I’m worried for the football team that leaves Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday with lowered heads, slumped shoulders and scrambled thoughts.
I’m worried for the loser of this year’s Big Game, which promises to stoke hopes for one but fire a broadside torpedo into the confidence of the other.
It’s been nearly a quarter-century since so many questions haunted both locker rooms at the same time and the collective psyche seemed as fragile as fine china.
The last time both staggered in with losses for a September matchup was 1989, the year tennis legend Chris Evert won her 101st and final singles match at the U.S. Open over 15-year-old Monica Seles. Remember? It was the year Fay Vincent was named commissioner of Major League Baseball and a plucky, central Iowa radio station with the call letters KGGO announced its arrival with wailing guitar riffs after taking over for KSO.
All these years later, this version feels like a giant audible away from the normal Big Game playbook.
Usually, one team strolls in with John Wayne swagger — and the other team, thanks to tide-turning Dan McCarney in 1998, owns a stout and sturdy shot to knock The Duke’s hat to the dirt.
The bloom might be off the win-loss rose for some, but the game seems more important rather than less.
If Iowa falls, the Hawkeyes will stand 1-2 with the sole win against less-than-stout, less-than-sturdy Missouri State — in the wake of four wins a season ago. If Iowa State stumbles, its 0-2 record will include a loss to FCS Northern Iowa on its own field with Big12 landmines galore still hiding underfoot.
Do you think the Big Game is, well, less big? Try telling that to Iowa State running back Jeff Woody.
A loss in 2013, wherever it lands, will sting like a knifing pain in heads and hearts alike.
“I wouldn’t want to be the team that loses — to put it bluntly,” Woody said.
Woody’s right, as the quotable senior so often can be.
Iowa State, riding one of the most herky-jerky schedules in college history, hits its second bye week in a three-week stretch post-Iowa — with back-to-back Thursday games up next. It must feel like an old pickup truck lurching in and out of motion as the team labors to establish rhythm.
Iowa’s stewing likely would linger, too, with a game against Western Michigan that’s unlikely to reveal much about the bigger picture waiting to be sketched along the Big Ten road.
The Hawkeyes are a pedestrian 20-20 since winning the 2010 Orange Bowl. Iowa State, meanwhile, is a hardly robust 19-22 over the same stretch.
Talk about two teams needing a win…
“It’s always a hugely important game, whether the teams go 12-0 and 11-1 or 0-12 and 1-11,” Woody said. “This would be a big springboard for the rest of the season, though.”
Iowa State probably owns a smidge more recent resilience after confidence is pounded like a punching bag, including a stunner over then-No.2 Oklahoma State in 2011. Nothing felt more dust-yourself-off, wipe-the-blood-off-your chin, though, than a win at Texas a season earlier after humbling beat downs against Utah and Oklahoma by a combined score of 120-27.
This game, though, is earmarked with danger — long after the stadium clock speeds to zero.
How does a team reach six wins and bowl eligibility with a loss this weekend? The answer: It probably doesn’t.
If Iowa State is still winless, it has just four more shots at home this season with only Kansas the most logical win in the making. Texas is wobbling after being rolled by BYU — but it’s still Texas, until further notice. Oklahoma State sits uncomfortably in
the cross hairs of a scathing Sports Illustrated report, but remains all kinds of solid between the lines.
TCU probably is a toss-up, at best. On the road, Tulsa … well, who knows?
If Iowa suffers a Big Game trip-up, it will grab a second win against Western Michigan.
From there, though, there are trips to Ohio State and Nebraska — with ranked Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan, along with nearly ranked Michigan State, marching into Kinnick Stadium.
You get the picture.
Winning on Saturday is less about one game or one win, and more about exorcising ghosts and lighting a path to something better.
The Big Game is a bust?
No way. There’s too much at stake.
Reach Bryce Miller at 515-284-8288 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football