By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The motivation that comes from arguably the greatest traveling trophy in college football being awarded to the winner of the Iowa-Minnesota game is always front and center, and deservedly so.
Floyd of Rosedale represents so much more than just a football game.
It represents the ongoing struggle for racial equality, and the passion and energy that is so deeply rooted in this border rivalry.
Should Minnesota defeat Iowa for the first time since 2014, the Minnesota players, as soon as the game ends, will make a mad rush to the Iowa sideline in order to take back Floyd, even during a global pandemic.
And don’t be surprised if Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck is leading the way.
Or, maybe Fleck would use his players to body surf to the Iowa sideline in order to get his hands on Floyd.
Iowa is the only team in the Big Ten West Division that Minnesota hasn’t defeated with Fleck as head coach.
So Fleck never has had the satisfaction of seeing the bronze statue of a pig resting comfortably in the Gopher trophy case.
However, no disrespect to Floyd, but the importance of Friday’s game in Minneapolis goes way beyond its impact.
Both teams are fighting for survival in the Big Ten West Division, and the loser will fall to 1-3 and be practically eliminated from the race.
Neither team expected to be in this desperate situation, considering Minnesota won 11 games last season, while Iowa won 10.
But here they both are trying to save their season.
“They’re a little bit like us,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “They had a tough loss a couple weeks ago, ball off the goal post. Kept them from being, at least extending the game. And then last week they really looked good. They played a great game at Illinois.”
Ferentz was referring to Minnesota’s 41-14 victory at Illinois last Saturday, a game in which Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim rushed for 224 yards and four touchdowns.
But did the lopsided score say more about Minnesota from a positive standpoint, or more about Illinois from a negative standpoint?
And the same with Iowa’s 49-7 beat-down against Michigan State last Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Was it more a case of Iowa performing really well, or Michigan State performing woefully?
Probably a little of both.
Iowa has won the last five games in the series, but four of the victories were by seven or fewer points, including the 23-19 victory last season at Kinnick Stadium when the Gophers were ranked eighth nationally.
Minnesota’s defense was awful in its first two games against Michigan and Maryland, but then showed a pulse against Illinois.
But again, did that say more about Minnesota’s defense, or more about Illinois’ problems on offense?
My guess is the latter, and that’s why I’m picking the Hawkeyes to extend their winning streak to six games over Minnesota.
But just barely.
If Minnesota wins the rushing and turnover battle, Iowa will be in serious trouble, and vice versa.
Friday’s game could come down to those two statistics more than anything else.
Iowa had success on the ground against Purdue and Michigan State, and look for offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz to establish the run early on Friday in order to protect sophomore quarterback Spencer Petras, who will be making just his fourth career start and second on the road.
Minnesota will also want to establish the run, so it could come down to which team is better at doing the same thing.
Special teams also could have a major impact, and Iowa has the advantage in that area with All-America kick Keith Duncan, and a rising star at punter in Tory Taylor and at punt returner in Charlie Jones.
Senior receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette also returns after serving a one-game suspension for drunken driving, and he gives Iowa arguably the top kick returner in the Big Ten.
I went back and forth with this prediction, and initially picked the Gophers to win, 31-30.
But then I switched to Iowa winning by the same score because I’m not convinced that Minnesota can stop Iowa’s running game.
Prediction: Iowa 31, Minnesota 30.