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Iowa-Iowa State series needs new energy

Imagine if the Iowa-Iowa State game really meant something to people outside the state of Iowa.

Not the kind of meaning where you watched casually, because, you know, it’s football. Or where you paid attention if only because you’re a fan of another team in the Big Ten or Big 12, and hey, bragging rights are fun.

What if it really mattered? Like Auburn-Alabama or South Carolina-Clemson matter, like Texas-Texas A&M and Florida State-Miami once mattered?

The 62nd battle for the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Trophy, set for Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN as the 0-2 Cyclones visit Kinnick Stadium and the 2-0 Hawkeyes, resonates plenty within the state borders.

“It doesn’t matter what part of the state you’re in,” ISU coach Paul Rhoads said this week, “you are either at the stadium or at a party with all eyes on the game. That’s a pretty neat deal to feel and be a part of.”

No doubt, it is.

For Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, Saturday marks the 25th Iowa-Iowa State game in which he’s played a role, including 16 as the Hawkeyes’ coach. Ferentz said he recalls tough games, often closer than expected.

They matter to the players, of course. These are rosters full of Iowans who’ve met on the playing fields since before their college careers began.

“This is one week where everybody is focused on this ball game within our borders,” Ferentz said. “It’s one that’s endured, and it’s been exciting to be a part of it every year.”

To non-Iowans, though, Iowa-Iowa State has just always kind of been there, like vanilla ice cream or Flag Day. There are better flavors, better holidays.

Iowa-Iowa State needs a shot of energy. The fact is, it may not happen soon, doomed to “endure,” as the often-understated Ferentz says, much like Louisville-Kentucky (football only, to be sure) or Georgia-Georgia Tech.

To take your in-state rivalry national, something special must happen, something that resonates. Iowa or Iowa State needs a transcendent player or coach, a game for the ages or a once-in-a-generation season for both programs in the same year.

Somehow, that seems like a stretch for this pair.

“Rivalry games are special,” Rhoads said. “The fact that I’m an in-state guy, along with a lot of our players, probably makes it more important to them. But it doesn’t take long to be a part of the culture and part of the program to understand the importance of this game.”

The importance is real to the state of Iowa. Sadly, the rest of us don’t get to share in the fun.