IOWA CITY, Iowa — For much of its history, the Iowa-Iowa State series was more about bragging rights than postseason possibilities.
The 42nd consecutive matchup in this rivalry, to be held Saturday in Iowa City, could have huge implications for two teams dreaming of big things in 2018.
Granted, no one is picking either the Hawkeyes (1-0) or Cyclones (0-0, more on that in a moment) to compete for a national championship. But it’s reasonable to expect Iowa to push Wisconsin and others in the Big Ten West, and Iowa State has quietly put together one of the better defenses in the Big 12.
It also might be the most evenly matched game these in-state rivals have played in a long time, with Iowa State ranking 38th in points in this week’s Top 25 and Iowa tied for 39th. The Hawkeyes are just a 3 ½-point favorite at home.
Thanks to Mother Nature, Iowa might have an advantage over the Cyclones that few saw coming. The Hawkeyes were able to shake off some obvious rust in last week’s 33-7 win over Northern Illinois, while Iowa State played less than five minutes before its opener was canceled because of lightning.
The Cyclones are hoping that the experience on their roster can help mitigate some of the challenge posed by having their first official game unexpectedly come on the road against the hated Hawkeyes, who’ve won the last three in the series by 14, 39 and 3 points.
“Those are those circumstances that, they’re just different,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. His team will open its season against Iowa for the first time since 1986.
D-LINE VS. O-LINE
Perhaps the strongest overall unit for either team is Iowa’s defensive line, which dominated last weekend’s game against the Huskies. The Cyclones return four starters on a rebuilt offensive line, but they might not see a deeper group on the other side of the ball all season.
“That defensive line has spearheaded things. I think you’re getting one of the best defensive lines in the country. They play hard, they’re consistent, they’re going to play as hard as they can for as long as they can,” Campbell said of the Hawkeyes.
Iowa has no one like Cyclones junior running back David Montgomery. He ran for 112 yards and a touchdown and caught five passes against Iowa in 2017, when Iowa State rallied from 11 down before losing in overtime.
“He’s a tough, competitive guy, runs extremely hard, and I thought last year when it really counted, that’s when he was at his best,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
The Hawkeyes again struggled at times to string together drives, finishing with just 352 total yards against Northern Illinois. They scored 30 points in the second half, though, and the return of tackles Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs should help open Iowa’s running game. Iowa State won’t make it easy. The Cyclones brought back the majority of a defense that allowed a paltry 18.9 points in Big 12 games in 2017.
Iowa hasn’t won four straight over the Cyclones since it won 15 in a row from 1983-97. But over the last 20 years, the series is tied 10-10. … Iowa State has two backs who’ve recorded at least 1,000 yards in a season in Montgomery and Mike Warren. Warren had 1,339 yards as a freshman in 2015 but has since slipped down the depth chart. … The series, which the Hawkeyes lead 43-22, began in 1894 with a 16-8 win by Iowa State. But a contentious relationship between the schools kept them from playing each other from 1935-76.
HE SAID IT
“It’s extremely unique. We have 3 million people in our state, you’ve got two Power Five teams, and then you’ve got a really good FCS team (in Northern Iowa) as well. I’ve always thought it was amazing.” — Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.