By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – From a hype standpoint, this year’s annual showdown between Iowa and Iowa State has no equal.
It’s by far the best the rivalry has had to offer, at least on paper.
An epic showdown between two top 10 FBS college football teams from the state of Iowa will take place on what is expected to be a steamy Saturday afternoon in Ames, and with the eyes of the college football world watching closely.
No. 10 Iowa versus ninth-ranked Iowa State like never seen before in any of the previous 67 matchups.
“You think about what it is right now, first of all, it’s a tough contest for the people involved, the players and coaches,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “Tough preparations I’m sure on both sides. I know it is at this end.”
For this game to live up to the enormous hype probably would take four overtimes, multiple lead changes, spectacular individual plays, clever and timely coaching decisions and adjustments, and a Tate-to-Holloway game-winning play as time expires.
Never did I think that Iowa and Iowa State would face each other as top-10 football teams.
Ranked in the top 25 is a different story.
But top 10?
Didn’t see this coming.
But it’s here, and fans from both schools, and the media, local and national, are expecting to see an instant classic, and to have memories for a lifetime, sweet for one side and bitter for the other.
Hey, remember when Iowa and Iowa State were both ranked in the top 10 in 2021 and you had that incredible play near the end where…
The rest is up to your imagination.
As great as this game looks on paper, it’s no different than any football game between two evenly matched opponents in that it ultimately could be decided by turnovers, or by special teams.
Indiana self-destructed out of the gate against Iowa last Saturday as quarterback Michael Penix Jr. threw two picks sixes in the first half. Iowa led 31-3 at halftime, and the outcome never was in doubt after that.
In addition to Iowa State and Iowa both being ranked in the Associated Press top 10, Iowa State also had three players named to the AP preseason All-America team, while Iowa had one – junior center Tyler Linderbaum.
So that means two top 10 teams and four preseason first-team All-Americans are part of this year’s storyline for Iowa versus Iowa State.
That level of star power and relevance is something this series has never had before.
The game also has the longest tenured head coach in the country in 66-year old Kirk Ferentz, while Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell is considered a rising star in his profession.
The game also has gained interest far beyond the state of Iowa, unlike most years.
ESPN College GameDay will air its long-standing pre-game show from Ames on Saturday, while some members of the national media also will be on hand to report on the game.
Iowa State is favored by 4 ½ points, but also gets three points for hosting, so the odd-makers are predicting a hotly contested contest.
However, the same was predicted for Iowa’s season opener against Indiana, and yet, the Hawkeyes cruised to a 34-6 win last Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa State, on the other hand, struggled to defeat Northern Iowa 16-10 it its season opener last Saturday at home. The way the game unfolded raised a lot of eyebrows because it wasn’t expected to be that close, and because Iowa State struggled on offense.
So you could argue that Iowa has more momentum heading into Saturday’s game, but both teams still are 1-0, and Iowa State has the more experienced roster, and will be playing at home.
All but two of Iowa State’s starters on both offense, defense and special teams are either juniors or seniors, while Iowa has two redshirt freshmen and a sophomore starting on its offensive line, and a redshirt freshman starting on the defensive line.”
“It just so happens right now that both of us have teams that have had some success,” Kirk Ferentz said. “The big difference is that you look at our game from last time, there’s a lot of guys on that film in their red uniforms that are still there, and a lot of guys in our white uniforms that weren’t there, so that’s probably the biggest difference.
“But they’ve done a great job, and they’ve got a really good football team right now, and we have our hands full, I know that.”
Great games on paper also have great individual matchups on paper, and that is certainly the case with this year’s Iowa-Iowa State game.
What happens in the matchup between Iowa State running back Breece Hall and Iowa’s rushing defense could go a long way in determining the outcome.
Hall rushed for nearly 1,600 yards last season, but against Northern Iowa last Saturday, he only gained 69 yards on 23 carries.
That was perhaps the most surprising statistic from Iowa State’s season opener, but each game takes on a life of its own.
“It’s just a tough football team that we’re playing, and big challenge for us,” Kirk Ferentz said.
The matchup at quarterback between Iowa State senior Brock Purdy and Iowa junior Spencer Petras also could go a long way in determining the outcome on Saturday.
Because it’s hard to envision either team winning with a struggling quarterback, or with a sputtering rushing attack.
Purdy is a bigger threat to run, but the 6-foot-5, 233-pound Petras did have a 9-yard touchdown run against Indiana on a draw play, giving the Iowa State defense at least something to think about.
Saturday’s game will mark the first time in nearly two years that Iowa and Iowa State have face each other in football. The teams didn’t play each other last season due to the scheduling changes caused by the global pandemic as Big Ten teams only played conference opponents.
The game also will be played on Sept. 11, and on the 20-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and on the Pentagon.
Emotions are always high for this game, but the unusual circumstances on Saturday, with two top 10 teams, and with the 20-year anniversary of 9/11 should take it to another level.
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“I’ve been looking forward to it ever since the season ended,” said Iowa running back Tyler Goodson. “I anticipated it being here at home (last year) because we were over there two years ago.
“But it’ll be exciting going over there and taking the hostility of the crowd and the excitement of their fans and just going over there and getting a win.”
Goodson rushed for 99 yards against Indiana and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. But 56 of his yards came on a touchdown run on the fourth play from scrimmage. Take away that 56-yard touchdown run and Goodson only had 43 rushing yards on 18 carries for an average of just 2.4 yards per carry.
Goodson caused a stir on social media this past Tuesday by referring to this game as Iowa State’s Super Bowl. Cyclone fans resented what Goodson said, but it’s silly to think that either team would need bulletin board material to gain an edge.
The edge in Saturday’s game will be earned on the field by players who execute the best under pressure, and by coaches who make the best decisions adjustments.
The weather also could be a factor with the temperatures at kickoff expected to be in the 90s.
And while both teams appear equal in so many ways, Iowa State has home-field advantage and a more veteran roster.
Campbell is also 0-4 against Iowa, so his seniors will be on a mission to get him his first win in the rivalry.
But my gut feeling is that Iowa State having home-field advantage will ultimately be what separates these two teams by a slim margin.
Prediction: Iowa State 20, Iowa 17
Iowa vs. Iowa State
When: 3:36 p.m. Saturday
Where: Jack Trice Stadium (61,500) Ames
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
Records/rankings: Iowa is 1-0 and ranked 10th in the Associated Press Poll. Iowa State is 1-0 and ranked ninth in the AP poll.
Series: Iowa has a 45-22 advantage, has won the last five games in the series and is 20-8 all-time in games played in Ames.