Fresh off a thrilling, gut-checking 39-38 win over previously undefeated Penn State, the No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten) pack their bags and hit the road bound for Iowa City. The Iowa Hawkeyes (5-3, 2-3) are all dressed in black and waiting for a chance to knock off a top ten team. What can we expect when these conference powers meet?
Ohio State leads the all-time series 46-14-3. The Bucks are riding a four game winning streak in the matchup (not counting vacated games). The Hawkeyes haven’t defeated the Bucks since a 33-7 home victory in 2004. Saturday will mark only the second time these schools have met since the conference first split into divisions in 2011. The Scarlet and Gray most recently defeated Iowa 34-24 in 2013.
The Hawkeyes have been an up-and-down team over the past few seasons. In 2015, the Black and Gold enjoyed a perfect 12-0 regular season and West Division Title. In their first Big Ten Championship Game the Hawkeyes fell to the Michigan State Spartans when a last grasp goal line stand failed. They then proceeded to the Rose Bowl where Stanford embarrassed them 45-16. Last season the Hawks dropped to 8-5 including a loss in the Outback Bowl. Iowa has not won a bowl game since the 2010 season.
In 2017, the pride of Iowa City opened with three non-conference wins including an overtime triumph of now-No. 15 Iowa State. When Big Ten play began, Iowa dropped a heart-breaker to Penn State when the Nittanies scored a walk-off touchdown in the game’s final play. Spirits dampened, the Hawkeyes dropped their next game at Michigan State. The Hawkeyes then defeated visiting Illinois, lost at Northwestern, and beat Minnesota at home. Iowa is dead and buried in the Big Ten West thanks to undefeated Wisconsin, but the school needs only one more win to become bowl eligible.
For the 19th consecutive season Kirk Ferentz serves as the head coach at Iowa. The longest actively tenured head coach in Division I FBS football, Ferentz has accumulated a 152-116 record including a 6-8 bowl mark. Under his tutelage the Hawkeyes won the Big Ten in 2002 and 2004. Ferentz’s tenure on the sidelines has now encompassed seventeen Marvel movies, four presidential administrations, and three popes. Last season he signed a giant extension that will keep him employed through the 2026 season so don’t worry if you’ve never seen him coach in person; you have time.
On the field, sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley leads the offense. He has thrown 131-of-228 passing for 1,703 yards, 17 touchdowns, and four interceptions. Junior wideout Nick Easley has easily been Stanley’s favorite target with 36 receptions for 375 yards and four scores. Redshirt senior tailback Akrum Wadley sets the tone on the ground with 161 attempts for 643 yards and 5 TDs.
The Hawkeyes play at Kinnick Stadium in the heart of Iowa City. If you have not had the chance to visit the stadium yet, I highly recommend it. Opened in 1929, Kinnick is named after Iowa’s only Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick. Born in Adel, Iowa, Kinnick claimed the stiff-armed trophy in 1939. After graduating he advanced to Iowa’s law school with rumors circulating he had his eye on political office. After a year of law school he left to enlist in the Navy shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor. During a 1943 training flight near Venezuela his aircraft suffered a malfunction that forced him to make an emergency landing. He performed the water landing, but perished in the process. He was the first Heisman Trophy winner to pass away and would have turned 25 the following month. Almost every story surrounding the young man carries overtones of respect and reverence. In 1972 the Iowa Athletic Board decided to rename the stadium in honor of the school’s finest football player. Not surprisingly a statue of Kinnick stands outside his namesake stadium. Quite surprisingly, his bronze counterpart is wearing a tie and holding textbooks, exemplifying the belief that he made is greatest impact off the field.
Ohio State fans may have been surprised to see the Buckeyes ranked sixth in the first College Football Playoff Poll after the team rose as high as No. 3 in Sunday’s AP Poll. All of the teams in the top ten (except Georgia) have one reason or another to gripe. The important thing to remember is that there is plenty of opportunity for the teams on that list to strengthen their resume’s in the season’s final month. Here is a quick reminder of the first polls of the past three seasons:
2014: 1. Mississippi State, 2. Florida State, 3. Auburn, 4. Ole Miss (FSU makes it)
2015: 1. Clemson, 2. LSU, 3. Ohio State, 4. Alabama (Clemson and Alabama make it)
2016: 1. Alabama, 2. Clemson, 3. Michigan, 4. Texas A&M (Alabama and Clemson make it)
So far the success rate in the first poll is 5/12 (42%) which means it’s almost assured that two of the teams in this week’s top four will not make the semifinals.
Last week’s incredible victory over Penn State brought a measure of revenge that Buckeye Nation burned for all year long. It would be easy to relent and believe the next Big Game won’t come until November 11th when Michigan State comes to town. It would be a mistake to overlook Iowa. Despite their lackluster record, the Hawkeyes are a tough club that took Penn State to the limit is no stranger to upsetting top ten teams at home. Ohio State needs to stay focused and make sure they are not the newest member of that club.