Early look at what could be a classic between Iowa and Iowa State in football
Both teams almost certainly will be ranked, maybe as high as top 10.
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – As we strive and hope for some sense of normalcy by the start of the 2021 college football season, one thing will be far from normal, but that’s fine.
In fact, it’s more than fine. It’s exciting.
Iowa and Iowa State will almost certainly be ranked heading into next season. It’s just a matter of how high in both cases.
Pat Forde from Sports Illustrated recently published his preseason top-25 and has Iowa State ranked seventh and Iowa eighth.
That’s incredible when you think about it.
The annual showdown between Iowa and Iowa State is always a big deal in this state, and always will be.
The game loses some of its appeal beyond our borders because rarely are both teams ranked heading into the game.
This year should be an exception.
But in order to set the stage, Iowa will have to get past a very talented and experienced Indiana squad in the Sept. 4th season opener at Kinnick Stadium, while Iowa State will have to withstand Northern Iowa’s upset bid in its season opener.
Should that happen, we could be witnessing a top-10 showdown between Iowa and Iowa State for the first time ever when they meet on Sept. 11 in Ames.
Let’s just hope by then fans will be allowed in the stands, and that the worst of the global pandemic is behind us.
Iowa closed the 2020 season with six consecutive victories after losing its first two games against Purdue and eventual Big Ten West champion Northwestern by a combined five points.
The starters coming back on offense for Iowa include All-America center Tyler Linderbaum, All-Big Ten running back Tyler Goodson, quarterback Spencer Petras, tight end Sam LaPorta and three starters on the offensive line.
Receiver is a concern with Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith having moved on, but the cupboard hardly is empty with Tyrone Tracy Jr., and Nico Ragaini both returning with two years of experience.
The losses on defense are significant, but Phil Parker has a knack for constructing rock-solid defenses despite having to fill key holes.
His defenses rarely give up big plays and they force turnovers.
There could be some growing pains on the defensive line as Iowa learns to play without Daviyon Nixon and Chauncey Golston.
But that’s just part of the challenge that Parker seems to relish.
Iowa also has a standout punter in Australia native Tory Taylor, and that is crucial with regard to field position.
As for the 2021 Cyclones, locked in and loaded would be a good description.
Iowa State’s victory over Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl built momentum for the offseason, and the momentum has continued to grow as a number of key veteran players have announced they will return next season.
The fact that so many veteran players have decided to return instead of pursuing an NFL career, is a tribute to the culture that Matt Campbell has built in Ames.
The veteran players, even those with NFL potential, apparently feel they’re on the verge of something really special at Iowa State.
It’s also worth noting that Campbell still hasn’t defeated Iowa, and that Iowa has won the last five games in the series, and nine of the last 12 games against the Cyclones.
Kirk Ferentz is coming off arguably his best coaching job at Iowa, and that’s saying a lot, considering his track record.
The 2020 Hawkeyes could’ve easily unraveled after starting 0-2, and after coming off a tumultuous offseason in which multiple former Iowa black players accused the program of racial disparities.
But the players stayed the course, and stayed unified, on and off the field, and during a global pandemic.
A skeptic would say that Iowa didn’t beat a real good team in 2020. And while maybe so, Iowa beat the teams on its schedule, including Wisconsin.
That’s all Iowa could do after starting 0-2.
It wasn’t Iowa’s fault that its postseason game with Michigan and its bowl game with Missouri were both canceled.
Iowa was favored to win both games.
I know I’m getting way ahead of myself with the annual showdown between Iowa and Iowa State still eight months away, but the series is moving into uncharted territory for all the right reasons.
Both teams have a chance to be really good, and remember, they didn’t face each other in 2020.
This game will be long overdue by the time it’s finally played.
My early prediction would favor the Cyclones just by a little, mostly because the game will be played in Ames.
Okay, back to basketball season where Iowa is showing signs of being special.