Hawks and Cyclones did a lot right in 2017, with nearly identical results
It may not sound spectacular or even newsworthy to each other’s fanbases, but impartial observers will note that 2017 now stands as a season of historical significance in our state.
For the first time in the 120-plus year history of college football in Iowa, both the Hawkeyes and Cyclones accumulated at least eight victories in the same campaign.
I know most of you will simply chalk up the identical 8-5 records as a coincidence and leave it at that, given your disdain for rival comparisons. Truth be told, though, there are a number of impressive similarities worth highlighting as we close the books on ’17.
Iowa and Iowa State both navigated their way through Top-20 schedules, according to statistical guru Jeff Sagarin. The Hawkeyes played the third-toughest slate in the country, while the Cyclones were at No. 16.
Defense was a hallmark for both squads as well, with Iowa ranking 17th for fewest points allowed and ISU checking in at 26. The Cyclones were also 15th nationally in turnover margin; Iowa was 26th.
While it’s doubtful either squad makes the cut in the final Associated Press Top-25, maybe both should. Sagarin currently has the Hawkeyes 19th in his unbiased power rankings, and the Cyclones are 26th. In ESPN’s Football Power Index — another objective, computer-based system — Iowa is 24th and Iowa State 26th. For defensive efficiency, ESPN has the programs at 22nd and 23rd, respectively.
The Hawkeyes lost four of their five games by 10 points or less, including three setbacks by a touchdown or fewer. All five of the Cyclones’ defeats were by 10 points or less, with four by a touchdown or fewer.
And of course, no recap is complete without mentioning the two biggest wins from the entire ’17 college football lot: Iowa State stunning Oklahoma as a 31-point underdog in Norman on Oct. 7, and Iowa thumping 21-point favorite Ohio State on Nov. 4 at home in a 55-24 rout.
Statistical parallels and bowl victories aside, it’s also worth noting that the heart and soul of both programs — Iowa’s Josey Jewell and Joel Lanning and Allen Lazard at Iowa State — were home-grown in-state kids turned All-Americans. This trio did everything their respective teams needed for four years both on and off the field. From an all-time roster, ask any fan to pick a player who epitomizes Hawkeye or Cyclone football. Jewell, Lanning and Lazard will always be in the conversation.
With Iowa’s Pinstripe Bowl triumph over Boston College, head coach Kirk Ferentz tied Hayden Fry as the school’s all-time leader for career victories at 143. Their resumes are strikingly similar from top to bottom; Fry won 96 Big Ten games, three Big Ten championship and six bowl contests. Ferentz has 86 conference wins, three league titles and seven bowl crowns.
Fry is a college football legend. By any standard, so is Ferentz.
Meanwhile, Matt Campbell is indisputably building something special in Ames. Hypothetically, Iowa State was a small handful of plays away from a 12-1 record. I know it doesn’t work that way, but the Cyclones’ competitive consistency this season was nothing short of remarkable.
ISU backers will hate to hear this, but so far, Campbell seems to be doing things the Ferentz way: finding selfless players who may fly under the radar a little on the recruiting trail, but would run through a brick wall for their teammates and coaches. Guys like Lanning and Lazard have set the altruistic bar high, but those expectations were established by Campbell’s obsession with culture and attention to detail. They won’t waver, even as the names on the jerseys change. Sound familiar, Iowa fans?
It may seem like an odd juxtaposition at first, but the resemblance at this point in time is quite noticeable. The programs are being measured in the same breath for all the right reasons: toughness, resilience and an ability to prove their doubters wrong.
The future is bright for both the Hawkeyes and Cyclones if they stay on this trajectory. As history shows, it won’t be easy for both schools to win at a high level simultaneously. And many of you don’t care enough about the other side to hope that it happens.
For the rest of us, the battle of wills moving forward — with Ferentz and Campbell squeezing every ounce of possibility from their respective rosters on an annual basis — will be fun to watch, and could lead to a golden era in this rivalry.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons at 1-800-622-6613, by e-mail at email@example.com, or on Twitter @MessengerSports