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The mutual admiration shared by the Iowa and Wisconsin football programs can be traced to a car ride.

At least that's where the story begins for Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz.

He was in the process of joining Hayden Fry's staff in 1981, when Barry Alvarez served as the chauffeur to Iowa City.

"He's the first guy I met when I came here to interview," Ferentz said Tuesday. "He picked me up at the airport."

Alvarez would go on to build the Badgers into a perennial Big Ten power, and Ferentz eventually succeeded Fry as the top Hawkeye.

Their teams will get reacquainted at 11 a.m. Saturday in Kinnick Stadium.

"From the similarities of how we approach the game, I feel like there has to be that respect," Iowa linebacker Quinton Alston said. "They're going to try and run the ball. We like to run the ball. They like to stop the run. We like to stop the run.

"And they play really hard, all 11 guys on each and every play."

Alvarez, now Wisconsin's athletic director, deserves much of the credit for setting such a standard.

When he took over in 1990, after eight years as an assistant at Iowa and three more at Notre Dame, the Badgers had suffered through five consecutive losing seasons.

They've been to six Rose Bowls since.

"I'm old enough to remember what it was like going up there in '89," Ferentz said. "It was not a very good environment, quite frankly, for the home team.

"It was a great one for the visitors."

Ferentz, a Hawkeye assistant from 1981-89, went 1-10 in his first season as head coach.

He's guided Iowa to four top-10 finishes in the Associated Press polls and two Big Ten titles.

"I guess there's some parallels," Ferentz said. "Coach Fry had a plan when he came here, and Barry certainly did the same thing. And if you want to build a family tree, they did the same thing down at Kansas State (under Bill Snyder, another Fry protégé).

"So it's a credit to all those guys."

Saturday, Ferentz and current Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen will square off in the most important game of the Big Ten's West Division title chase.

And for most of the folks involved, it'll be like seeing your own reflection.

"Our states are a lot alike, too, in some ways," Ferentz said. "They've got a pro team, we don't. But you drive to (Green Bay's Lambeau Field), you come out of a neighborhood and there it is, instead of being like in a metropolitan area.

"It's kind of neat."

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