It’s Northwestern Week in Iowa City.
And while that may not stir emotions like Iowa State Week, Wisconsin Week or even Nebraska Week, it’s a big week for the Hawkeye football team, especially one that’s 0-1.
The Wildcats no longer are the Mildcats and haven’t been for some time, even though Iowa still owns a 51-27-3 advantage in this series. The Hawks won last year, 20-0, but Northwestern was not the Northwestern of recent memory.
The Wildcats actually won three in a row, including two in Iowa City, before last season.
So this is anything but a gimmee.
1. Is Iowa-Northwestern a rivalry?
As noted above, there was a time when this game was anything but a rivalry.
Iowa won 21 straight in the series between 1973 and ’94, but it’s been a pretty even series since. As a matter of fact, the series is tied 9-9 since 2000.
Gary Barnett, according to published reports, wanted a rival when he took over as Northwestern’s coach in 1992 and picked the Hawkeyes because, according to the Wall Street Journal, he wanted the “biggest, baddest guys I could go after.”
Current Coach Pat Fitzgerald was a big part of that turnaround. Former running back Adonis Smith told the Northwestern News Network in 2010 that Fitzgerald “hates them. I know that for a fact. He hates Iowa.”
“We weren’t competitive against Iowa for a long time,” Fitzgerald said in 2014. “We became competitive since 1995. Before that the games were irrelevant.
“Now this has become a pretty darn good rivalry.”
Even Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz is on board with this “rivalry.”
“This game has really become a big rivalry between us and Northwestern going back 20 years,” Ferentz said before the 2018 game. “We’ve had a great series over the years, and it’s not a trophy game officially but really kind of feels like that.”
2. New QB Peyton Ramsey
One of the reasons the Wildcats struggled last year (3-9 overall, 1-8 in the Big Ten) was because they couldn’t find a quarterback.
Hunter Johnson, a transfer from Clemson, was destined to be a star, but got beat out by T.J. Green. who was injured in the first game after completing 6 of his first 10 passes. Johnson’s star never shined, completing 50 of 108 passes last year with one touchdown and four interceptions.
Peyton Ramsey entered the picture this season, a graduate transfer from Indiana. If Saturday’s 43-3 win over Maryland is any indication, it looks like Northwestern found a winner.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder completed 23 of 30 passes for 212 yards on Saturday with one TD. He also rushed for 47 yards and another TD.
“Really proud of his performance today,” Fitzgerald said after the game.
Ramsey was a team captain at Indiana last year and completed 204 of 300 passes for 2,454 yards with 13 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He also started all 12 games for the Hoosiers in 2018, passing for 2,875 yards and 19 TDs.
3. Northwestern’s win over Maryland
While the Wildcat offense was rolling up 537 yards on Saturday, including 325 on the ground, the defense was doing its job, holding the Terps to just 207 yards or 4.1 per play.
Cornerback Brandon Joseph led the attack with seven tackles, including one for loss. and safety Rod Heard had six. Both are redshirt freshmen who made their first start.
The win also was the 100th of Fitzgerald’s career.
“It’s an honor, it’s humbling,” Fitzgerald said about the milestone. “It’s about our players. It’s about our staff. It’s about our players’ families. It’s about our staffs’ families. So many people have contributed to this.”
4. Special kicker
Senior Charlie Kuhbander was named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week after hitting all three of his field goals in Saturday’s win over Maryland.
He hit a pair of 43-yarders and was perfect on all four PAT kicks, accounting for 13 points.
Kuhbander was ranked the No. 3 kicker in the country by Kohl’s Kicking in 2017. He hit 10 of 14 field goals last year, with a long of 44 yards, and 5 of 9 in 2018 with a 45-yarder, his career long. His best year was his freshman season when he hit 13 of 16 with a long of 40.
5. History lesson
The Wildcats don’t have a national championship in their past, but they have won or shared eight Big Ten (or Western Conference) titles.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
A charter member of the Big Ten, Northwestern won outright titles in 1936 under the direction of Lynn Waldorf and in 1995 with Barnett at the helm. They shared titles in 1903 (Western Conference), ’26, ’30, ’31. ’96 and 2000. The Wildcats won the West Division in 2018.