The good news is that the Iowa Hawkeyes are 2-0 to start the 2004 season, while Nebraska, Kansas State, Missouri, Michigan, Penn State, Oregon and several other quality teams already have a blemish on their record.
The bad news for the Hawkeyes is that they have yet to establish a consistent ground game, an aspect of their offense that has been the foundation beneath their 26 wins over the course of the last 32 games.
Last week's 17-10 win against bitter instate rival Iowa State saw the Cyclones stack the box with eight and sometimes nine defenders, and ISU threw as many blitz looks at Iowa in one game than Iowa might see all season.
Then again, teams might try and emulate what ISU did to Iowa until true sophomore QB Drew Tate makes teams pay.
Will Arizona State try and employ similar tactics? Let's take a look at some aspects of Saturday's game.
RED LETTER GAME
What I mean by that is that Arizona State players and coaches have been saying this week how much they were embarrassed in Iowa City last year in Iowa's 21-2 whitewashing.
The vaunted ASU offensive attack scored nary a point and ‘at the time' Heisman hopeful quarterback Andrew Walter left town battered, bruised and bewildered.
But then again, Iowa's defense does that to most teams as of late.
Some ASU players have actually said that they have had this game circled on their calendars for a year, and that they are motivated by the revenge factor.
That is all well and good, and is what makes college football the great game that it is.
I actually do give ASU the advantage in that area for this game, and it will behoove them to come out of the gates quick and capitalize on that emotion. If they can do that, it will continue to build all night long.
Easier said and done, of course, as Walter and the ASU offense will be going against perhaps the best defense Iowa has had since it's 1981 steel curtain squad, and that includes last year's Top 10 ranked unit.
The reason that I give ASU the emotional advantage here is that Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has built his program to the point where the biggest game of the year for his Hawkeyes is the next game. The team mirrors its head coach; they are never too high or never too low for a football game, just extremely well prepared more often than not.
From a Hawkeye perspective, if you can hold Arizona State to 7 or fewer points in the first half, they might not be able to get up off the mat, because they believe they are going to score some points and win this football game. Smack ‘em in the mouth, and they will start thinking about last year.
It will be interesting to see if Walter will suffer from post traumatic stress disorder once he sees the black and gold defensive linemen in his backfield, because after last year's nightmarish 25 of 44 (160 yards) performance, who knows what might set a man off.
But if ASU comes out and Walter gets in a rhythm, look out. The fact of the matter is that ASU head coach Dirk Koetter needs this win in a bad way for the future of his program. Win, and you are back in the Top 25 and you are going to make some noise in the Pac 10. Lose, and people doubt if any progress has been made. The stakes are high for both teams, as a 3-0 start for the Hawkeyes gets them one win closer to a quality bowl game and keeps them off the horizon of bowl reps in Detroit and Nashville.
Arizona State had a fine looking ball club at the end of the 2002 season, as they nearly beat a very good Kansas State team in their bowl game. Last year was not what they had in mind.
So the Sun Devils will look a bit different than they did last year, though 14 starters return.
Gone is the 4-2-5 defense and in its place is something Iowa fans will recognize: a 4-3. While Iowa likes to play a cover two zone on its backside, ASU might look to press more on the corners, as they have solid players there.
Iowa fans: write down this name and number: ROBINSON, #44. By the end of the night, he might remind you of a former Hawkeye who wore the #33, Robinson brings the wood.
I guess the good news there for Iowa fans is that physical play is nothing new to the Hawkeyes, as that is what the Big Ten is all about and that is certainly what took place last week against rival Iowa State. But Robinson's play is becoming infectious, just the way Bob Sanders turned Iowa's fortunes several years ago with his hard hitting style.
ASU also will employ some two tight end looks on offense.
Koetter was known for being an offensive whiz when he arrived in Tempe, and he showed that in 2002. Last year, things were different. So far this year, the Sun Devils are hitting on all cylinders.
Arizona State fans might not like the sounds of that, and as they read this on Friday, they will disagree with what I am about to say.
But get ready for a minimum of 15,000 Iowa fans on Saturday, and that number could be as high as 25,000. At least 9,000 tickets were sold to Iowa fans with state of Iowa zip codes, based on what I have been told.
And if there is another city in the nation with more native Iowans in it that is located outside of the Hawkeye State than Tempe, it might be Chicago; but then again, it might not.
It seems like every person in Iowa has some connection to someone who lives in Arizona.
Having chartered planes to Iowa's last two bowl games, and having attended the Iowa pep rally's before each game, I can attest for the fact that Iowa fans travel about as well as anyone in the country.
This game was known well in advance, so you are talking about a lot of Iowa fans that were able to secure reasonably priced air fares. Plus, it's highly likely that any Iowa natives that presently live in the Phoenix area will have boarders crashing on their couches this weekend, as people have been able to make this trip from around the nation on the cheap.
Again, I don't expect Sun Devil fans to believe my estimates. But you have been warned; prepare for The Swarm.
SOME LIKE IT HOT
Much has been made about how hot it is in the desert in the day. Thankfully, the game will be played at night and the humidity will be extremely low. Playing in 83 degree heat with direct sunlight and humidity between 70-80 percent is more taxing on a player than is 95 degree heat with 15 percent humidty at sundown. Arizona State had a player or two cramp up last week while playing Northwestern in Chicago.
Iowa has played in fairly stuffy and muggy conditions the last two weeks, and even though it will be about 10 to 15 degrees warmer at game time, there will be no direct sunlight and the temps will steadily decrease during the game.
The Iowa coaches don't think the heat is going to play a factor.
5: Number of consecutive ‘three and out' drives by Arizona State's offense last year in Kinnick Stadium over the course of the 2nd and 3rd quarters.
10: Number of ASU punts last year against Iowa.
7, Part 1: Number of yards for ASU's offense in the 2nd quarter last year v Iowa
8: National ranking for Iowa's rush defense in 2003
7, Part 2: Number of returning starters to Iowa's defense
32: Number of tackles made by Iowa LB Duo Chad Greenway & Abdul Hodge last year v ASU
1.1: Yards per rush averaged by ASU in game v Iowa last year
228: Number of rushing yards ASU allowed last week to Northwestern
6.2: Yards per rush that Northwestern averaged
$.05: That's a nickel, a defensive formation that I expect Iowa to use for the first time this year and possibly blitz out of, IF they can control the ASU ground game.
HN.COM PUBLISHER JON MILLER'S PREDICTION
OK, after reading all of this, many of you are probably guessing that I think Iowa has the game in the bag. Well…after writing all of it, I feel better about Iowa's chances. But, I am going with my gut feel on this one, the feel that I have had all summer. I am picking Arizona State to win 23-17, and special teams finally trip up the Hawkeyes, as ASU returns some type of kick for a score, while the young Iowa offense allows two or more turnovers on its side of the 50 in this game. I don't think Walter will go crazy; I think Iowa will beat itself. I hope like heck that I am wrong.
It should be pointed out that HawkeyeNation.com Senior Writer Rob Howe feels that the Hawkeyes will win the football game, as does Iowa legendary broadcaster and part time Phoenix resident Jim Zabel.
IN SEASON GAME BY GAME PREDICTIONS
Week One: Iowa 48, Kent State 10 (Iowa 39, Kent State 7, actual score)
Week Two: Iowa 24, Iowa State 6 (Iowa 17, Iowa State 10, actual score)
Jon's Game Week predictions since the start of the 2001 season: 35-5 (losses: 2001: Iowa State & Michigan; 2002: USC; 2003: Michigan State & Ohio State
Listen to Jon Miller on a special ‘Pregame' version of ‘Sound Off' on 1040 WHO this Saturday from 4-7pm. He will be taking your calls and questions on this big game. Then next week begins the Big 10 season, and Jon and Jim will once again host the program at its normal time, which is 60 to 90 minutes after the final gun of Iowa's game.