Michigan. The Big House. Hail to the Victors. It’s all treated with a certain reverence reserved for only a select few in college football.
No doubt, the Wolverines get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to expectations every year. But lately, they’ve fallen short. Every year.
Their last Big Ten championship is the same year as Iowa’s: 2004.
The number of Big Ten championships since 2001 is equal: Two.
The number of Big Ten Football Championship Game appearances is uneven: The Hawkeyes lead 1-0.
Their last national championship was 1997.
It’s not to say they haven’t earned respect… they have. But this Michigan isn’t necessarily that Michigan, just like Big Ten Nebraska ain’t Big 8 Nebraska.
Yet for some reason the Wolverines keep getting lumped into a mythical “Big Three” of the Big Ten — at least every August.
To which I responded:
Still true. And the Wolverines are still picked to win the East regularly. But as much as “votes” count in college football, division championships aren’t awarded to teams just because “it’s time,” like Karl Malone and the NBA MVP in 1997. Thankfully, more and more is decided on the field.
Not saying that Iowa deserves to be in the big three. Not at all (although Wisconsin probably has a claim in the #B1GFCG era). It’s just that Michigan is given every advantage every year, so it’s hard to filter out what’s hype.
Oddly enough, never was this more apparent than when I loaded up the EA Sports NCAA Football 2004 for this week’s “totally irrelevant prediction.”
More on that computerized prophecy below — and what a wild one it is — but it was very relevant to this conversation.
In it, Iowa was unranked and Michigan was No. 10. That game precedes the 2003 season, and Iowa finished 2002 ranked No. 8 after an Orange Bowl loss to USC. Michigan finished No. 9 and won the Outback Bowl. But Iowa beat Michigan in The Big House 34-9 that year. Yet the Hawkeyes fell off the poll and Michigan was ranked 10th to start? It’s true.
Despite that, Iowa climbed all the way back to No. 8 by the end of 2003 with a 10-3 record and a 37-17 win over Florida in the Outback Bowl while Michigan also finished 10-3, losing to USC in the Rose Bowl, and ended up at No. 6. Once again, Iowa won the head-to-head matchup 30-27, this time at Kinnick.
So how did the AP Top 25 preseason poll look in 2004? Iowa was No. 19 and Michigan was No. 8. Iowa finished that season 10-2 and in the No. 8 spot for a third year in a row, and Michigan ended up 9-3 and at No. 14. The Wolverines did win the head-to-head at home 30-17 that year.
And by the next preseason AP poll, Iowa had dropped to No. 11 and Michigan was ranked 4th. Sorry, Hawkeyes, you’re just not a perennial preseason Top 10 team even when you are one on the field.
This is not to disrespect Michigan. It’s just that even during Iowa’s best run of the Kirk Ferentz era, the Wolverines started at the 20-yard line of the national conversation while Iowa’s best field position was, at best, the 50. The Hawkeyes had to prove it every year and did. Michigan has the hype handed to them.
That’s Nate Stanley in the distance. He and the Hawkeyes have a chance to change the narrative Saturday.
Because even if Iowa is better this season, the perception is always that Michigan is. And therefore, what’s expected in this game might be more irrelevant than ever. Because “Michigan is Michigan.” But are they?
The Hawkeyes have won five of the past six in the series.
The last time the Hawkeyes played Michigan, a young kicker named Keith Duncan kicked the game-winning field goal just days after the Cubs won their first World Series in over a century.
It seemed like an upset that was overshadowed by current events — there was a new president elected that week, too — and a year later the destruction of the Wolverines’ chief rival 55-24 in alternate uniforms made for a much more memorable meme. But maybe that’s just recency bias. Because this still looks awfully impressive:
Alas, here we are, 2019 and Iowa’s got something to prove again but probably nothing to lose. Because if the Wolverines win that’s just the way of things. And if the Hawkeyes win it’s “just another fluke.” Even if they roll on to start the 2020 calendar year at a big bowl game, they’ll start the 2020 college football season in the bottom half of the poll again, looking up at Michigan.
Let’s get to the picks already.
Once again, we are thrilled to have our predictions on Hawkeye Headquarters brought to you by Draft Day Sports Lounge inside Rhythm City Casino, “where you can grab a bite and make live bets!”
The Hawkeyes’ all-time leader in receptions is back for a third season of picks.
Kevonte Martin-Manley: Iowa 21, Michigan 17
Steve Batterson: Iowa 20, Michigan 17. From Tom Nichol’s leg in 1981 and Rob Houghtlin’s game winner from 29 yards four years later, kickers have made the difference in seven of Iowa’s 11 victories over Michigan since 1981.
Keith Duncan, as he was in Iowa’s 14-13 win over the Wolverines at Kinnick in 2016, can be a big difference at the Big House for Iowa. The junior has converted on 10-of-11 opportunities so far this season and in a game where points may be a challenge to collect, the Hawkeye kicker may be the ultimate difference maker.
Steven Lassan: Michigan
Mitch Light: Michigan
Mark Ross: Michigan
Dennis Dodd: Iowa
Jerry Palm: Iowa
Tom Fornelli: Michigan
Chip Patterson: Michigan
Barton Simmons: Iowa
Barrett Sallee: Iowa
Ben Kercheval: Iowa
David Kenyon: Iowa 24, Michigan 20
Ralph D. Russo: Michigan 28, Iowa 21
Bill Bender: Michigan 27, Iowa 24
Bruce Feldman: Michigan 24, Iowa 17
Stewart Mandel: Michigan 19, Iowa 14
Scooby Axson: Michigan
Michael Shapiro: Michigan
Max Meyer: Michigan
Tim Rohan: Michigan
Molly Geary: Iowa
Ross Dellenger: Michigan
Laken Litman: Michigan
Joan Niesen: Michigan
Bill Connelly: Michigan 26, Iowa 22
Hawkeye State predictions
Marc Morehouse: Iowa 27, Michigan 17
Chad Leistikow: Michigan 31, Iowa 13
Go Iowa Awesome
Mark Hasty: Iowa 27, Michigan 23
Black Heart Gold Pants
JPinIC: Iowa 27, Michigan 24
Jerry Scherwin: Iowa 30, Michigan 24
Trez: Iowa 34, Michigan 20
DC: Iowa 31, Michigan 21
Matt Cabel: Michigan 24, Iowa 17
BoilerHawk: Michigan 21, Iowa 20
Benjamin Ross: Iowa 27, Michigan 17
Doug Saye: Iowa 27, Michigan 17
Matt Reisener: Iowa 24, Iowa 21
Cody Hills: Iowa 25, Michigan 21
And finally, the totally irrelevant prediction based on playing EA Sports’ NCAA Football 2004 on a PS2, as is the tradition since 2015.
Ryan Jaster: Hawkeyes 21, Michigan 14. Iowa looks fairly pedestrian offensively in The Big House until its final drive. Facing third and long, the Hawkeyes complete a 31-yard pass to keep a 12-play, 74-yard drive alive. It pays off with 52 seconds left in the form of a 7-yard touchdown pass. The biggest shock comes two plays and seven seconds later — a 29-yard pick six that gives the Hawkeyes their first lead of the game. The Iowa defense comes up huge, allowing just four rushing yards total and defending three 24-yard passes to the end zone in the final seconds that were all dropped by Michigan receivers.
Prognosis: The national predictors fell in line behind Michigan as expected, but the media that has watched the Hawkeyes every game are mostly picking Iowa. And we can be cynical. It’s pretty much an even split overall. A little more pain than usual is predicted, but not much.
Predictions on Hawkeye Headquarters are brought to you by Draft Day Sports Lounge inside Rhythm City Casino, “where you can grab a bite and make live bets!”
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Ryan Jaster writes a weekly predictions column during football season for HawkeyeHQ.com and previously wrote and edited for CBS Sports, the Quad-City Times, ChicagoSports.com and the Chicago Tribune. You can follow his Hawkeye musings at @Hawkologist.