Good day friends and football fanatics and welcome to TGS ULTIMATE TAILGATE ROADTRIP! Thank you for joining us on the 2nd stop in a recurring series of articles brought to you various writers and perspectives here at The Tailgate Society that will be covering a different marquee game each week of the college football season (as well as bowl games & playoffs). One rule we will stick to in these pieces is that the games must take place in a state that a current TGS Member lives in. Here at the Tailgate Society, we love all things football: the pageantry, the rivalries, the controversies, the Cinderella stories and of course – the upsets.
As most of you are, or should be aware, we are just 9 short weeks shy of the greatest time of year that the good lord has given us – College Football Season – so what better way to celebrate than taking a hypothetical roadtrip to visit some of the coolest Stadiums and games in our backyards!?! Seeing as we’re now officially broadcasting/typing out of 15 football friendly states, we’ll be going on a journey to various locations to show you what games we’ll be attending (or at least Tailgating for).
Thanks for joining us—now sit back, sip that coffee or crack open a cold one, and enjoy the journey!
WEEK 2: The CyHawk Showdown
Ah—Ames, Iowa. A diverse metropolis oozing with culture and an endless supply of things to do in the heart of football country. I couldn’t imagine a better place to kick off week two of our Ultimate Tailgate Road Trip than the Mecca of football tradition at Iowa State University.
While all of these things are undeniable facts, you’re probably wondering why we’re here. Did the imaginary TGS RV break down on the way to the Clemson vs. Auburn game? Was it half way to South Bend before it realized it couldn’t afford the tickets to Notre Dame vs. Georgia? The short answer: no. The long answer is as follows:
Here’s the deal—the CyHawk rivalry may not be the sexiest matchup on September 9th. Hell, the rivalry was dubbed “El ASSico” by SB Nation for its tradition of ugly games and the nation’s stereotype that Iowans are boring and what’s more boring than watching a football team from Iowa? Watching two football teams from Iowa. And while I find that slightly offensive, it’s hard to argue when the Iowa Hawkeyes have played the same exact ground-and-pound football for as long as anyone can remember and Iowa State has been very bad at football for longer.
However, outside of the occasional blowout—
*flashback to me chugging Coors Light pitchers at Es Tas last fall*
—the rivalry often produces dramatic endings and upsets that make this an underrated week 2 game for the college football world outside of Iowa, and the second biggest annual event in the state behind the Iowa State Fair.
FIGHT SITE: Jack Trice Stadium—Ames, Iowa
If you’re an average college football fan outside the state of Iowa, you probably haven’t given much thought to Jack Trice Stadium. In fact, the last time you probably watched a game (or saw highlights) at Jack Trice was when ISU took down No. 2 Oklahoma State on a Friday night in 2011 while 50,000 fans rushed the field. Ah, the memories.
Yeah, well the stadium has gotten better since then.
A nice $60 million renovation in 2015 bowled in the South end zone, added shiny new video boards, increased capacity to third in the Big 12 and finally elevated the aesthetic to a Power 5-level stadium. And don’t think just because ISU has struggled in football since the beginning of time that Jack Trice Stadium is some lame high school environment—dubbed “one of the most underrated home atmospheres in the nation” by Athlon, it features 100+ acres of tailgating lots directly around the stadium and they are usually packed, especially when the Hawkeyes come to town. In fact, ISU fans show up to games in spite of bad football more than any team in the nation—a Reddit user claims Cyclone fans are the most loyal in the nation due to its high attendance-to-wins ratio.
But the coolest part about Jack Trice Stadium is the history. I won’t go into detail here, but I strongly encourage you to read up on Jack Trice’s story. From being ISU’s first African-American student-athlete, to his tragic death, to the student body petitioning to rename the stadium in his honor to become the only D-I stadium named after an African-American, it’s one of the most amazing stories in all of college football and it doesn’t get enough play.
THE RIVALRY: CyHawk series history: 42-22 (Iowa)
Yeah, the series history looks a little lopsided, but the record doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Despite only 64 games, this isn’t a new rivalry. These guys were playing regularly even in the late 1800s, but took an indefinite hiatus in 1934 before WWII, with Iowa holding a commanding 16-8 rivalry record.
The rivalry was finally renewed in 1977 and the Cyclones actually started pretty hot, owning a 4-2 record in the first six years of playing again.
That didn’t last long.
From 1983-1997, Hayden Fry led the Hawks through the Golden Age of Iowa football, finishing in the top-25 nine times in that 15-year stretch. Meanwhile, Iowa State was in the Golden Shower Age of ISU football, finishing with a losing record in 13 of those 15 seasons and going an abysmal 0-15 against the Hawkeyes during that time.
BUT NO LONGER. Since Kirk Ferentz took over for Fry in 1999, the series is knotted up, 9-9. Iowa has taken the last two games in the series pretty definitively, but there’s reason to believe this year’s matchup could make the series interesting again. Iowa has spent the past two seasons trending upward, beating the Cyclones on the way to an undefeated regular season and No. 5 ranking in 2015, then peaking at No. 13 in the polls after beating Iowa State again in 2016. The Cyclones were spiraling downward, resulting in the firing of Paul Rhoads after three-straight seasons of three wins or less. Year one of Matt Campbell’s tenure was a rebuild from the bottom up, starting with three blowout losses before steady improvement and a late-season surge.
However, both teams are in transition this year, so what does that mean? Let’s talk about that.
MY PREDICTION: A Reenergized Rivalry
The Hawkeyes are coming off an 8-5 (6-3 B1G) season, ending with an Outback Bowl loss to No. 20 Florida. The season was pretty much par for the course under Ferentz: above-average record, run-first offense and rock-solid defense, an inexplicable loss (NDSU) and a great upset (#3 Michigan).
The meat and potatoes of Iowa’s success is in the trenches—and Iowa could feed a village with the meat and potatoes they’ve got. They return 4 starting lineman from a line that won the Joe Moore Award last season, given to the best offensive line in the country. Iowa is an NFL lineman factory and somehow, this might be the most cohesive unit Ferentz has had.
So it should be no surprise Iowa will focus on running the ball. Akrum Wadley is coming off a 1,000-yard season, but the pot just got sweeter as the Hawkeyes just picked up a big-time graduate transfer in James Butler. The former Nevada running back is using his final season of eligibility to play closer to his home state of Illinois, coming off back-to-back 1,300-yard rushing seasons. Add Tok Akinribade to the mix (a 6-1, 205-lb. truck), and Iowa has a stable of backs that will likely punish many a defense this year. It wouldn’t shock me at all if the Iowa backs combine for 45-50 carries as they try to wear down an ISU defense that will likely be overmatched up front.
Wow, only sunshine and rainbows. Nothing is going to stop this offense, right?
Wellllllllllll, there’s this one tiny detail I should mention—Iowa doesn’t have a passing game to speak of. Now, that’s not to say Nathan Stanley or Tyler Wiegers can’t develop into formidable quarterbacks, but their spring game outlook wasn’t exactly awe-inspiring. Even worse, Iowa’s top receiver from last season? Graduated. Second-leading receiver? Kicked off the team. Top tight end? NFL. Two other promising options left in the offseason. Literally the only returning receiver with a reception is Matt Vandeberg, who sat out most of last year with a broken foot, and guess what? He re-injured that foot this spring, making him a threat with a giant asterisk.
But that’s not the worst part! Even with a 2-year starting QB and a slightly more experienced receiving corps last season, the Hawks still finished 118th nationally in passing offense. Iowa State’s strength is in its secondary, likely making it even more difficult for Iowa to become two-dimensional. The good news: the passing game has never been the cornerstone of Iowa’s offense and Iowa has won its fair share of games with a one-dimensional attack. Can first-year coordinator Brian Ferentz have this team gelling by week two, or will there be growing pains breaking in a new QB in his first road start? I’m leaning toward gelling, but that’s assuming all goes well in week one.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Hawks should be (again) stout up front. The linebacking corps returns all three starters in Iowa’s 4-3 system, led by Preseason All-American and leading tackler in last year’s CyHawk game, Josey Jewell. The defensive ends are going to be a problem for most teams, returning successful starters and adding 5-star freshman A.J. Epenesa to the mix. However, they’ll need to replace the production in the interior of the line with Jaleel Johnson (4th round NFL Draft pick) and Faith Ekakitie (1st pick of CFL Draft) gone this season. With Jewell being one of the best defensive QBs in the country and the ends holding their own, the front-seven will likely be able to hide any glaring deficiencies with talent and experience.
But as with the offense, not everything can be sunshine and rainbows. The Hawks will likely take a step back in the secondary as Jim Thorpe Award-winner Desmond King enjoys himself a rookie contract in the NFL. In fact, the lone experienced player in the secondary is sophomore corner Manny Rugamba as injuries and graduation have left the unit with holes to fill. Iowa State will likely attack the secondary early and often with experienced receivers, so the front-seven will need to create plenty of pressure and plug running lanes to force the Cyclones into making bad decisions.
For Iowa State, the team comes off a 3-9 (2-7 Big 12) season that started off as a disaster and ended with growing hope. After attrition due to graduation, injury and typical turnover between coaching staffs, Matt Campbell has put together the two best recruiting classes in Iowa State history in back-to-back off-seasons. Five Cyclone freshman were named to the Athlon Big 12 First Team All-Freshman squad, which led the conference last season.
It’s rare for a team to return its starting quarterback, starting running back and starting star receiver. It’s even more rare to return each of their back-ups and pretty much the rest of their backups. For Iowa State, the offensive skill positions are as stacked as they’ve ever been in school history, and I don’t say that lightly.
Jacob Park returns as the starting quarterback after definitively taking the job from Joel Lanning last season. Slowly but surely, Park started looking like the 4-star quarterback he had been touted as out of high school. Of course, life is pretty easy when you’ve got Allen Lazard to throw to. The former 4-star recruit is on pace to break most of ISU’s receiving records, but is one of several capable receivers on the field. Deshaunte Jones will be right behind Lazard after a 500-yard, 6-TD freshman campaign, and three others caught 100+ yards worth of passes last year. While most teams set up their passing game by running the ball, don’t be surprised if ISU opens up the field with short passing routes to quick receivers to set up a run game.
Speaking of which, the issue with the run game isn’t so much talent as it will be execution. Mike Warren had a 1,300-yard season his freshman year before struggling last season and getting beat out by another freshman, David Montgomery. Both backs return this year and should give the Cyclones a good 1-2 punch in the backfield, but there’s little room for error against Iowa’s front seven.
Former offensive line coach of the year Tom Manning made the offensive line the most improved position on the team last season, but got absolutely embarrassed by the Hawks in Week 2. While the offensive line is believed to be somewhat of a strength on this year’s team, I think Campbell and Co. will utilize the tight ends a bit more to help offset the strengths of Iowa’s defense.
This is the segment where I pretty much just go ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. On the defensive line, there is All-Conference talent in some spots and a few veterans to give peace of mind that the unit won’t be a dumpster fire, but the holes to fill are still big question marks. The linebacker position is poised to be as strong as its been since 2013 (which isn’t saying much), with one important note: the leading candidate for starting middle linebacker was the starting quarterback last season. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing—coaches have been impressed with Lanning’s transition, but there’s cause for concern when your best option at middle linebacker is a guy who played offense his first four seasons at ISU.
However, the secondary is the strength of the defense and defensive coordinator Jon Heacock has played to that strength by running what is essentially a 4-2-5 scheme. The defensive line and secondary have flex-type players (LEO and STAR, respectively) that give the defense different looks in just a handful of sets. The defense struggled with the new scheme early last season, giving up 40 or more points in three of its first five games, including the 42-3 beatdown by Iowa. But they started to gel late, holding the nation’s No. 1 offense to 10 points as they embarrassed Texas Tech, 66-10, and finished third in passing defense in the pass-happy Big 12.
For the first time in a long time (ever?), Iowa State has the pieces in place for a potent offense and an improved defense. For the 100th year in a row, Iowa has the pieces in place for a bend-but-don’t-break defense and a bruising rushing attack. Both teams have relative strengths offensively that should expose weaknesses in the defenses, which should make for a more exciting game than the plodding style in years past. The one part I didn’t mention? Special teams, and it might be the X-Factor. ISU returns consistent punter Colin Downing and a handful of successful return guys, but will need to replace the best kicker in school history, Cole Netten. Iowa returns a kicker but the position is reportedly up for grabs, and they will have to replace its punter and returners as King leaves big shoes to fill. Up until today, I’ve tagged Iowa as the winner of this matchup, but this is the TGS Ultimate Tailgate Road Trip where the unexpected happens.
Final Score: ISU 27, Iowa 24 in front of the home crowd.
Quite honestly, Week 2 is stacked with quality games. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t played in a TGS state and none of them are going to be as good as ISU-Iowa. Regardless, there are some matchups you won’t want to miss, and I give you some cheap betting advice:
UCONN vs. USF—An obscure one, but it’s a battle of big offseason coaching hires: Randy Edsall returns to UCONN and Charlie Strong hopes to make a splash at USF. Give me the Bulls in this one.
Michigan State vs. Western Michigan—An in-state matchup that could cause some drama. The Broncos are coming off a 13-1 season, but lose their head coach to Minnesota. Michigan State squeaks this one out.
Oregon vs. Nebraska—The “We’re Still Relevant!” game of the week, Oregon gets revenge on Nebraska at home this time around.
Mizzou vs. South Carolina—An early-season SEC matchup at night would usually be the best matchup of the week. This one isn’t. South Carolina beats a sad Mizzou program.
Clemson vs. Auburn—Great matchup, but I think Clemson runs away with this one even with a new QB.
Notre Dame vs. Georgia—It’s rare to see Georgia venture this far out of SEC country, but I think they pick up a win.
Ohio State vs. Oklahoma—My pick for game of the week, Urban Meyer is able to outsmart the Bob Stoops-less Sooners.
USC vs. Stanford—Two Pac-12 powerhouses going at it this early? I love it. Give me USC at home in this one.
BYU vs. Utah—The Holy War is an underrated rivalry and the games often come down to the wire. Utah has won 6-straight in the series, but I’m taking BYU in a brawl.
I’m sure many of the readers here have an interest in the CyHawk rivalry and I’m guessing many don’t share my same opinion. And that’s okay! I’m a frequent Twitter battler and would love to fight you about it, so follow @_AlexGookin. Also, don’t forget to follow @tgatesociety if you haven’t already and subscribe to our podcasts on iTunes, as well. I, along with Shaun Curran and Tyler Gross, will be bringing you college football takes all season long as we experiment with our new podcast, No Punt Intended. There will be plenty of opinions you don’t agree with and hopefully a few laughs along the way.
I hope you enjoyed this definitely-too-long summary of the TGS Ultimate Tailgate Road Trip and we’ll see you next week!