Heavyweight showdown

Top-10 matchup too close to call? Cyclones look to end Iowa stranglehold

AP Photo: Iowa State's Matt Campbell talks to Kirk Ferentz of Iowa before their game at Ames in 2019.

The focus for Saturday’s historic Iowa-Iowa State football game is on everything these Hawkeyes and Cyclones are. The narrative makes sense, given this will mark the first time in the history of the rivalry both programs are ranked in the Top-10 at kickoff.

The buzz is both justified and deserved. Regardless of who wins at Jack Trice Stadium, these teams will likely have bigger and better on their respective horizons. Iowa seems to be an early odds-on-favorite to contend for the Big Ten’s Western Division championship, especially after its impressive dismantling of Indiana last week. Iowa State, with almost every starter back this season, is poised to defend its Big 12 regular-season title.

For all of their strengths — and we’ll see plenty on display in Ames — picking a winner often comes down to identifying the question marks. It’s typically too early to get an accurate read on the full potential of the Hawkeyes and Cyclones; seeing them play annually in September is more of a snapshot than a lasting image. So this is a tough one to gauge.

I’m a little concerned with what I saw up front from both squads last week. All-American tailback Breece Hall had very little room to maneuver against a game Northern Iowa defense, rushing for a pedestrian 69 yards on 23 carries. Tyler Goodson broke loose for a 56-yard touchdown to get the ball rolling against the Hoosiers, but in his ensuing 18 attempts, Goodson managed only 43 additional yards.

ISU is more settled on its offensive line, bringing almost everyone back from a year ago. Hall’s paltry performance will probably prove to be more of an aberration long-term than the rule. Goodson is incredibly talented — one of my favorite recent Ferentz backs, actually — but there are still some moving pieces up front for the Hawkeyes. All-American center Tyler Linderbaum should be fine despite getting dinged and leaving the game last Saturday. Linderbaum is the lone incumbent, though, on a line that is otherwise still a work in progress.

I know a lot of Iowa fans aren’t fully on the Spencer Petras bandwagon. I actually think he’ll be a serviceable quarterback long-term; nothing flashy, but in the mold of his predecessor, Nate Stanley. With that being said, Petras is making his first true road start in a hostile environment on Saturday, given all of last year’s contests were played under strict COVID-19 protocols. Petras is still very much an unknown to date, especially in a situation like this one.

For all of his success and earned adulation, Cyclone head coach Matt Campbell is still winless in four tries against Iowa. Small sample size, yes, but this is an important moment for the Campbell era when it comes to seizing momentum in both the series and on the in-state recruiting trail.

Iowa State hasn’t beaten Iowa by more than three points since 2005, yet the Cyclones are favored by 4.5 points heading into Saturday’s showdown. Free money? Not so fast. I traditional ride with the home team in this annual prediction column, and this time won’t be any different. I know what we saw last Saturday seems to point to the contrary, but I still feel like Iowa has more questions than answers, relatively speaking, and Iowa State will come to life after a shaky performance against the Panthers.

Prediction: Iowa State 27, Iowa 20.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. Contact him via email at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @ByEricPratt


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