Iowa CITY, Iowa - If history is any indication, Minnesota football fans could be in for a special season. Coach Jerry Kill rebuilds programs.
Kill compiled a 13-13 record at Northern Illinois during his first two seasons (2008-09) at the school. The Huskies were 10-3 in Year 3 and haven't slowed down since he left.
In Kill's first two seasons ('01-03) at Southern Illinois, the Salukis totaled five wins against 18 losses. His third season saw them go 10-2.
The Golden Gophers posted a 3-9 mark in 2011, Kill's first at the school. Last year, they went 6-7 after losing in a bowl. They've started this fall at 4-0 creating excitement for college football in the Twin Cities.
Minnesota has won 10 games in a season three times since 1900. Two of those came in the first decade of the previous century. It happened last in '03 under Glen Mason.
"If you look at the film from two years ago compared to now, it's a totally different team," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said of his boarder rival. "They've come in, they've gone to work, they've recruited well, and you can tell their players are totally bought into what it is they're doing. So they look like a well coached football team right now, and that's a real credit to (Kill) and his staff."
There's an adage that you can tell a lot about where a program is headed by how it performs in Year 3 of a coaching regime. A staff is coaching more of the players it brought to campus and been given time to tutor in its system those guys that were holdovers.
Iowa turned the corner for Ferentz in '01, his third year at the helm. The Hawkeyes posted a 7-5 mark, losing four games by six points or less and two of them by three. They came back the next season to share the Big Ten title by going unbeaten in the conference on the way to an 11-2 mark.
Ferentz and strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle built up players in their first two seasons. Iowa's head man saw a similar path walked by Kill and company up North.
"They just look stronger and more physical," Ferentz said. "They were playing some guys a couple years ago, and I think they identified some guys in their program, maybe not unlike a guy like Bruce Nelson in 1999 that wasn't quite ready, but they identified guys that probably had the traits that they were looking for. They've turned into a really good outfit now. They're reaping the benefits."
It's expected to be a physical game with both teams relying on strong ground games offensively and stopping the run on defense. It all starts up front on both sides of the ball.
"They're really a physical football team, similar to last year, but they're a little bit different obviously with the quarterback situation now, and then they are running the ball really well," Ferentz said. "They're playing really well. They're playing well on defense, too, so it should be interesting that way."
Minnesota comes in at 4-0 while Iowa sits at 3-1. Neither one is ranked.
Minnesota holds a 61-43-2 advantage in a series that began with a 42-4 Gophers win in 1891.
The Las Vegas Mirage lists Iowa as a 1-point favorite as of Monday morning. It opened at that day with Iowa as a 1.5-point pick. Several off-shore books had the total at either 47 or 47.5.
-The Golden Gophers are 2-6 ATS in their last 8 conference games..
-The Hawkeyes are 3-12 ATS in their last 15 road games.
Iowa DT Carl Davis v. Minnesota C Jon Christenson : A very similar resume to that of his Iowa counterpart, Austin Blythe, Christenson started six games at guard last season as a redshirt freshman. He took over as the starting center this season. He's helped pave the way for his team's 282.2 rushing yards per game average in 2013. Christenson and his line mates likely will find the sledding much tougher against Big Carl and the rest of Iowa's front four.
Iowa C Austin Blythe v. Minnesota NG Ra'shede Hageman : Hageman is the best interior defensive lineman in the Big Ten. He might be the best D-Lineman in the conference, period, and is a likely first-round pick in April's NFL Draft. He's recorded 5.5 tackles for loss, a sack, broke up two passes and blocked two kicks. Iowa's offensive front has enjoyed a strong season clearing the way for a dominant running back. It will be, by far, the Hawkeyes' stiffest challenge to date.
Iowa - Jordan Lomax (hamstring, doubtful), Michael Malloy (undisclosed, doubtful).
POINTS OF INTEREST
-The Gophers are 19-for-20 (95 percent) in the red zone this year, which ranks third in the Big Ten (Penn State is 15-for-15, 100 percent and Ohio State is 21-for-22, 95.5 percent) and is tied for 13th in the nation with Louisville (also 19-for-20). Minnesota leads the nation with red zone rushing touchdowns with 14. Eight of those runs, which includes five from last week, have been one-yard touchdowns.
-This is Minnesota's Homecoming. The Gophers last won a homecoming game in 2009 against Purdue.
-The Gopher coaching staff is the most tenured in the nation. Jerry Kill's nine assistants and the strength and conditioning coach have served under him for a combined 124 years,
-Minnesota ranks No. 13 in the nation in rushing offense (282.3 yards per game). Four different players have run for at least 100 yards in a game this season, the first time that's happened at the program since 1967.
-The Gophers are the least penalized team in the Big Ten and rank third in the nation in that category.
-Kill's 140 career wins are the most among Big Ten coaches.
-DE Theiren Cockran is tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks (3) and tackles for loss (5.5).
-Marcus Jones has returned a kick and a punt for touchdowns this season. He's the first Gopher to accomplish that feat.
-Minnesota is one of only eight unbeaten teams left in the FBS.
-Iowa is 6-8 in Big Ten openers since Kirk Ferentz became the head coach before the 1999 season.
-This is only the second time that Iowa and Minnesota have met in September. The first time happened last season.
-The Hawkeyes lead the Big Ten and rank fifth nationally in time of possession (35:48 per game).
-Iowa's defense has not surrendered a rushing touchdown this season. The Hawkeyes have not allowed a first-half touchdown in their last three games.
-Linebacker Anthony Hitchens needs five tackles to reach 200 for this career.
-Kevonte Martin-Manley leads the NCAA with a 31.1-yard punt return average after bringing two back for touchdowns last week.
-Iowa has rushed for at least 200 yards in four consecutive games for the first time since 1997.
-Mike Meyer has converted a school-record 98 extra points in a row, which ranks fourth in the country.
This isn't Tim Brewster's Gophers, much to the relief of their fans. Kill brings discipline to a squad that rarely beats itself.
In addition to only committing 10 penalties through four games, Minnesota has turned the ball over just three times (two interceptions, one fumble). The Gophers have forced six turnovers.
The Hawkeyes have turned the ball over seven times. They've been whistled for 26 penalties costing it 215 yards. They have recorded nine takeaways this season.
There's a chance that the mistakes in this game could even out. It also might turn out that it turns on a critical error.
These teams look a lot alike. It's tough to tell which of them played the more difficult non-conference schedule to differentiate them. They're similar statistically.
It's a classic toss-up game. It could come down to a turnover, a penalty or special teams play.
When a match-up sets up like this one, I lean towards the home team.
SCORE: Minnesota 17, IOWA 16