4:30 PM EST, ABC – Line: Iowa State -4.5, Over/Under: 46
If you couldn’t get enough action last weekend, don’t worry because there is plenty of college football to satiate your appetite today, with another battle between Top-10 Schools on tap as the (No.10) Iowa Hawkeyes battle the (No. 9) Iowa State Cyclones for the right to hold the annual Cy-Hawk Trophy in what is one of the more understated rivalries in the country. Many programs faced a wealth of adversity in 2020, with Iowa (1-0, 1-0 in BIG Ten) being no different; after the pandemic-influenced delay to their campaign, the Hawkeyes got off to a disappointing 0-2 start with narrow back-to-back losses to Purdue (20-24) and Northwestern (20-23), all the while embroiled in a controversy involving (former Strength & Conditioning Coach) Chris Doyle, who was relieved of his position following a number of complaints from former players citing racial discrimination. Needless to say, it was A LOT of smoke for (longtime Head Coach) Kirk Ferentz to deal with, though the 66-year old nonetheless persevered as his charges rallied after that disappointing start, winning their final six games of the season, highlighted by convincing victories over Penn State (41-21) and Wisconsin (28-7). The longest-tenured coach in the country, Ferentz is embarking on his twenty-third season in Iowa City, where it appears that his team have indeed managed to carry the momentum of last year’s finish into 2021. Make no mistake, there were plenty of questions to be answered in regards to the Hawkeyes, who were hit hard by graduation and early declarations to the NFL Draft last Spring, with a total of just twelve returning starters and major work needed to reload the Receiving Corps as well as the Offensive and Defensive Lines. However, they appeared to have squashed any of those concerns for the time being with their dominant 34-6 showing against (No. 17) Indiana, a team predicated by many (including the good folks here at Oracle Sports) to be the dark horse contender within the BIG Ten. For a unit that lost three starters along the Defensive Line, including (BIG Ten D-Lineman of the Year) Daviyon Nixon and (First-Team All-BIG Ten Defense) Chauncey Golston, who together combined for twenty-two tackles for loss and eleven sacks last season, there were no issues to be found against the Hoosiers; the hosts relegated the visiting side to 233 total yards, including a scant seventy-seven on the ground, while intercepting Michael Penix Jr. on three occasions, with (Senior Cornerback) Riley Moss (1 TKL, 2 INT, 2 TD, 2 PD) returning both of his picks for touchdowns. The Secondary is clearly the strength of this unit, with all four starters returning from last year’s group, including (Junior Safety) Dane Belton (4 TKL, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT) who accounted for the other interception. To put last Saturday’s performance into perspective, Penix only tossed four picks all of last season (six games), and would have equaled that figure had a potential fourth been negated by a Roughing the Passer penalty. All in all, this showing marked the twenty-third consecutive contest in which the Hawkeyes allowed no more than twenty-four points. Given the losses in terms of personnel and coaching staff there were legitimate questions as to how this Defense would perform early on, though it appears that Ferentz has yet to lose his touch in developing players, which has long made Iowa one of the most sustainable programs over the course of the last two decades. Offensively, they weren’t nearly as impressive as their teammates on the opposite side of the football, but they managed to do enough to maintain a comfortable early lead; Iowa totaled 303 yards of Offense, controlling the clock via 158 rushing yards on thirty-six carries, led by (All-BIG Ten Tailback) Tyler Goodson (19 CAR, 99 YDS, 5.2 Y/A, 1 TD). Goodson exploded early in last weekend’s affair, breaking off a 56-yard score to cap off the first drive. From there, (Junior Quarterback) Spencer Petras (48.1%, 145 YDS, 5.4 Y/A, 0 TD, 0 INT) managed the game with a meager 145 passing yards. At 6-5, 230 lbs and the ability to make plays with his legs, the development of Petras in 2021 will ultimately dictate just how high Iowa’s ceiling will be. As successfully as this unit runs the football, a legitimate running threat at Quarterback, which is something that they’ve never really had, would take them to another level entirely. Today’s battle with Iowa State should provide another early test for this team, though you won’t find Ferentz making too much of it all; the skipper is 12-9 all-time versus the Cyclones, currently riding a five-game winning streak against their state rivals, the longest enjoyed during his tenure with the program.
Meanwhile, 2021 marks the most important campaign in the recent history of the Iowa State (1-0, 0-0 in BIG XII) program, for expectations have never been higher in Ames. Indeed, the Cyclones entered this season with their highest ever Preseason AP Ranking (No. 7), and for all intents and purposes this roster appears to be the mot talented during the Matt Campbell Era, if not in school history. Simply put, Campbell has done nothing short of a stellar job during his tenure with the program in putting together a 36-28 record over the course of the last six seasons, including four consecutive Bowl appearances, highlighted by a school-record 9-3 finish and 34-17 trouncing of Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl last year. The 41-year old has consistently resisted overtures from the NFL over the past few seasons, and given his youth, energy, and track record, you get the sense that he won’t be staying in the good state of Iowa as long his counterpart tonight. And it’s with that said, that there is a strong sense of urgency for Iowa State to deliver in 2021, what with a ridiculous nineteen starters returning for a legitimate crack at ending Oklahoma’s dominion over the BIG XII and earning their first conference championship in school history. Nearly the entire Offense is back, including (Senior Quarterback) Brock Purdy (80.8%, 199 YDS, 7.7 Y/A, 0 TD, 0 INT) and (Junior Tailback) Breece Hall (23 CAR, 69 YDS, 3.0 Y/A, 1 TD), both of which pack dark horse Heisman potential; the former is by far and away the winningest Quarterback in school history with 19-6 against BIG XII schools during the regular season, while the latter was the Cyclones’ first unanimous First-Team All-American with twenty-one rushing touchdowns a year ago, the second-most in the country. Runner-Up for the Doak Walker Award (which is annually given to the nation’s top Tailback), Hall led the country with nine 100-yard rushing performances. Furthermore, four-fifths of the Offensive Line return as well, along with (2020 Mackey Award finalist) Charlie Kolar, one of the top Tight Ends in the nation. Oh, and then there is the Defense, which brings back only nine starters from the previous campaign, chief among them (Senior Linebacker) Mike Rose (11 TKL, 1.5 TFL), as they look to dispel the notion that “nobody plays defense in the BIG XII”. Well, in a league where that stereotype certainly fits most of it’s residents, Iowa State has been the exception to the rule on many fronts; the Cyclones allowed opponents to score a touchdown on just 48.6% of their trips into the Red Zone, which was good for eleventh-best in the nation, while also making the requisite adjustments to keep the opposition at bay down the stretch, yielding a mere sixteen second-half points over the final five games… combined. With all that said, perhaps the close call that they sustained in their season opener against Northern Iowa was simply a case of the hosts reading their own press clippings and looking ahead to tonight’s dance with the Hawkeyes. Indeed, this affair was one that Campbell will no doubt use to teach some things to his players; the home side started slow and immediately found themselves trailing 7-0 after the visitors took advantage of poor tackling and coverage to break open a 52-yard touchdown, and though the Cyclones responded with ten unanswered points, the contest was still very much in contention as the hosts kicked a late field goal as the half expired to take a 13-10 lead at intermission. The second half would turn out even less eventful than the first, as (Senior Kicker) Connor Assalley buried his second field goal of the day, while the Defense came up with two clutch interceptions in the second half, courtesy of Defensive Backs, Isheem Young (6 TKL, 1 INT) and Datrone Young (3 TKL, 1 INT). Though this unit rose to the occasion, Iowa State will no doubt need more from Purdy, Hall, and the Offense for Saturday’s victory was nothing short of uninspiring; Purdy completed an efficient 21-of-29 passes but was held below 200 yards (199), with the Offense as a whole struggling to keep the chains moving (5-of-14 on third down) despite rushing for 136 yards on thirty-four carries and owning time of possession (31:12). Again, we can’t stress this enough: if the Cyclones intend on besting the Hawkeyes, then they had better bring more to the table. While a BIG XII title is certainly Campbell’s goals this season, so is defeating their state rivals, which is something that they haven’t managed to do so since the skipper arrived in Ames six years ago. Last season’s meeting was nixed on the account of the pandemic-influenced scheduling, but they’re last two meetings have been decided by the smallest of margins (11 points). The issue has been their inability to finish; Iowa State racked up 418 total yards when they last encountered each other at Kinnick Stadium in 2019, but thanks to a pair of detrimental turnovers found themselves falling just short in a 17-18 affair. There are currently eighteen starters that suffered that defeat first person, and if they intend on winning the conference for the first time in school history and taking a legitimate shot at the Playoff, then toppling that other school down the road would be a good starting point.