Opposites on track

Iowa State may be poised to regain control of Cy-Hawk Trophy

AP File Photo Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, and Iowa State coach Matt Campbell talk before last year's game in Iowa City.

Given I have no vested interest in the annual Iowa-Iowa State football game – I keep close tabs on both teams as the season progresses for professional purposes, but faithfully maintain my neutrality – it’s typically not difficult for me to spot the true favorite in a given year.

That doesn’t mean my forecasts always come to fruition, because after all, it’s college football. We should expect the unexpected. The sport’s imperfections and unpredictability are a big reason why it’s so entertaining to watch.

Long term, I’m bullish on both the Hawkeyes and the Cyclones this fall. Iowa has the ground game, the linebackers and the brutes up front to cause many opponents fits. And I truly consider Iowa State to be a bowl contender; I like their quarterback, tailback David Montgomery is a rising star, wideout Allen Lazard already is a star, and they’re athletic enough overall to throw a scare into several Big 12 teams.

Regardless of what happens on Saturday, bigger and better things are ahead for both programs in 2017.

The intrigue here lies in the matchups. It may not exactly be the unstoppable force vs. the immovable object, but many of the Cyclones’ strengths are the Hawkeyes’ weaknesses, and vice versa.

ISU is fleet-footed, with potential playmakers across its offensive and defensive backfields. Iowa, like usual, is more grinding and methodical, though talents like tailback Akrum Wadley and cornerback Joshua Jackson can and will make a difference.

For just the second time in the last decade, Iowa is favored by a field goal or less at -3. That line may seem suspiciously low to some Hawkeye fans, given their team has rolled in the last two Cy-Hawk showdowns by a combined point differential of 73-20. Iowa had a 20-7 record in those two seasons; ISU was just 6-18. In addition, head coach Kirk Ferentz’s squad has posted respective wins of 27-21 and 31-17 in their last two Ames visits.

Still, it feels like the gap could be narrowing. Not because the Hawks are taking a step back, but because head coach Matt Campbell has ISU on the road to respectability. The point spread reflects that.

Of course, it’s all theoretical until the Cyclones actually walk the walk again in this series. And to do so, they must prove they can run with the big boys – and stop the run. In the last four meetings, Iowa has rushed for 805 yards and won three times. ISU, meanwhile, has managed only 330 yards on the ground in those games.

If Campbell’s team is able to keep things respectable in the trenches, and if Jacob Park presents the kind of issues I think he will as the type of signal-caller that traditionally gives the Hawkeyes trouble, there could be an upset brewing here. I’ve never been a fan of backing a rookie starting quarterback in his first road test, and while I do see potential in Nate Stanley, he might be in for some growing pains on Saturday.

When it comes to this game, I haven’t picked the Cyclones in a while. I’m due because I think they’re due. I’m going to go out on a limb, turn the “ifs” to “whens,” and say Iowa State scores enough points, creates enough turnovers, and finds enough Jack Trice Stadium momentum to beat the Hawks at home for the first time since 2011.

I may be going against statistics, series trends and better overall judgment given I’ll catch a lot of flak from my pro-Hawkeye family — but a hunch is a hunch. The Cyclones’ last four wins over the Hawks have been by a field goal or less. Let’s make it five.

Prediction: Iowa State 27, Iowa 24.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @MessengerSports