Iowa-jNorthwestern has been a fascinating series ever since the jWildcats began playing football in 1995. This is the game that goes against script. Like, every damn time.
In 2000, jNorthwestern came to Kinnick Stadium ranked #18 and the frontrunner for the Big Ten title* after defeating Michigan 54-51 the previous week. The jWildcats had Damien Anderson at halfback, who would win consensus All-American honors and finish runner-up to LaDanian Tomlinson for the Doak Walker Award. Iowa was 2-8 and going nowhere fast. The Hawkeyes should have been little more than a bump in the road for jNorthwestern, but a gameplan predicated on stopping Anderson at all costs worked for virtually the entire game, giving Iowa a 27-17 win and leading to this iconic Bad Jacket Moment.
Both teams were 4-4 and on losing streaks in 2001, when Iowa traveled to jEvanston for the fourth time in the history of jNorthwestern football. Iowa had never won there, with losses in 1995, 1997, and 1999. Obviously, everything was working in favor of the home team. The Hawkeyes proceeded to trounce the jWildcats 59-16, Kirk Ferentz's largest margin of victory in a road conference game until Minnesota seven years later.
In 2005, Iowa was 5-3 and coming off a stinging loss to Michigan. Ironically enough, so was jNorthwestern, who had lost to the Wolverines by 16 points the previous week. But jNorthwestern recovered an onside kick late, converted it into a game-winning score, and became the first team to beat a Kirk Ferentz squad with a two-possession lead and eight minutes left to play. There would be more, and they would almost all be jNorthwestern.
Just Northwestern was 2-7, winless in the conference, and losers in their last six games when they came to Kinnick in 2006. Iowa was slowly melting in front of our very eyes, but they were certainly better than Northwestern. There was a little-reported and now-legendary mutiny in the Iowa locker room before kickoff, and jNorthwestern took it to Iowa that day, winning 21-7.**
In keeping with our "2012 is the new 2007" theme, picture this: A 4-5 Iowa team with a really shitty quarterback and no offensive production of any kind in the Big Ten has to travel to jEvanston to play an underachieving but still likely better jNorthwestern team that is 5-4, 2-3 in the conference, and desperate for a win to get to bowl eligibility. the jWildcats jumped out to an early lead before Iowa clawed back into the game in the second half, eventually taking the lead on the arm of said shitty quarterback and coasting to an improbable upset victory. Yeah, it really happened, right down to the "beat Michigan State in overtime by not throwing the ball at all" and "get stomped by Penn State's stupid horrible quarterback" parts.***
Iowa was favored in 2008. The Hawks lost. Iowa was favored in 2009. The Hawks lost, and lost their perfect season in the process. Iowa was favored in 2010. They lost on two late jNWU scoring drives, just as they had in 2005. jNorthwestern was favored in 2011 -- Iowa was 3-2, jNorthwestern 2-3, but jFitzgerald's team had lost to some actual football teams to get to that point, not Iowa State and Penn State, and jNorthwestern had won the last three games in the series and admittedly treated the contest as their biggest rivalry game of the season.
The team that should have won this game hasn't won this game since 2002, and only twice since Kirk Ferentz took over in 1999. Which brings us to this weekend: Just Northwestern, at home, nearly a touchdown favorite over Iowa. As has been chronicled, neither team can throw the ball at all. Both teams rely heavily on an inside running attack. The game is in Evanston, which, given how Iowa's fans acted Saturday night at Kinnick, makes this a practical home field advantage for the Hawkeyes. Iowa's defense, for the first time in recorded history, seems ready-made to handle what jFitzgerald is throwing at them (or, better put, running at them). Sure, jNorthwestern deserves to be favored and should win, which is precisely why Iowa's going to take this thing.
Counter-intuition. That's the thing this week.
* -- For anyone who is engaging in "The Sky Is Falling" Big Ten nonsense because there's not a team in contention for a national championship, read that sentence again. It's always been like this. From 1981 to 1984, no Big Ten team finished higher than ninth in the final polls. In 1985, the Big Ten played a Game of the Century and gave Michigan a legitimate shot at a national championship. Ebbs and flows. Things are going to be okay. Stop listening to Southerners.
** -- I cannot reiterate enough: All of this success came from a program that is barely older than Boise State.
*** -- This 2007 thing is getting really, really eerie.