They never met in 2002, although they shared the Big Ten championship at 8-0. Iowa went on to the Orange Bowl, where it fell to USC, while Ohio State claimed the national championship after a Fiesta Bowl win over Miami (Fla.).
Neither team will win an undefeated Big Ten championship this year, however, as each side enters at 5-1 overall and 1-1 in Big Ten play. And, in fact, the loser of their game on Saturday at Ohio Stadium (3:30 p.m., ABC regional telecast) will likely be out of the hunt for the conference title and the Rose Bowl berth.
The game is arguably the biggest in college football this weekend. It is one of four match-ups nationally -- including three in the Big Ten -- matching top-25 teams. It is the only game pitting two top-10 powers as OSU dropped from third to eighth after losing at Wisconsin. Iowa, which had a bye week after stunning Michigan 30-27 Oct. 4, moved up five spots from 14th to ninth.
"We obviously have great respect for them," said coach Kirk Ferentz, in his fifth season as the Iowa coach. "I think they're an outstanding team with excellent defense and special teams. But the big difference is that they have an experienced offense this year. The one thing Ohio State has is depth. They've always had great talent. They've got great leadership, too. It's going to be a challenge for us to go in to Columbus and take them on. We're going to be playing a really tough football team.
"I think we're going to have questions all season long. We're just kind of a work in progress right now. Anytime you play a ranked team, a top-20 team, which we have a lot of them in the conference right now -- that's a great challenge. When you play a team that's defending national champions … they have an outstanding coaching staff and they've got tremendous players who are confident and know how to win. It will be a great, great challenge for us, maybe the biggest one we've had this year."
While there won't be 150,000 people at Ohio Stadium, there will be close to 107,000 for OSU's homecoming game. The teams have not played since 2000 in Iowa City and in Columbus since 1999, so this will be the Hawkeyes‘ first trip to the renovated Horseshoe.
"The biggest issue is crowd noise, and that's typical when you play in the Big Ten," Ferentz said. "Most of the stadiums we go into are very vibrant and very loud. Hopefully, we can get off to a positive start at the beginning and take some of the life out of the fans."
The Hawkeyes have basked in the afterglow of their win over Michigan, a game where they rallied from a 14-0 deficit on their home field.
"We got off to a rough start offensively and defensively against an explosive, veteran team like Michigan," Ferentz said. "That's not a great situation to be in. Fortunately, our guys stuck together, believed in themselves and fought their way back into it. I think we outscored them 30-6 after we fell behind. It's a tribute to the hearts of our young people. They stuck through it and did a fantastic job."
The open week could not have come at a better time for the Hawkeyes, who have been banged up this year. Strong safety Bob Sanders miss three early season games after undergoing foot surgery. Fullback Champ Davis, wide receivers Maurice Brown and Ed Hinkel and cornerback Jovon Johnson were among other key players who have missed time. Brown, in fact, is questionable for the OSU game.
"We really haven't caught a lot of breaks this year, but we may have with our scheduling last year," Ferentz said. "The worst thing that could have happened was a bye week because we were healthy. But this year it's really been a blessing for us because we need more time to regroup and get back healthy. I'm really pleased with that. This year, it's been a real challenge for us from (an injury) standpoint."
Chandler Leads Offense
A year ago, the Hawkeyes rode the play of Big Ten player of the year and Heisman Trophy finalist Brad Banks at quarterback to their share of the conference title. Iowa was first in the Big Ten in scoring at 37.2 points per game and third in the conference in total offense (424.5 yards per game).
Things have not gone quite as easily for Iowa this year, which has fallen to a distant 97th nationally in total offense (318.8 yards per game).
Iowa welcomed just four starters back from the 2002 offense. Senior Nathan Chandler, a giant at 6-7, 259 pounds, has replaced Banks. The transfer from Pasadena (Calif.) City College is 70 of 124 passing for 821 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions.
"I am really pleased with the way he is playing and the way he is conducting himself out there," Ferentz said. "His command of the game has been excellent. I think he is making great decisions for us. With that position he is playing within himself and he is being who he is. Probably the only thing we have discovered is that we didn't know is that he isn't a bad runner. He is a big body coming down that field. He is doing a great job out there. He is playing tough and his teammates respect what he is doing each and every Saturday and the way he is preparing as well."
Chandler is coming off one of his best games, hitting on 17 of 34 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns and he also ran for another one against Michigan.
"I just feel as an offense, we're gelling more and more," Chandler said. "As we get more guys back, they'll only help us out. I'm not where I want to be yet. I'm a perfectionist. I strive for the perfect game, and that hasn't happened yet."
Chandler admitted it should help Iowa to have an extra week to prepare for OSU's defense.
"It's valuable," he said. "They're a great team with a great tradition. It's to our benefit that we get this time to prepare."
Tailback Fred Russell returns after rushing for 1,264 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago. This season, he has 726 yards on 136 carries (5.3 average) and three scores. Brown, a senior with 14 catches for 212 yards and three touchdowns, has missed the last three games due to injury.
"You have Mo Brown and you've got Fred Russell," Ferentz said. "If you just look at the statistics. Those are the two guys coming back this year that had production in the last season. We lost some real good playmakers. You lose a Dallas Clark, you lose a Jermelle Lewis, you lose a C.J. Jones, who is playing in the NFL, and then you throw the lineman in there and the quarterback was not bad at either. I think you lean towards the guys that are proven veterans. Fred Russell and Mo Brown were the two guys. That is the good news. Now the bad news is you can split that group in half with Mo's injury and you are down to one proven guy on offense."
In Brown's absence, redshirt freshman Calvin Davis has emerged at receiver. He has 11 catches for 122 yards. Senior Ramon Ochoa is also showing his versatility as a receiver and kick returner. Against Michigan, Ochoa -- averaging 16.1 yards on punt returns and 23.9 on kicks -- had 169 yards total offense. He had three punt returns for 48 yards, three kick returns for 85 yards and caught two passes for 36 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown.
On the offensive line, senior left tackle Robert Gallery (6-7, 321) is the only returning starter. Senior Sam Aiello (6-5, 305) has moved in at right tackle. Ferentz‘s son, Brian, a sophomore, is the starter at center. They are believed to be one of just five father/son duos in Division I-A this year.
Defense Comes To Play
While the numbers have slid on offense, the defense -- with seven starters back -- has taken up the slack. Iowa is 11th nationally against the run (82.5 yards per game), 25th in total defense (314.8) and eighth against the score (13.3 points per game allowed).
"I just think that we are growing and maturing," Ferentz said. "The process really began last year. It was a little bit rocky in the beginning of the season and we had to weather a few storms and grow a little bit. I think we really began to grow in the Big Ten. We continue to improve and that is the biggest thing right now. They have a good attitude out there, they practice extremely well, and the veteran players coming back from last year are playing better than the did last year, which is what you hope from anybody.
"I think the five newcomers that are starting are playing at a real high level. With the exception of Jovon, they have all been around. I guess you could throw Chris Smith in there, too. Those guys have been around a little bit and they know what to do out there. Things are coming together well and we are what we are."
Senior defensive end Howard Hodges is one of three returning starters up front. Junior end Matt Roth is the one newcomer. Roth leads Iowa with 6-½ sacks, while Hodges has five.
Sophomores Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge have cracked the lineup this year at outside and middle linebacker, respectively. Greenway leads Iowa and the Big Ten with 68 tackles. Hodge has 62.
"This is the most athletic and fastest we have been as a defense and part of that is the linebacker position," Ferentz said. "Chad and Abdul have good football speed and that helps us certainly. Whether it is good enough to match up with a west coast team who likes to throw the underneath short passes, your speed or lack of speed starts to show up in those sorts of circumstances. I am hoping that we have upgraded."
Sanders has been sidelined due to injury, but he remains an All-Big Ten candidate. Johnson, in his first year as a starter at corner, has three interceptions.
As always, Iowa boasts stellar special teams. In addition to Ochoa's return exploits, All-American Nate Kaeding returns at kicker, where he is 8 of 8 on field goals this year. He is Iowa's career scoring leader with 310 points. Plus, punter David Bradley is averaging 41.7 yards per punt.
* OSU holds a commanding 42-12-3 lead in the all-time series, including 26-7-1 in Columbus. The Buckeyes have won seven straight over Iowa dating to a 16-9 loss in 1991 in Columbus.
* The last meeting between the teams was on Oct. 21, 2000, when OSU rolled to a 38-10 win in Iowa City. OSU piled up 446 yards, including 338 passing in that win. Interestingly, current Illinois starting quarterback Jon Beutjer was 13 of 21 for 142 yards for Iowa in that game before going down with an injury.
* While OSU's 19-game winning streak was snapped against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes have still won 13 straight home games at Ohio Stadium. That is the longest home winning streak for the Buckeyes since they won 14 straight in the Horseshoe from October 1994 through November 1996. The school record for consecutive home wins is 20, running from October 1982 to November 1985.
* Ferentz is an even 27-27 as the Iowa coach, including 16-18 in Big Ten games. Following Iowa's success in the 11-2 season last year, he was courted by several NFL teams -- most notably Jacksonville. But Iowa rewarded him with a lucrative contract extension.
Ferentz, a Connecticut graduate, served nine years (1981-89) as an assistant under longtime Iowa coach Hayden Fry.
* Iowa's Sept. 27 loss to Michigan State (20-10) is the Hawkeyes' only defeat in their last 15 regular season games.
* Iowa, at ninth in the AP poll, will be the highest ranked team to visit OSU since No. 7 Penn State came to town in 1998. OSU, ranked No. 1 that day, won 28-9. This is the first home match-up of top-10 teams for the Buckeyes since they were ranked sixth and defeated No. 10 Washington State 25-7 last year.<.p>
OSU is 18-11-1 all-time in match-ups of top-10 teams in Ohio Stadium since the advent of the AP poll in 1936.
* Click below for a link with game data, depth charts, a game breakdown and one man's opinion on the outcome.