IOWA CITY - Last year's Iowa-Iowa State contest didn't carry the pomp and circumstance of its predecessors beforehand, but it stood tall as one of the more memorable games in series history when all was said and done.
Moral of the story? When it comes to the Hawkeyes and Cyclones in their current form, stay tuned. There may not be Top-25 rankings attached to either program, but that doesn't diminish the interest - or importance - of Saturday's 2:30 p.m. kickoff at Kinnick Stadium.
An encore to the 2011 triple-overtime, 85-point thriller won't necessarily be in the works. The entertainment value, though, should remain. Why? Not because either team is a powerhouse at the moment, or even predictable enough to comfortably anticipate the end result. The imperfections only add to the intrigue, which is all anyone can hope for in a rivalry like this.
The Cyclones prevailed a year ago, and looked better in pulling away from Tulsa last week than the Hawks in their escape act against Northern Illinois. I wouldn't read too much into either performance - the good, the bad or the ugly. The first week may drop hints here and there of what could be around the corner, but given a football team typically improves the most between its first game and its second, today should provide a much more accurate reading of where both squads are headed.
No need to jump to conclusions or push the panic button just yet.
Conventional wisdom would give Iowa State more than just a puncher's chance to end a losing streak in Iowa City that dates back to 2002. The Cyclone offense - with Jantz's mobility and home-run threats James White and Shontrelle Johnson in the backfield - is the kind that has given the Hawkeyes fits through the years when their defensive personnel is lacking. I'm not convinced either squad has much up front on defense, but ISU certainly has an edge at linebacker with the ubiquitous tandem of A.J. Klein and Jake Knott.
The Kinnick factor is what keeps me from checking the Cyclones. There isn't enough of a gap either way to abandon the home-team tiebreaker. Special teams, turnovers and penalties will again separate the winner from the loser. New offensive coordinators Greg Davis (Iowa) and Courtney Messingham (ISU) will continue to be under the microscope.
Just don't get too caught up in the past when looking forward - whether it be last year or last week. This is a new day. Strategies and gameplans will change. Adjustments will be made. Prognosticators only know so much, because truth be told, this is a blank canvas. The uncertainty is what often turns a rather ordinary matchup on paper into a pleasant surprise - like last season. So sit back, relax, and enjoy not knowing what will happen next.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org