You've definitely heard the stat by now, but let's just repeat it again because it's fun: Iowa's won the last four games in a row against Iowa State, meaning Iowa's senior class has never known the indignity of losing to Iowa State or seeing the Cyclones hoist the (still very dumb-looking) CyHawk Trophy. They're the first and only senior class of the Kirk Ferentz Era at Iowa that can say that. Prior to this year, Iowa had not won more than three games in a row over Iowa State over the last 20 years. In fact, this current four-year winning streak from Iowa is the longest by either team in the series since Iowa State won five in a row from 1998 through 2002.
That streak was (and still kind of is) the source of a lot of consternation among Iowa fans. It's also the main reason Kirk Ferentz's record against Iowa State is what it is -- 11-9 after yesterday's win. Kirk Ferentz's record against Iowa State is probably never going to look great -- we can't go back in time and change any of those losses into wins after all. And it's always going to pale in comparison to the man he replaced, Hayden Fry. Fry went 16-4 against Iowa State in his two decades in charge and, more importantly, he put together a 15-year winning streak over Iowa State that established Iowa's dominance in the series for an entire generation. That run will probably never be equaled or surpassed.
Ferentz's overall mark against Iowa State is 11-9, but the rivalry has definitely shifted on its axis -- shifted back in the direction of the Hawkeyes -- since his early terrible start against Iowa State. For instance:
- Iowa has won four in a row against Iowa State
- Iowa has won five of the last six games against Iowa State
- Iowa has won seven of the last ten games against Iowa State
- Iowa has won 10 of the last 15 games against Iowa State
Those numbers sure look a lot better, don't they? Winning 67% to 70% of the time against Iowa State is definitely moving things in the right direction. The days of winning 100% of the games against them and winning year in and year out for 15 years as Hayden Fry did? Those days are over. They're probably not coming back. Iowa State is an improved program from the one that Hayden Fry treated like a pinata, particularly now under Matt Campbell. If Iowa is going to play Iowa State every year -- and based on Gary Barta's comments this week that's not changing anytime soon -- then they might as well beat them a healthy percentage of the time and that's just what they've been doing for a while now.
Losses to Iowa State will still rankle when they happen -- and they should! Losing to a rival should sting and annoy. And losing to bad Iowa State teams (as Iowa did in 2007 and 2014, for instance) will be really irritating, as it's always been. But losses like that -- and losses to Iowa State, period -- have been becoming more and more infrequent under Ferentz, which is an enormously welcome development.
So what's changed for Iowa? Well, probably the most important thing is that Iowa's teams have simply gotten better. The 1999 team that lost to Iowa State was probably the worst Iowa team of the last 40 years. The 2000 team was better, but still pretty flawed; they also faced one of the best Iowa State teams of the last 40 years (they went 9-3 that year, one of two times in their history they've won nine games). Since then, though, the quality of the Iowa teams has ramped up -- and wins over Iowa State have become more frequent. Iowa has lost to Iowa State a few times when both teams were fairly evenly-matched (2001, 2005, 2011) and they've been upset by much-worse Iowa State teams a few times (2007, 2014). (There was also the still-painful upset loss in 2002, but that was a slightly different scenario -- you had a much much better Iowa team than the ones who were upset in 2007 and 2014, and also a better Iowa State team than the otherwise lousy teams that pulled things together enough to knock off Iowa in those seasons.)
Has Iowa's preparation for Iowa State also changed? It seems like it. Early on in Ferentz's tenure, it was commonly alleged that he didn't get his team prepared well enough for the Iowa State game, that Dan McCarney was better able to get his Iowa State teams ready (and revved up) for those games and that's why they managed to beat Iowa in those games. There were plenty of complaints that Ferentz's even keel, treat-every-game-the-same approach left Iowa at a disadvantage against a fired-up opponent like Iowa State.
Publicly, not much has changed about Ferentz's demeanor or stated approach to this game -- it's still a lot of the same "one game at a time" lines he's been providing for 20 years. But outside the public eye it seems like Ferentz has figured out how to get his teams ready to go for this game -- and no matter what he might say publicly, there's little doubt from the comments of the players that they understand the importance of this game and that they treat it accordingly. As Mark Emmert reported in Hawk Central:
Epenesa said the Iowa seniors and coaching staff talked up the importance of the rivalry all week. Not that he needed a reminder.
“You live for these moments. The crowd was electric tonight. We want this to be a Hawkeye state,” Epenesa said.
“The seniors harped on it a lot. It’s just a pride thing to be the team in Iowa.”
Damn right. Iowa is a Hawkeye State. It always has been and (god willing) it always will be. The results of the CyHawk game over the last five years, ten years, and fifteen years, have only served to reflect and emphasize that reality. Saturday was just the latest reminder.