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September 10, 2009

It's Big Game week ...

... so excuse me while I yawn.

OK, I'm not that cynical about Saturday's Iowa-Iowa State football game in Ames. But the game just doesn't excite me that much -- this year or any year. Maybe it's because I didn't go to either school or develop a loyalty to one or the other. I can appreciate that a lot of people enjoy watching it, but it's just one more game for me.

Don't get me wrong. They should play each other. And I like to see both of them do well. It's always easier to write about winning teams. And the week they played, I always turned out a bunch of stories, just like everyone else. I just never got caught up in the emotion.

Plus, I never cared for the bickering that goes on this week. There's some good-natured back and forth to be sure. But there's also a lot of childish sniping that makes the debate over health care look downright cerebral. And I'm sick of hearing the argument that this is Iowa State's ``Super Bowl'' and the Cyclones don't care what happens the rest of the season as long as they beat Iowa.

Hey, if Iowa State's 2007 team had a choice between going 9-3 and losing to Iowa or 3-9 and beating the Hawkeyes (which is what actually happened), how could anyone in their right mind suggest the Cyclones would take the latter?

But I will say this. It's more important for Iowa State to win the game than for Iowa to win it. I'm not saying Iowa State makes the game more important than Iowa does. It's just more  important for Iowa State to win it.

That's because the Cyclones typically don't do as well in the Big 12 as Iowa does in the Big Ten. Since Iowa State broke its 15-game losing streak to Iowa in 1998, the Cyclones have finished above .500 in the league exactly once, a 5-3 mark in 2000.

Four times they've broken even at 4-4. They've also gone 1-7 three times, 0-8 twice and 2-6 once. So, if ISU is to build any kind of won-loss record, it has to win as many nonconference games as possible. And winning nonconference games means beating Iowa.

The Cyclones went to a bowl game five times from 2000-2005. In four of those bowl seasons, they strengthened their record by beating Iowa.

Iowa, on the other hand, can get by when it loses to Iowa State because the Hawkeyes have been finishing in the top half of the Big Ten. They've gone to a bowl seven times under coach Kirk Ferentz and have lost to Iowa State in three of those seasons. Heck, they lost to Iowa State in 2002 at home, then went 8-0 in the Big Ten and ended up in the Orange Bowl.

That doesn't mean I think Iowa puts any less emphasis on the Iowa State game. It just means that generally, Iowa is better able to handle the rest of its schedule than Iowa State. The Hawkeyes can compete in the Big Ten. The Cyclones struggle to do that in the Big 12.

I did enjoy the Iowa-Iowa State game in 2001. It was the last game of the regular season and both teams were eligible for bowls, so the game wasn't going to wreck either's year. Iowa State won, so the Cyclones could hang their hats on that. But Iowa got the better bowl (Alamo vs. Independence), so the Hawkyes had that going for them.

The downer, of course, is that the game was played at the end of the season because it had been postponed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

I'll be at Saturday's game, of course, and I'll write about it. Unless someone really messes up with a lot of turnovers or special teams breakdowns, it should be close. Either team could win it, so there's at least some suspense.

What would make it interesting for me is if someone who usually doesn't get a lot of attention or has dealt with some adversity steps into the limelight and plays a significant role. Exhibit A: Bret Culbertson beating Iowa with those five field goals in 2007 after muffing critical kicks each of the two previous years with the Big 12 North title on the line. 

Give me a new star or a bounce-back guy. Those are the kind of stories I like.

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