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Iowa And Northwestern Matters More Than Ever

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Kain Colter and Northwestern need to beat Iowa to start to salvage their season. Photo by David Banks/Getty Images.
Kain Colter and Northwestern need to beat Iowa to start to salvage their season. Photo by David Banks/Getty Images.

Every year the Iowa game matters more than any other regular season game for the Northwestern football program.

Illinois may be the “trophy game,” but it’s the Iowa game that really gets the players, coaches and fans fired up. In the 1970s and 1980s, Iowa went a combined 17-2 against NU. From 1974-94 Northwestern did not win a single game in the series.

When Pat Fitzgerald came to Northwestern as a player, it was Iowa that mattered most. The story goes that in Gary Barnett’s first season, after Iowa had demolished NU by a score of 56-14, its head coach Hayden Fry said to Barnett at midfield, “Hope we didn’t hurt your boys too badly.”

Anyone familiar with Northwestern football knows that story and hasn’t forgiven the Hawkeyes since.

In 1995, Northwestern finally beat Iowa, 31-20, in a freezing Dyche Stadium. But Fitzgerald broke his leg in the game and didn't play in the Rose Bowl.

Since Fitzgerald has been the head coach at NU, beating Iowa has been the top priority (save for that elusive bowl win they finally got last year). So far, so good. NU is 5-2 against the Hawkeyes under Fitz, with the only losses coming in seasons where Northwestern went 6-6.

Injuries continue to be a theme in the series. Shonn Greene was knocked out of the 2008 contest by Brad Phillips. Ricky Stanzi went down in the 2009 game courtesy of Corey Wootton. And in 2010, Northwestern won, but Dan Persa tore his Achilles after the game-winning touchdown pass.  

The 2009 game is particularly relevant for NU because Iowa was No. 4 in the country coming in and the Wildcats were scuffling at 5-4. They would win that game and their next two contests over Illinois and Wisconsin to earn an Outback Bowl bid. Meanwhile, Iowa lost to NU and then to OSU.

NU is scuffling again this season, sitting at 4-3 and having lost three straight Big Ten games. The difference this season is this game is also a possible rejuvenation for the Hawks, as they have dropped two in a row and also sit at 4-3.

A battle of two 4-3 teams is never pretty football. But it’s important football. One team will have the chance to begin the process of salvaging their season, while one will fall further into the abyss.

This is a must-win for Northwestern if they want to continue to make progress. The team makes it a priority every year to beat Iowa. They also want to have a stronger program than the Hawkeyes.

A conference championship is not happening this season. But this rivalry matters. Big time. No trophy is needed.

Game on.