Ask Hawkeyes fans which Big Ten program is most comparable to their beloved Black-and-Gold, and I’d suspect most of them would answer Wisconsin.

That’s understandable considering the proximity and their physical styles. There’s also the fact that the Hawks and Badgers were regularly top challengers to Michigan and Ohio State at the beginning of this century.

It’s also not true since divisional play was introduced to the league in 2011.

The outfit that’s been most like the Iowa football program is this week’s opponent, Northwestern.

Yes, Chicago’s Big Ten team.

“If you look at numbers and look at tape, they’ve been an impressive football team for quite some time,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz at Big Ten Football Media Days this summer.

It’s like these two programs are each other’s spirit animal. The 4-4 record in head-to-head meetings since 2011 between the Hawks and ‘Cats is just the beginning.

Entering the 2019 season, Iowa was one win better (63-41) than Northwestern (62-41) during that eight-year span. Their conference records were identical at 38-29.

The ‘Cats have three 10-win seasons and four of eight or more. The Hawks have one 12-win season and five of eight or more. Northwestern won the West Division last year. Iowa claimed its lone division crown in 2015.

“The level of consistency, physicality, success – Coach Ferentz and his staff are the benchmark,” said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald at Monday’s press conference.

Going even deeper into offensive and defensive stats since 2011, Iowa’s been a little better defensively on average in both scoring and total defense.

Phil Parker’s group has ranked inside the top-35 in both measures five times. Northwestern has only achieved that twice.

The teams’ offensive numbers are nearly identical, though.

The Wildcats have finished inside the Top-60 in total and scoring offense twice, something the Hawkeyes haven’t achieved. Northwestern has also been outside the top-100 in both categories on three occasions, which only happened to Iowa in 2014 — what in the world happened that season?

So when you get down to it, the formula for success in both Evanston and Iowa City is this: a stout defense and painfully stubborn, ball-control offense, with groups who are rarely penalized, and a generally-positive ranking in the turnover department.

You’re going to win more games than you lose in most seasons playing this style, especially at developmental programs like Iowa and Northwestern.

And it’s just the way Ferentz and Fitzgerald – two of the biggest “football guys” in the entire country — probably like it.

It’s also why it could be another rock fight at Ryan Field on Saturday.

I guess that’s what happens when you play your spirit animal.

Iowa has lost three-straight games to Northwestern, including last year’s 14-10 setback at Kinnick Stadium. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

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