowa has ever?
How can it not be the program that has won five of the last six games against Iowa, including the last four at Kinnick Stadium?
How can it not be the program that used a fake punt to defeat Iowa 31-30 in 2010 at Kinnick Stadium with former Iowa defensive lineman Bret Bielema coaching the Badgers at the time?
How can some Iowa fans truly believe that Minnesota is a bigger rival than the Badgers when Minnesota has won more than seven games in a season just five times since 2000 and hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 1967?
How can some Iowa fans truly believe that Nebraska is a bigger rival than the Badgers when Nebraska hasn’t done anything significant in football since the 1990s, has been outscored by Iowa 96-24 in the last two games and has only been a member of the Big Ten since 2011?
Iowa versus Wisconsin has border rivalry written all over it. The only thing lacking right now is Iowa’s ability to beat the Badgers.
The 3-0 Hawkeyes will give it another shot on Saturday in the much-anticipated Big Ten opener at Kinnick Stadium.
The game lost some luster with Wisconsin losing to Brigham Young University 24-21 this past Saturday in Madison, Wis., and dropping from sixth to No. 18 in the Associated Press poll.
But the Big Ten West Division title still goes through Madison and that certainly hasn't changed just from losing a nonconference game to a respectable team.
Iowa was embarrassed the last time it faced the Badgers, losing 38-14 last season at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. And don’t be fooled by the 24-point deficit because the game was actually more lopsided than that.
Former All-America cornerback Josh Jackson scored both of Iowa’s touchdowns on pick sixes, while the Iowa offense was held to just 66 yards.
“My initial thought is just coming in with a chip on our shoulder and to not let what happen last year happen again,” Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa said after this past Saturday’s 38-14 victory over Northern Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. “They’re coming to Kinnick this time and we have all week to get ready for them.”
Some rivalries are fueled by trash talk, but neither of these programs operate that way.
And besides, what could the Iowa players possibly say under the circumstances to justify any reason to trash talk, if there ever is any justification for it?
“Hey, remember when we kicked your butt in 2008 at Kinnick Stadium behind Shonn Greene?”
That would pretty much be the extent of Iowa’s trash talk.
I asked Iowa linebacker and Wisconsin native Kristian Welch after Saturday’s victory over Northern Iowa if he was surprised that Wisconsin had lost to BYU and he refused to go there.
“I’m not going to speak to that,” Welch said. “You know what I mean.”
Clearly, I did know what he meant.
But I also wasn’t trying to get Welch to say anything controversial. He is just that locked in to saying the right thing, which says something about Welch and about Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, whose about as controversial as an easter egg hunt.
A victory over the Badgers at home is long overdue for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa does have the 10-6 victory in 2015 in Madison to fall back on, but how long can you keep drawing from that isolated moment?
Iowa has to climb to Wisconsin’s level because the days of waiting for Wisconsin to fall back to the pack are long over.
The loss to BYU this past Saturday might be a sign that the current Wisconsin team is more vulnerable than previous teams, but it’s too early to know for sure.
One of the subplots to Saturday's game involves Iowa quarterback and Wisconsin native Nate Stanley, who played his worst game against the Badgers last season, completing just 8-of-24 passes for 41 yards.
It's hard to envision Iowa winning on Saturday without Stanley being at least average.
"You can't treat it any different," Stanley said. "Obviously, playing for a trophy, there is an added intensity, just like with Iowa State. But really, I'm just trying to focus in on the game plan and focusing on how I want to prepare for the game and just continue to build off this week and the last three weeks."
I picked Iowa to beat Wisconsin back in July mostly because I figured the law of averages would eventually even out as far as losing to the Badgers at Kinnick Stadium.
But I also took into account Iowa’s talent and experience, and the fact that Wisconsin had to replace seven starters and two key contributors on defense.
And I took into consideration that the fans who are old enough to remember the steps that Barry Alvarez took in turning Wisconsin into a Big Ten power, which has withstood the test of time, conference expansion and conference realignment, are long overdue for some good news.
Iowa never should go a decade without beating Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium.
I know some life-long Iowa fans who still are bitter that Alvarez convinced Iowa City native Dan McCarney and former Hawkeye football star Bernie Wyatt to leave their beloved alma mater, and to leave Hayden Fry in order to help rebuild the Wisconsin program.
McCarney made the Badgers a force on defense, while Wyatt used the same recruiting pipelines to the East Coast that helped to rebuild the Iowa program under Fry to do the same at Wisconsin.
Wyatt grew up in New York and had numerous recruiting connections that helped to land players from the East Coast such as Andre Tippett and Ronnie Harmon for Iowa, and players such as Ron Dayne for the Badgers.
Wyatt is now retired, lives in Iowa City and was part of Hayden Fry's 1983 staff that was honored at this year's FryFest.
Wyatt was also a star player for Iowa during the glory years under Forest Evashevski, so there was some resentment when he and McCarney joined forces with Alvarez at a Big Ten border rival.
And for some Hawkeye fans, feelings haven't changed.
To them, it’s a like a scab that gets ripped open whenever Iowa loses to Wisconsin, which means there has been lots of bleeding lately.
It has been excruciating for them to watch Wisconsin become a better version of Iowa in football and to sustain that level of success for nearly three decades.
So don’t give me this nonsense that Minnesota or Nebraska is Iowa’s biggest rival in football because it clearly is the Badgers and will be for the foreseeable future, or at least for as long as Barry Alvarez is still involved.