Cy-Hawk series still big for Iowa

Shaun Prater grew up in Omaha, Neb., right on the edge of the Iowa border. He had heard about the Iowa State-Iowa rivalry and watched some games on TV. But he didn't really understand the series until he first appeared in it as a freshman.

"As soon as the ball was kicked off, I saw how our guys were flying around," the Hawkeyes senior cornerback said. "They were putting their necks in there, trying to get the job done and get a 'W.' I figured out very quickly how important this game is."

Maybe this in-state rivalry isn't the biggest in college football. In fact, it might not have drawn any national attention this year if not for the flap over the ridiculous new, and subsequently scrapped, Cy-Hawk Trophy.

This game may not even qualify anymore as the biggest rivalry for Iowa. The Hawkeyes will start the new Heroes Game series with Nebraska this season, and because that is both a Big Ten and a Legends Division showdown played on the final regular-season weekend, it should become the most important date on the schedule. They also have the Floyd of Rosedale trophy game with Minnesota, who is now a division rival, too.

And if the Big 12 implodes and Iowa State is left on the sidelines of a new superconference scene, who knows what the future holds for the Cyclones' program.

With all of that in mind, however, Saturday's renewal of the rivalry should still burn with the intensity that only a neighborly feud can truly produce.

"It's something that's huge around the state," said Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg, who grew up in Keokuk, Iowa. "You see flags flying already and all kinds of T-shirts around the school. We know they're a good team every year and it's never going to be easy playing them, especially at their place."

The Hawkeyes have owned the series of late, winning three straight and six of the past eight. Seniors like Prater have a chance to graduate without ever having lost to Iowa State.

"It would be a great honor to have that," Prater said.

But things haven't always tilted so heavily toward Iowa City. The Cyclones won five straight meetings between 1998 and 2002, the last four of which came against Kirk Ferentz.

"I know what it's like on the other end," Ferentz said. "It wasn't that long ago going over there we had a tough day, a really tough day. And we've had a couple tough days over there, and those aren't much fun."

Iowa has dominated defensively in the previous three meetings, holding Iowa State to a total of 15 points in those games. A Hawkeyes defense featuring six new starters had a solid debut in a 34-7 Week 1 win against Tennessee Tech.

Though the Cyclones needed a touchdown in the final minute to beat Northern Iowa by a point in their opener, third-year head coach Paul Rhoads thinks this is the best team he's had yet in Ames. They have an experienced secondary that could challenge Vandenberg, who's making his first start in a hostile environment since he was forced into action at Ohio State two years ago as a freshman.

The Cy-Hawk series might not make waves nationally. But you can bet that both sides want to hoist the trophy on Saturday, no matter what it looks like.

"It's obviously cool to be able to get the trophy," Vandenberg said, "but what makes it so cool is being able to win. This is a huge game that we want to win every year."