By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – They are separated by a quarter century in age.
They traveled different paths to get where they are now.
And they have different coaching philosophies with regard to playing offense and defense.
So yes, there is a lot that Kirk Ferentz and Matt Campbell don’t have in common, and yet, they still seem similar in some ways.
Iowa’s veteran head coach and Iowa State’s up-and-coming head coach, whose teams will square off Saturday in Ames, are connected more by substance than by style.
The 64-year old Ferentz, who is in his 21st season at Iowa, is humble and meticulous in his approach to coaching. He is a visionary without being consumed by the vision because living in the moment is what matters the most to Ferentz.
He is incredible when it comes to attention to detail because Ferentz knows that handling the little things helps to achieve bigger things, and also helps to build or sustain the right culture.
As for the 39-year old Campbell, who is in his fourth season as Iowa State’s head coach, he also seems to have many of the same values and characteristics as Ferentz, including humility, a meticulous approach to coaching and to being organized, and knowing how to demand respect as a leader.
“We've got tremendous respect for Coach Campbell, his staff,” Kirk Ferentz said. “They've done a wonderful job over there. They've got players that clearly enjoy playing the game and enjoy playing for the staff.
“When you look at the tape, you can see a couple of things. They've got good players, first of all, they are very well coached. They compete hard. The other part about it, they're going to be a rested football team. We know that going into it.
The days leading up to the annual showdown between Iowa and Iowa State always brings questions, including some that are impossible to answer.
Like for example: which head coach will have more at stake, or more to lose, on Saturday?
There is no right or wrong answer to that question, just opinions.
You could say that Ferentz has more at stake because Iowa’s schedule looks brutal, especially on the road, while Iowa State’s schedule looks manageable due to some of the Big 12 programs being weaker than usual.
Ferentz also has reached the point as college football's longest tenured head coach where winning seven or eight game doesn’t have a galvanizing effect anymore because fans are used to that standard after two decades.
It’s also reasonable to assume that Ferentz would prefer to have a succession plan in place where his son, 36-year Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, would succeed him as head coach whenever the time comes for Kirk Ferentz to retire.
Kirk Ferentz has never said that publicly, nor would he ever say it.
But it seems obvious that Brian Ferentz is being groomed to be a head coach at some point.
However, for any succession plan to be approved, Iowa probably would have to win at least one Big Ten title and no fewer than nine games in each of Kirk Ferentz’s remaining seasons just to have the momentum to perform such a move.
So every win matters in that respect, and a victory over Iowa State actually would matter big-picture wise for a change.
But on the other hand, you could say that Campbell has more at stake, or more to lose, because he is yet to defeat Iowa in three tries and because he is coaching at a school that has little tradition in football due to a lack of signature wins.
Iowa State will also be playing at home on Saturday, and with the ESPN GameDay crew in town, adding to the pressure to win.
One thing is certain, though, in that neither head coach is under any real pressure to win. There aren’t many college head coaches not named Nick Saban that have more job security than Kirk Ferentz and Matt Campbell do right now.
Ferentz has been a part of the Iowa program for 30 years, his first nine as the offensive line coach under Hayden Fry from 1981-89. He was also the head coach for Maine for three seasons from 1990-92 before coaching in the NFL for six seasons.
Campbell has spent all of his time coaching at the collegiate level, including at three different schools in his home state of Ohio. He was the head coach at Toledo for three full seasons and won nine games in each of the 2014 and 2015 seasons before coming to Iowa State.
Saturday's game, which starts at 3:05 p.m. and will be televised by Fox Sports 1, is an intriguing matchup on paper because both teams, while different, are similar in talent and expectations.
Iowa is coming off nine and eight wins seasons over the past two years, while Iowa State is coming off back-to-back eight win seasons.
Both teams also return their starting quarterback, although, Iowa senior Nate Stanley is far more experienced than Iowa State sophomore Brock Purdy. Stanley will make his 29th consecutive start on Saturday and his third start against Iowa State.
Stanley won his first road game at Iowa State in 2017, passing for 333 yards and five touchdowns during a 44-41 victory in overtime. It was arguably his best performance as a Hawkeye.
“It’s always huge when you get to have experience playing in a stadium and then going back the second time you know what to expect,” Stanley said. “You know what the crowd is going to be like. You know what to expect as far as noise, and then, obviously, just being out on the field, you know what to expect, whether it be the field conditions, where the play clocks are at, things like that that people might not think of, but you feel that much more confident and comfortable there the second time you go there.”
Purdy, on the other hand, will play in just 12th game overall on Saturday and his first against Iowa.
Both teams also have veteran defenses that are led by aggressive defensive lines.
“One commonality we've seen over the last couple of years, they've been playing good team defense,” Kirk Ferentz said of Iowa State. “That's helped them be a factor in the conference the way they have been.
“And the thing that's new for us is the quarterback. We didn't have the opportunity to face him last year. He certainly has given them a great boost and just has had a tremendous impact on the football team, great leader. You can see that just from watching the tape. They're an excellent football team.”
In late July I picked Iowa State to win this game by three points, and I’m sticking with that pick because it seems weak to change your pick as the season progresses.
My pick is based on the Cyclones having home-field advantage and having one of its best teams potentially in a while, especially on defense.
I’m not convinced that Iowa will be able to sustain a rushing attack, especially without starting left tackle Alaric Jackson, and that’s when Stanley and his cohorts become vulnerable on offense.
But I’m also not convinced that Iowa State will have success on the ground, either.
Injuries have thinned Iowa's secondary, which could be without two starters on Saturday if junior cornerback Matt Hankins can't play because of an undisclosed injury. Sophomore Kaevon Merriweather, who starts at free safety, already is out because of a foot injury that caused him to miss the Rutgers game last Saturday.
The law of averages is something else I considered, because sooner or later, Campbell will get that breakthrough win against Iowa.
That’s another thing that Campbell and Ferentz have in common in that they both succeeded in rebuilding their respective programs despite struggling early on in this series.
Ferentz lost his first four games against Iowa State before finally breaking through in 2003.
Campbell is at risk of losing his fourth game in a row to Iowa, and oddly enough, that’s one of the reasons I’m picking Iowa State.
Prediction Iowa State 23, Iowa 20