Brown: Iowa faces nemesis with bowl eligibility on the line

Rick Brown

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Tom Fridena of the Insight Bowl was in town, ready to hand Iowa’s football team an official invitation.

It was a sure thing, a done deal. All the Hawkeyes had to do to secure their seventh victory of the 2007 season and lock up a bowl trip to Arizona was beat a three-win Western Michigan team in the regular-season finale.

Oops. Western Michigan 28, Iowa 19. The Hawkeyes spent the holidays at home, not in the desert, proving once again there are no sure things in college football.

Bill Cubit, the man who coached the Broncos to that 2007 victory, returns to Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. Cubit was named the interim coach at Illinois after Tim Beckman was fired a week before the season started. Illinois, a surprising 4-1 under Cubit, hopes to rewrite the expected script again.

“I've got a lot of respect for Bill Cubit and have had for a long time as a football coach, and certainly he brought a team in here and they beat our butts pretty good in 2007,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “So my respect for him grew even more after that.”

The Hawkeyes got some national respect of their own Sunday, landing in both the Associated Press (No. 22) and Amway/USA Today Coaches (No. 23) polls. This after Iowa made itself a legitimate Big Ten Western Division contender with a 10-6 victory at Wisconsin.

Speaking of 10-6, Illinois hasn’t played a game at Kinnick Stadium since losing to Iowa by that score in the same 2007 season that would end with Western Michigan’s stunning triumph.

The Illini were ranked 18th on their last visit. And now, after losing 24 of 25 Big Ten games in one stretch, this team has won four of their last six. That includes Iowa’s 30-14 victory late last season in Champaign.

“They’re a better football team than they were last November,” Ferentz said.

Iowa can become bowl-eligible for the 14th time in 15 seasons on Saturday. The sixth victory in the Hawkeyes’ three previous bowl seasons didn’t come until the calendar had turned to November. This would be the earliest sixth victory in a season since 2009.

But keep one thing in mind. Cubit’s in town. Don’t take anything for granted.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.