Hawkeyes, Schmawkeyes; Cyclones, Cyclowns


     A certain "buzz" has descended upon the state this week. Team loyalties are at maximum levels, trash talking is rampant and friends have turned into enemies.

     Yep. It's Iowa/Iowa State week.

     Despite the hype, it's hard to recall a less anticipated match-up between Hawkeyes and Cyclones. Both teams have given fans less than impressive early-season performances: Iowa has limped to a 1-1 start and ISU sits at 0-1 following a rather embarrassing loss to Northern Iowa. Both teams are green, and this year's game seems like it's going to come down to whichever school makes the least amount of bone-headed mistakes.

     Sounds like a barnburner.

     2013's tasteless match-up has been a long time coming, as the state of collegiate football throughout Iowa has become a rather unbearable display of mediocrity in recent years. ISU was a once-promising program following the arrival of head coach Paul Rhoads five years ago. He brought excitement and passion to a program in dire straights following the tumultuous tenure of the conniving Gene Chizik.

     Much of that hope and excitement is gone now, however. The Cyclones have plateaued as a perennial .500 team only capable of producing one signature upset win a year, at best.

     More troubling, though, is the precipitous decline of the Hawkeye football program during the last three years. Iowa failed to make any significant recruiting moves following their big Orange Bowl win in 2010, and it's made brutally evident on the field each week. Iowa's has tallied far too many unacceptable losses in the past two years as well. Be it MAC schools or Big Ten doormats, each and every team the Hawks line up against has a shot at walking away with an "upset." Kirk Ferentz is overpaid, overrated and outdated. This could, and probably should, be his last meeting against the Cyclones.

     It's frustrating to see our state's two biggest programs spin their wheels like this. I grew up during a rather unique time period in the history of the Cy-Hawk rivalry. Iowa's program was down towards the end of the Hayden Fry era, but ISU's was gaining steam under Dan McCarney. I can't tell you how frustrating it was to lose five-straight games to ISU from 1998-2002, but it pales in comparison to Iowa's 15-game winning streak from 1983-1997. That certainly had to stink if your allegiance was to ISU back then.

     There's been much more parity since those two streaks came to an end. The Hawks have won six out of the last ten match-ups, but ISU has taken the last two meetings in-a-row.       

     More often than not, it seems ISU is the hungrier team in this game, which is all the more frustrating if you’re a Hawk fan like myself. Far too often does Iowa seem completely oblivious to the fact that this game is an intrastate rivalry – they're supposed to hate ISU, but they don't play like it!

     This weekend's contest probably isn't going to be an easy one to watch. Both defenses have left little to the imagination in their previous games and Saturday's match-up could be a high scoring affair. However, the Hawkeyes and high scoring usually aren't two words used in the same sentence. ISU's had two weeks to prepare for Iowa because they didn't have a game last weekend, and Iowa usually does poorly in Ames. The Cyclones definitely have an edge in this mediocre match-up, objectively speaking.

     The Hawkeyes aren't without promise, though. Iowa State's rush defense was exposed during their game against UNI, and if you had to pick a strength on this Iowa team, it'd be their running attack. Even so, the Hawks haven't been capable of finishing off long drives to save their lives over the past two seasons. There's definitely little reason for ISU to be shaking in their mud-covered chore boots.

     I'm picking Iowa to win Saturday, but that's really only out of loyalty. This year's game is a toss-up with no clear-cut favorite. Fans of both teams should enjoy ribbing each other and pay as little attention to the game as possible, because it could be rather ugly this year. It's going to be long football season in the state of Iowa if you're not a UNI fan.

     How many days until basketball season starts?


     Nick Pedley is the regional news editor of the Hampton Chronicle, The Sheffield Press and Pioneer Enterprise.