'For the love of God': Iowa State football aching to end 6-game skid to Iowa
AMES — The chants of loathing were ubiquitous during MJ Anderson’s three years in Minnesota. Despite being a program engaged in the longest-running rivalry in college football, it wasn’t the Golden Gophers’ neighbors to the east, Wisconsin, that so often drew the ire and preoccupation of the student body.
No, that was reserved for their southern border.
“Who hates Iowa?” Minnesota students would chant, whether the Gophers were playing the Hawkeyes or not. “We hate Iowa.”
Now, Anderson finds himself in another uniform, but still in a program that can match the Gophers’ antipathy for the Hawkeyes.
“This is big. I can sense the energy from the seniors,” Anderson, who transferred to Iowa State this offseason, said. “It’s a big game.”
Saturday’s big game (3 p.m.; BTN) pits a pair of teams whose Week 1s were similar only in their final outcomes.
Iowa State, with a roster looking to replace some of the program’s biggest stars, cruised to a 42-10 victory over Southeast Missouri. Iowa, meanwhile, became something of a national punchline with a 7-3 win over South Dakota State that featured, a field goal, two safeties and a whole lot of offensive ineptitude.
Despite the divergent performances, the Hawkeyes are a favorite in the Cyclones, due likely in part to Iowa State coach Matt Campbell’s 0-5 mark against Iowa during his tenure. It is, arguably, the biggest blemish on his otherwise sterling Cyclone resume.
“We understand it’s a great rivalry,” Campbell said. “It’s great for our state. It’s great for the community the alumni of both schools. It’s a great game, and we’re playing a team that not just as a team but as a program has had great success.”
Having not won the game since 2014, though, means multiple classes of Iowa State players have passed through the Bergstrom Football Complex without ever owning a victory over Iowa.
The last time that feat was accomplished in this series came when Iowa State ended a 15-game losing streak with five-straight of their own from 1998 to 2002.
“It’s a lifesaver living in Cedar Rapids, I’ll tell you that,” Kyle Knock, a member of all five of those Cyclones teams, said with a chuckle.
That five-year run began with desperation, but was continued with pride — and some vengeance.
“It built up a lot of desire to prove people wrong,” Knock, who now coaches football at Cedar Rapids Kennedy, said. “A lot of us players at Iowa State at the time were walk-ons or weren’t heavily recruited. Local Iowa kids who probably the majority grew up Iowa Hawkeye fans, and we didn’t have an opportunity to go play at Iowa.
“For us, it was about proving ourselves and being worthy in somebody’s eyes that we were good enough to do it.”
After that 27-9 win in Iowa City in 1998, though, the aim shifted.
“Once the first one is done, then you’re going to take pride in that you’re not giving it back,” Knock said. “It became even more important to keep the trophy at our place.
“There was like seven or eight guys on our Shrine Bowl team (the summer before our freshman season) that ended up going to Iowa that year, and they were giving me the business leading up to our freshman year, (saying), ‘Why’d you choose Iowa State? You’re going to be a loser your whole life.’ I look back now and say, ‘Who’s the loser now? I never lost to you guys.’”
Now, though, it’s the Cyclones roster that has never tasted victory in the state of Iowa’s marquee sporting event.
“Growing up, this is the game of the year for both programs,” Trevor Downing, Creston native and Iowa State’s starting center, said. “You grow up in this state, it’s bragging rights for the fans, players, everything.”
That makes the current streak all the more frustrating for Iowa State.
“I had a conversation with (Campbell) this summer,” Knock said, “and I said, “For the love of God, can you just beat Iowa, please? I live in Cedar Rapids, and I’ve got to deal with this.’
“He said, ‘Knocker, you tell me this every year. It’s not as easy as you make it out to be.’”
The hate is the easy part. Just as Minnesota, who has lost seven-straight to the Hawkeyes.
Winning requires quite a bit more.
“I’m also not naïve enough to sit here and say, ‘Hey, does this game not mean anything or what importance does it have?,’” Campbell said. “It means a great deal.”
Travis Hines covers Iowa State University sports for the Des Moines Register and Ames Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (515) 284-8000. Follow him at @TravisHines21.