Iowa Football

Iowa football's No. 4 most-interesting game of 2019: Northwestern

The Wildcats are 15-4 in Big Ten over last 2 years ... whoa!

Head coaches Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern (left) and Kirk Ferentz of Iowa shake hands at the end of the Wildcats' 14-10 win at Kinnick Stadium on Nov. 10, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Head coaches Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern (left) and Kirk Ferentz of Iowa shake hands at the end of the Wildcats' 14-10 win at Kinnick Stadium on Nov. 10, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

I’ve been counting down the 2019 Iowa football games in order of how interesting I feel they will be.

So far it’s: 12. Miami (Ohio); 11. Rutgers; 10. Middle Tennessee State; 9. Illinois; 8. Minnesota; 7. Penn State; 6. Purdue; 5. Wisconsin.

If I picked the game I like the best, it would be my pick as the No. 4 most-interesting game on the Hawkeyes’ schedule:

Oct. 26, Northwestern, Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.

Northwestern is the Pest of the West, both as a program that seems better than it should be, and as a place that denies visitors the creature comforts they expect. You go to Ryan Field and you can’t believe it’s an FBS stadium, let alone the Big Ten. It’s a throwback to a time when it would be merely considered a throwback.

Yet, you can win anywhere in college football with the right coach, and the Wildcats certainly have that coach in Northwestern alum Pat Fitzgerald. Not only did the Cats win the Big Ten West last year, they are 15-4 in the conference over the last two seasons.

Iowa was 14-4 over 2015 and 2016, 9-9 over 2017 and 2018. Part of the reason for the mediocrity in the last two years were losses of 17-10 in overtime at Northwestern two years ago and a 14-10 home defeat to the Cats last year.

That one, you’ll surely recall, clinched Northwestern’s first division crown. By the way, the Cats were 10-point underdogs. They also were 10-point dogs at Michigan State and won. They were slight underdogs against Purdue, Wisconsin and Minnesota … and won.

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You can’t expect the ball to keep bouncing the same way, so Northwestern might backslide this season. I’d say it’s probable. But Holy Cats, this is a team that is 36-17 over the last four years. At some point you have to say these are guys who know how to win.

Last year, Northwestern played Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Iowa in successive weeks in the second half of the season. I figured the Cats would be low on juice at Kinnick, especially after they endured a 31-21 loss at Notre Dame the week before. No, they brought the juice. They stymied the Hawkeyes to a paltry 2.9 yards per carry while rushing 46 times themselves for 184 yards.

Northwestern was the better team that day. This year? Who knows? What we do know is the home-field advantage doesn’t seem to exist in this series. We also know Iowa managed 10 points in each of the last two games against this team and has lost its last three games in the series after coming in as the favorite each time.

If Iowa is to win the West, this is one of those games that has to be won. It will be the fourth game of a stretch that begins against Michigan, Penn State and Purdue. Meanwhile, Northwestern will have played Ohio State the week before, on a Friday night in Evanston.

The Wildcats’ first five Big Ten games are against Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio State and Iowa. That’s pretty tough for starters, eh?

I like it that fans from Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa who are used to certain creature comforts at their home stadiums will come to Evanston and feel cramped and uncomfortable. They’ll be in a world in which it doesn’t seem like college football is the be-all and end-all of Western civilization.

They’ll be at a stellar university, one that brags more about the people it sends to show business fame than sports glories. Among former Northwestern students are Stephen Colbert, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Seth Meyers and Billy Eichner.

If none of those four people have ever entertained you, we simply cannot be friends. I’m sorry, but we all need some quality control in our lives.

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