Why Northwestern rivalry 'feels like' a trophy game to Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz
IOWA CITY, Ia. — There’s nothing to show off in a display case after a win, but the Iowa-Northwestern matchup is right there with the rest of the Hawkeyes’ rivalries.
That was Kirk Ferentz’s message Tuesday as the Iowa head coach dove into the latest showdown with the Wildcats, which will take at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
“It’s not a trophy game, officially,” Ferentz said, “but it kind of feels like one.”
Iowa (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten Conference) enters this Northwestern showdown after two disappointing losses that essentially zapped the Hawkeyes’ chances of winning a division title. Meanwhile, the Wildcats (5-4, 5-1) sit atop the Big Ten West and can move one step closer to Indianapolis with a Kinnick win.
The fact Northwestern is even in the mix for a division title shows how far the school has come under Pat Fitzgerald.
The head man since 2006, Fitzgerald has revived a dormant program. He’s won 57 percent of his games at Northwestern and has taken the Wildcats to eight bowl games.
The program had been to six before his arrival.
Anyone who still thinks Northwestern is a football cakewalk is “living in the past,” Ferentz said.
“They’re really well-coached and have really developed a defensive identity,” Ferentz added.
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Ready to roll
Matt Hankins is finally good to go. After battling wrist and hamstring issues that kept him sidelined against Minnesota, Indiana, Maryland and Penn State — as well as a one-game suspension against Purdue — the sophomore cornerback is set to return against Northwestern.
Ferentz said Saturday’s starting corners are still to be determined, but a healthy — and doghouse-less — Hankins will provide depth to an Iowa secondary that struggled at Purdue.
Tight end Shaun Beyer is still out after suffering a non-contact injury in practice last week. His chances of returning during the regular season sound iffy. Meanwhile, fullback Brady Ross (ankle) is out as well. As for more details on his return ...
“Maybe next week, but I doubt it”, Ferentz said.
Linebacker Aaron Mends (torn ACL in the spring) will not return in the regular season. Ferentz didn’t close the book on him coming back for a bowl, but the Iowa coach wasn’t optimistic.
“It’s been a long road,” Ferentz said. “All these injuries, you just feel for the players involved.”
Ferentz announced Parker Hesse, Jake Gervase, Nate Stanley and Keegan Render as Saturday’s captains.
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.