Each summer, ESPNU re-airs what it calls the 25 best college football games of the previous season.
I’m not a TV industry insider, but my opinion is it’s programming filler for a time of year in which there is no current college sports. I defy you to suggest otherwise.
You never see Iowa-Wisconsin games in those top 25s. There’s a reason for that. They haven’t been classics. A lot of the games are 43-40. A lot of others are so-and-so from the SEC against so-and-so from the SEC, and neither so-and-so is Vanderbilt.
When it comes to Wisconsin-Iowa, one team usually outplays the other in smash-mouth style, and they move on. The Badgers won 28-17 at Kinnick Stadium last year and maintained their status as the Big Ten West champions-in-waiting. Then they lost to Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State and Minnesota and finished 8-5.
It was either an aberration or the beginning of a decline. By the time we know which, this will be buried deep in the recesses of cyberspace. We do know Wisconsin won 10 or more games in each of the four seasons before that, and was 13-1 in 2017.
But Wisconsin, with its focus on running backs and 330-pound offensive linemen, leaves me as cold as Madison was when Iowa lost 38-14 there on its last visit, two years ago. So despite the border rivalry and the importance of this game for contending for the division title, my pick for Iowa’s No. 5 most-interesting game of 2019 is …
Nov. 9, Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium
This week, the news arrived that Wisconsin will have a home-and-home series with Alabama in 2024 and 2025. I immediately wondered if any poor deluded fools in Iowa would react with “Why isn’t that Iowa instead of Wisconsin?”
I didn’t really wonder.
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Here’s why: Because Iowa wouldn’t do it. There’s no way Kirk Ferentz schedules an 11th game against Power Five foes, and he certainly doesn’t want an Alabama knot on his team’s head in September.
Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta has said he’d prefer the Big Ten go to 10 conference games in a perfect world, with the assumption all Power Five leagues do likewise.
It’s fun to pretend.
More importantly, who cares what’s scheduled for 2024 and 2025? If you do, you’re assuming a lot.
Who’s to say Wisconsin and even Alabama will be any good then. Nick Saban won’t be Alabama’s coach five years from now, will he? Before Saban was the Crimson Tide’s coach in 2007, Bama was ordinary. It went 6-7 in 2006, 6-6 in 2004, 4-9 in 2003, 3-8 in 2000.
Two, you assume there will be a 2024 and 2025. That may require a huge leap of faith.
Three, you assume you’ll be around to see 2024 and 2025. I certainly don’t. In 2019, my head throbs, I get dizzy, and occasionally find myself watching reruns of “Married … with Children” instead of mustering the energy to click a button or two on my remote control. That’s a sure sign of being disoriented. In fact, I originally typed in “2018” instead of “2019” in this paragraph, then studied it because something didn’t feel quite right before I finally realized my mistake.
Which, of course, was confessing to watching as much as two minutes of “Married … with Children.”
Wisconsin played Alabama four years ago at a neutral site to start the season and got whomped, 35-17. If you’re envious of the Badgers for that, you probably also are jealous they claim Blatz, Pabst and Schlitz as their own.
Wisconsin has running back Jonathan Taylor, and he’s sensational. I mean, get this: The guy has 4,171 rushing yards in two years and has averaged 6.9 yards per carry.
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Taylor has more career rushing yards than any Iowa player. Sedrick Shaw had 3,908 yards from 1993 to 1996. Since then, seven Wisconsin backs have topped that total. Ron Dayne topped everyone and still is on top with his 7,125 yards from 1996-99.
This is the Wisconsin story. Montee Ball, Melvin Gordon, James White. They put a guy in the backfield who doesn’t fool around, they let the NFL-bound offensive linemen do what they do, and they rack up the yards.
It’s called having an offensive identity. That doesn’t, however, make it overwhelmingly entertaining to an outside observer. I’ll take Purdue Coach Jeff Brohm having his quarterbacks take several deep shots a game. I’ll take an offense that sends more wide receivers to the NFL than tight ends.
But winning is winning, and you’d be nuts to stray from what has made you win so much for so long. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.