Let's see, Iowa State has won four consecutive football games from Iowa.
Two of those victories have been in front of capacity crowds at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.
Earlier this season, Iowa State threw a huge late-game scare into mighty Florida State before losing, 38-31, in the Eddie Robinson Classic at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
With a 2-1 record and a quarterback, Seneca Wallace, who is putting up Heisman Trophy-type passing numbers, Iowa State is a victory or two away from jumping into the top-25 rankings.
So who's favored by four points Saturday at Iowa City – the Cyclones or the Hawkeyes?
Well, Iowa State Coach Dan McCarney really didn't say ho-hum today when asked what he thought of the gamblers' odds.
But he might as well have said it. He certainly wasn't shocked.
"I don't have any problem with that, and I'm not a bit surprised,'' McCarney said. "Iowa has played great football at home the last couple of seasons, and it's going to be a real challenge for us.''
McCarney said he had "no idea'' when asked how many games his teams would need to win in order to be favored in this heated rivalry.
Actually, I have a strong feeling that McCarney prefers being the underdog.
Most coaches do.
"We seem to like the underdog role regardless of who we're playing year in and year out,'' he said.
That sounds a lot like the guy he learned many of early coaching lessons from—none other than Hayden Fry, who preferred being the underdog so he could preach to his players about "the lack of respect'' during the week of a big game.
McCarney was Fry's defensive line coach at Iowa from 1979-1989. Before that, he was the offensive line coach with the Hawkeyes under Bob Commings for two years.
In his years as a Hawkeye assistant, they had a 9-4 record against Iowa State. Since becoming Iowa State's head coach in 1995, McCarney is 4-3.
Count on it that McCarney will have his Cyclones mentally ready in a game that starts at 5:05 p.m. Saturday and will televised by ESPN2.
The way he talked, it was obvious he's already personally pumped for the sold-out game. "The Iowa State-Iowa game is a fantastic rivalry, a fantastic game to be a part of,'' he said. "It's a special week for all of us here at Iowa State. It's the 21st Iowa State-Iowa game I've been a part of. I have a real good feel for the importance of this game and how much fun it is to be a part of.
"It's a game of great magnitude. Both programs are really doing well now. Combined with last year, the teams have won 18 games in two fabulous conferences. It's a unique in-state matchup.
"(Iowa Coach) Kirk Ferentz has done an excellent job with his team and his program. They are a very fine team, a very veteran team, and we're going to have a major challenge over in Iowa City this week.''
Both teams have had explosive offenses so far, but McCarney said that doesn't necessarily mean Saturday's game will be high-scoring.
"Who knows?'' he asked. "You look at history and games in recent years, and everybody thought there would be some fairly high-scoring games. That hasn't really been the case. It's been more dominated by defense than offense.''
Why is that?
"Both defenses have legitimately played very well,'' McCarney said. "I didn't see or sense any real bad offense, bad execution or all kinds of turnovers. There hasn't been sloppy play by the offenses, but the games have been lower-scoring rather than higher-scoring.''
After Fry's Iowa team won for the 15th consecutive time, 63-20, in 1997, McCarney's Cyclones have won, 27-9; 17-10, 24-14 and 17-14.
McCarney said both programs have improved in the last couple of years.
"We're glad it's a rivalry again,'' he said. "It's no secret there was no rivalry here for 15 years. Now the rivalry is alive and well. Both programs should be proud of what they've built.''
McCarney said Ferentz "has a great system'' and Iowa "is very physical. It's the best offensive line Kirk has had since he's been there. They have playmakers at wide receiver, defensive back, quarterback, running back and linebacker. Their team speed is very good, and they have one of the best kickers in college football in Nate Kaeding. The pieces are in place.''
McCarney said he expects Aaron Greving, the junior running back from Ames, to be ready for Saturday's game. Greving, who was expected to be the starter this season, missed Iowa's victories over Akron and Miami of Ohio because of a high ankle sprain.
Iowa expects Greving to be ready, too. He's listed as the likely starter in the depth chart that was issued today. Actually, the two-deep says "Greving or Russell,'' but the fact that Greving's name is listed first would indicate he'll get the start if he's ready.
But with or without a healthy Greving, McCarney has plenty of respect for the Hawkeyes' running game.
"I haven't seen any drop-off whatever,'' he said. "Their running backs can play. Fred Russell is averaging 160 yards in two games. He has a 7-yard average. Jermelle Lewis has 6.5-yard average and has scored three touchdowns. It's obvious Kirk and his staff have recruited well. Whoever is on the field at running back for Iowa is going to be tough to stop.''
Brad Banks, the quarterback who played second-fiddle to Kyle McCann all of last season, has also opened McCarney's eyes.
"He's playing with a lot of confidence,'' McCarney said. "He's throwing with about the same completion average and efficiency as Seneca Wallace. He's nearly 66 percent on his completion average, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He has made major, major improvement over last year.''
As for the Cyclones, McCarney said he has "no serious injuries and the starting unit should be intact for the game.''
Other than last year, the Iowa State-Iowa game has been played early in the season since the rivalry was renewed in 1977, and that's the way McCarney prefers it.
The 2001 game was supposed to be played at this time a year ago, but was postponed because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. It was finally played Nov. 24 in Ames.
By that time, both teams had won enough games to qualify for bowl games. Iowa State wound up losing to Alabama, 14-13, in the Independence Bowl; Iowa beat Texas Tech, 19-16, in the Alamo Bowl.
"We played (Iowa in November last year) because of unusual circumstances,'' McCarney said. "I'd rather play at this time of the season, then get ready for Big 12 Conference play. I'm a creature of habit.''
Vol. 2, No. 58
Sept. 9, 2002
[Ron Maly's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org ]