In the last 40 years, Iowa-Iowa State would never have been my pick for the most-interesting game on the Hawkeyes’ football schedule.
It takes two to tango, and the Cyclones haven’t been to the dance floor much in that time. Just 10 of their last 40 teams finished the season with winning records, and only three were better than 7-5.
Two of those, however, were the 2017 and 2018 teams. They both went 8-5, and they split a pair of bowl games against good teams. They won a total of five Big 12 road games. That used to be Iowa State’s normal total for a decade.
There’s never been a “We don’t get no respect” card to play in Ames when it came to football because they’d done so little to earn respect for so long. Lately, though, the Cyclones and coach Matt Campbell have gotten plenty of accolades from the outside world. ISU went 11-37 from 2013 to 2016. Look at them now. They’re in most of the preseason Top 25s, including those of the coaches and Associated Press.
If Iowa doesn’t trip against Miami (Ohio) and Rutgers the following week, and if Iowa State doesn’t lay a season-opening egg against Northern Iowa, the Hawkeyes and Cyclones will both be ranked when they meet in my pick for Iowa’s most-interesting game of the season …
Sept. 14 — At Iowa State, Jack Trice Stadium
For a rivalry game, this thing has been lame. Boring name (Cy-Hawk). Unremarkable trophy (Can you picture it in your mind?). Nothing that has stirred America’s football soul.
I’ll watch an Apple Cup between Washington and Washington State. I doubt people in Spokane or Seattle with no Iowa ties have done the same for the Cy-Hawk (Did I mention it’s a boring name?)?
Never mind the intrastate oompf of Alabama-Auburn or Florida-Florida State. Iowa-ISU hasn’t been in the realm of Indiana-Purdue or Kentucky-Louisville.
The emergence of the Cyclones is a combination of Hawkeye fans’ worst fears and best hopes. That Iowa State could be Top 25-good and have the potential to siphon some of the state’s attention from Iowa can’t please Herbert Hawkeye. Yet, were Iowa to return to College Football Playoff contention, a win over Iowa State would now be an asset instead of a debit.
Plus, if the Cyclones remain a Top 25-type of program, Herb couldn’t pretend Iowa could come up with consistently better nonconference options if the ISU-Iowa series were canceled, nor could pull out the old chestnut about the ISU game being a no-win situation.
The trick now, however, is getting that win. After going 7-10 against the Cyclones from 1998 to 2014, Iowa has peeled off the last four victories in the series.
By the way, this is weird and semi-incredible: Iowa State beat Iowa 44-41 in triple-overtime in 2011, and the Hawkeyes beat the Cyclones 44-41 in single-overtime in 2017. Both games were in Ames. Iowa has played just one other game in which both teams scored 40 points, a 49-42 win at Minnesota in 1994.
So anyway … Iowa has higher-ranked teams on its schedule, and has nine conference games that theoretically are more meaningful than its nonconference game against the Cyclones. However, the winner of this game will have wind beneath its wings, while the loser will be No. 2 in the state and Number Nothing in the polls, unless its loss is by 44-41 in overtime.
If Iowa prevails, it will send a lot of told-you-so, you-couldn’t-handle-the-spotlight toward the Cyclones. If Iowa State wins, it will direct a lot of get-out-of-the-way, a-new-sheriff-is-in-the-state toward the Hawkeyes.
On May 31, the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas released early lines for selected college games. The Iowa-Iowa State game opened as a pick ‘em. How great is that?
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It’s going to be said plenty in the week leading up to this game, but I’ll say it now.
This year’s Hawkeyes-Cyclones contest is a big one. For real. Finally.