The Hawkeye-Wildcat rivalry: Little glitz, lots of pain
IOWA CITY, Ia. – Welcome, to a rivalry that has no name or trophy.
Saturday marks the 76th meeting between the Iowa and Northwestern football teams, extending a series initiated in 1897.
Once again, the Hawkeyes (5-2 overall, 2-1in the Big Ten) enter an 11 a.m. contest at Kinnick Stadium as favorites (4 points, according to oddsmakers).
And once again, the Wildcats (3-4, 2-2) are cast in the role of spoiler.
It all seems so familiar. Yet, so many folks in black and gold fail to recognize Northwestern as a worthy adversary.
"I think a lot of people make the mistake of maybe living in the past," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "I mean, since 1995 these guys have been really good.
"They've got a proud tradition, and they play like they have a proud tradition."
The Hawkeyes won 21 straight over the Wildcats from 1974-94. Since then, Northwestern owns a 10-7 edge.
"The biggest part is, we became competitive," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "We weren't competitive against Iowa for a long time.
"I think before ('95) it was pretty much irrelevant, because the games were pretty lopsided."
The Wildcats have split their last six games in Iowa City, and since 2002 the average margin of victory in nine meetings is 7.8 points.
Still, there's little fanfare and the winner doesn't get to hoist a bronze pig or Paul Bunyan's Axe.
"They're a very fundamentally sound team," Hawkeye linebacker Quinton Alston said of Northwestern. "They're a really tough team.
"We respect these guys."
That respect appears to be mutual.
Fitzgerald, a former Wildcats player who took over the program in 2006, calls Kinnick Stadium "another one of the great college football cathedrals."
He also described the Iowa-Northwestern showdown as entertaining, and was asked how he prepares.
"I think I'm pretty consistent with how I am in practice," he said. "I'm pretty crazy. So I don't think this week will be any different."
The settling is similar to last year's late October thriller.
Iowa won 17-10 in overtime on an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jake Rudock to tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz.
"We've got a different team this year, different challenges and different issues," Fitzgerald said. "I thought it was a great game. Two teams went at it, competed their tails off.
"We had our chances and so did they. To credit Iowa, they made the plays down the stretch, especially in overtime."
The Hawkeyes need another clutch effort.
Last season, they were coming off consecutive losses to Michigan State and Ohio State, raising the anxiety level of fans.
A 38-31 defeat at Maryland two weeks ago prompted another round of restlessness.
"It's make or break time," Alston said. "It's a five-game stretch… You're always thinking about the big picture in the back of your mind, but we have to bring it back, think about one game at a time."
The Big Ten's West Division title remains up for grabs, partly due to Northwestern beating then-No. 17 Wisconsin on Oct. 4.
Iowa controls its own destiny.
"All goals are pretty much still intact from the start of the season," running back Mark Weisman said. "It hasn't gone the way we've planned, but it never does.
"You've got to go through the ups and downs of a game, a season, whatever it may be. You've got to bounce back."
The Wildcats have a history of delivering debilitating blows – Remember the end zone sack of Ricky Stanzi in 2009? – and now they have a chance to send the Hawkeyes reeling.
"I think it's a rivalry between us," Weisman said. "There's always good games between us, two teams going to battle every time.
"It always seems to come down to the last couple drives."