ESPN's "College GameDay" crew sees Cy-Hawk game as 'measuring stick' for Iowa football's Spencer Petras

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

AMES, Ia. — Picture this: a sold-out Jack Trice Stadium, 61,500-plus strong, mostly decked out in Iowa State’s cardinal and gold, adding to an intense game coming down to the final moments, each play more pivotal than the last.

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras trots onto the field, 80-some yards away from the end zone. He must guide Iowa there if the 12th-ranked Hawkeyes want to beat 10th-ranked Iowa State and win this year’s Cy-Hawk game, set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

It’s a dreamed-up scenario, sure, but plenty realistic, and spurs a simple question.

How does the junior handle that?

That’s what the folks at ESPN's "College GameDay" want to know.

“I want to see how Petras handles himself in this environment,” Rece Davis, the anchor for ESPN’s Saturday morning college football preview show, said Friday afternoon. “It’s always a bit of a measuring stick for a quarterback.

“The Iowa kids, coming in here, playing in a hostile environment — and Petras, this will be his first time — there’s a little extra juice that gets going with a great crowd.”

There are many things that intrigue Davis and his colleagues in this year’s Iowa-Iowa State game: the running backs, Tyler Goodson and Breece Hall; Iowa’s defense, specifically the secondary; Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar. The list goes on.

They also brought up the potentially-rowdy crowd at Jack Trice Stadium, which sold out two weeks ago. And they’re interested to see how Petras operates in that atmosphere.

“These kids are going to be amped up for this game, man,” said Desmond Howard, the former Heisman Trophy winner-turned-college football analyst for ESPN.

More:College GameDay 101: What to know as ESPN returns to Ames for Iowa-Iowa State football

The Hawkeyes enter Saturday’s nationally televised contest on a seven-game win streak, which began with the final six games last year and continued with last week’s 34-6 win over Indiana. The offense is scoring 35.4 points per game during that stretch.

Since Petras became the starter, Iowa is 7-2 overall and averaging 32 points per game, which is the highest scoring average under an Iowa quarterback since the Brad Banks-led Hawkeyes put up 36.6 per game in 2002. Not bad.

Here’s the wet blanket: Petras, a California native, hasn’t put up earth-shattering numbers during that streak: a 55.9% completion rate, 1,233 passing yards, 8 touchdowns. Good but not great. He’s only surpassed 200 yards passing in two of those games. The defense, meanwhile, has allowed 12.7 points per game.

One more thing: that streak includes three road victories, over Minnesota, Penn State and Illinois, all with crowds that were 2% or less of each stadium’s full capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s one more thing that adds to the degree of difficulty,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said this week, regarding the sold-out crowd at Jack Trice. “We have guys that played last year, but they don’t know what it’s like to go on the road in a hostile environment.

“We have a lot of those in our conference, and then you throw this one in, too, this is as loud as any of them … you can’t duplicate the emotion — and part of it’s just experience. You have to experience it sometimes.”

Ah, yes. The emotion. The Cy-Hawk rivalry is full of that, too, between passionate fans online as well as the players on the field. The GameDay crew learned that two years ago and were reminded of it again this week as they prepped for Saturday’s show.

More:Photos: ESPN's 'College GameDay' arrives in Ames ahead of Cy-Hawk game

“'Hate week' is a real description,” said Holly Rowe, ESPN's college football sideline reporter. “It’s going to be insane. I hope you guys are ready for the insanity. There’s excitement for being back to some normalcy and having the full stadium at capacity, but then you add a rivalry on top of it, then a top-10 ranking for both teams …”

She paused, then told a story from one of Iowa State’s practices earlier this week.

“(Iowa State coach) Matt Campbell got the guys all together after practice,” Rowe continued, “and he said, ‘College football is about who can win the moment, but you never know when your moment is going to come.’”

Petras’s moment could come this Saturday, in front of a vicious crowd at a sold-out Jack Trice Stadium. How he handles that could go a long ways in defining how far this Iowa team can go. 

Read more Iowa vs. Iowa State football news

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.