This week, more than maybe any in this Iowa football season, feels like the watershed game for the Hawkeyes in 2016. The biggest issues that came to light in the two losses seem to be on the mend, but the toughest part of their schedule still remains — starting with Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) hosts No. 10 Wisconsin (4-2, 1-2), fresh off an overtime loss to No. 2 Ohio State.
It’s a game both teams kind of have to have — Iowa to remind itself as much as others it can still contend, and Wisconsin to have any chance at winning the Big Ten West. Let’s look into 5 Things on Iowa vs Wisconsin.
1. Heartland headlock
The Iowa-Wisconsin football rivalry has been going on since 1894, and it should come as a complete shock to exactly no one that, historically, it’s been just about even.
The current all-time series record sits at 44-43-2 in favor of the Badgers after the Hawkeyes' 10-6 win at Camp Randall last season. In the Kirk Ferentz era? It’s 8-7 in favor of Wisconsin. The total points scored in Iowa-Wisconsin games in the Ferentz era? Iowa 300, Wisconsin 287.
The deadlock extends to the Hawkeyes’ and Badgers’ trophy as well. In the Heartland Trophy era (2004-present) it's tied at 5-5.
Iowa has won six consecutive rivalry trophy games — the Cy-Hawk, Floyd of Rosedale, Heroes and Heartland trophies all reside at the Hansen Performance Center — and aims for that seventh and to retain the Heartland this weekend. Wisconsin wants that trophy back in Camp Randall, where it lived from 2010-2014.
“Those of us who were a part of it last year understand what happened,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said. “But none of that carries over. … It’s about this Saturday, who’s the best team.”
2. Polling place
Wisconsin came into this season unranked and considered by many fairly unremarkable after losing almost every 2015 statistical leader. But a win against LSU at Lambeau Field in Week 1 and against Michigan State in Week 4 vaulted the Badgers into the rankings and the national discussion.
And even in back-to-back losses to No. 4 Michigan (14-7) and No. 2 Ohio State (30-23 in OT), the Badgers have kept their national respect by staying at No. 10 in the polls. Chryst, like Kirk Ferentz, isn’t one to get too far into the rankings, and joked to that effect when a reporter posed a question that began with “I know you don’t put a lot of stock into the polls …”
Wisconsin, Chryst said, doesn’t need outside respect to validate itself, but it doesn’t hurt to hear.
“You’re right about the first part, so it’s hard to answer the second part,” Chryst said to laughter. “We don’t need it to validate who we are or what we are or what we need to do, but we appreciate it.
“I still think it’s the beauty of the season; it’s a journey, and what you do each day and each week puts it all into the story of who you were.”
3. Taking on the top 10
Speaking of the polls, Iowa welcomes No. 10 Wisconsin as the first top-10 team into Kinnick Stadium since 2010, when No. 8 Ohio State beat the Hawkeyes, 20-17. Iowa hosted three top-10 teams that season, in fact, beating No. 5 Michigan State and losing to No. 10 Wisconsin.
Iowa has played in 24 games against teams ranked No. 10 or higher in the coaches poll in the Ferentz era, and has played against at least one in all but three seasons (2014, 2011-12) under Ferentz. The Hawkeyes are 7-17 against those teams under Ferentz — 4-6 inside Kinnick Stadium — and have lost their last four games (Ohio State in 2010, at No. 4 Ohio State in 2013, Big Ten Championship vs. No. 5 Michigan State and the Rose Bowl vs. No. 5 Stanford) to teams in the top 10 nationally.
Iowa has played Wisconsin four times when the Badgers were a top-10 team — two at Kinnick and two on the road — and the Hawkeyes are 1-3 in those games, beating No. 9 Wisconsin, 30-7, at Kinnick Stadium in 2004 in the first game contesting the Heartland Trophy.
4. Some history with Bucky
Wisconsin enters Saturday’s game as a 3-point favorite over Iowa, marking the fourth straight time the Badgers were considered the better team by the brilliant minds in Las Vegas.
In fact, Vegas has been a big Bucky fan in general when it comes to facing Iowa in the Ferentz era. The teams have met 15 times, and in 11 of those matchups, Vegas had the Badgers favored. In five of those 11, Wisconsin was a touchdown favorite or more, including in both 2013 and 2014.
And while Iowa, as mentioned above, is 7-8 against Wisconsin under Ferentz, the Hawkeyes are 11-4 against the spread in that span, including the last two seasons. Iowa is 4-7 outright as an underdog against Wisconsin, with last year’s 10-6 win the most recent victory.
Diving even further down the if-gambling-were-legal rabbit hole, in games at Kinnick Stadium against Wisconsin under Ferentz, Iowa is 6-2 against the spread and 3-5 outright. Each of the last three Heartland Trophy games played in Kinnick have been losses for the Hawkeyes (2013-14, 2010).
5. Can you hear me now?
Paul Chryst is no stranger to Kinnick Stadium.
He was a Wisconsin quarterback from 1985-87, and was on the Badger team that lost in Iowa City in 1986 to then-No. 10 Iowa. He was Wisconsin’s tight ends coach in 2002, when the Badgers lost at Kinnick to then-No. 9 Iowa. He was offensive coordinator from 2006-11, during which time Wisconsin beat Iowa twice (2006 and 2010) and lost once (2008) in front of 70,585 Hawkeye fans.
So he knows a thing or two about what the environment is like with black-and-gold-clad fans right in your ear on the sidelines.
Chryst was asked Monday if he had any specific memories from his time on the sidelines in Iowa City. He expressed appreciation, if not affection for the ambience at Kinnick Stadium. He had stories — some he wouldn’t tell.
“I think those are part of the great experiences of when you go on the road,” Chryst said. “Yeah, there’s a lot of ugly stuff, but there are some funny things that are said. You appreciate that. I remember them, but there’s no way I’m going to take any more time (telling them).”
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