MADISON, Wis. -- In recent years, it hasn't been uncommon to see multiple Wisconsin players parading around the field with the Heartland Trophy after earning a win against rival Iowa. They no doubt want to show off the spoils of victory to Badgers fans seated in the front rows. But there's another reason hoisting the trophy requires the strength of up to three men.
"It's heavy," Badgers safety Michael Caputo said. "I didn't lift it by myself. I wasn't trying to drop it or anything."
Wisconsin left tackle Tyler Marz recalled teammate Konrad Zagzebski nearly letting the massive trophy, with its brass bull resting atop a wooden base, crash to the ground after last season's 26-24 victory in Iowa City -- a lesson to those whose trophy-toting days may lie ahead.
"If I ever get my hands on it this year, I'm just going to be super careful with it," Marz said.
The Heartland Trophy, created in 2004, is a relatively new addition to a century-old rivalry. Yet it serves as a fitting representation of all things Wisconsin-Iowa: rugged, tough, hulking.
Despite playing in an era which features dozens of wide-open spread offenses, Iowa and Wisconsin continue to believe a pro-style offensive system and playing sound defense presents the best opportunity to compete for Big Ten championships. They are areas that have remained basic principles of each program for decades and provide Saturday's matchup between the two teams with a bit of a retro vibe.
The schools will renew their rivalry when No. 19 Wisconsin (3-1) hosts Iowa (4-0) at noon ET in Camp Randall Stadium to open Big Ten play. Both teams have legitimate visions on capturing the Big Ten West championship, and Saturday's game will go a long way in determining an early pecking order. The Badgers will attempt to claim the trophy for the fourth consecutive game.
"The trophy means something," Badgers coach Paul Chryst said. "It's a sign of success. ... I think it's the respect they have for the opponent. We're going to talk about it, and I think it's important."
What makes the Iowa-Wisconsin rivalry unique is the similar manner in which both programs have been built, thanks largely to the coaching staffs at each school. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz became the Hawkeyes' offensive line coach in 1981 under head coach Hayden Fry. Barry Alvarez had already been at Iowa for two years as linebackers coach, a position he held from 1979-86. In fact, Ferentz said Alvarez was the first person he met when he interviewed at Iowa for a position on Fry's staff.
Alvarez, of course, would go on to establish Wisconsin as a Big Ten power during his coaching tenure there from 1990-2005 by succeeding with an ornery run game behind enormous, home-grown offensive linemen. Wisconsin went to 11 bowl games in Alvarez's 16 seasons there. Ferentz, who became Iowa's head coach in 1999, has coached in 12 bowl games in his first 16 seasons and is on track for yet another postseason appearance.
"It's not exactly alike," Ferentz said. "But I think there are some real common denominators. I think probably we share a lot of the same core values."
The results on the field reflect just how close the programs are. Wisconsin holds a 44-42-2 lead in the all-time series, which very well could have been even after last year's game. Badgers quarterback Joel Stave unexpectedly scrambled for 12 yards on a third-and-8 with two minutes remaining to secure the victory. The Badgers used that triumph as a springboard to a Big Ten West title.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference this season in the two programs when compared to years past is the growth of each team's starting quarterback. Stave is having a renaissance in his senior season, completing 66.1 percent of his passes for 830 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions. Meanwhile, Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard ranks first in the Big Ten in passing efficiency and third in pass yards per game (240.5). He is completing 68.2 percent of his passes for 962 yards with six touchdowns and one interception.
Still, the game's outcome figures to be decided where it usually is: at the line of scrimmage. Iowa tailback Jordan Canzeri leads the Big Ten with eight rushing touchdowns and tied a school record with four last week against North Texas. Wisconsin counters with Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale. Both are trying to make up for the loss of starting tailback Corey Clement, who is out four to six weeks because of sports hernia surgery.
"It's one of those no-fear-dodging games," Ferentz said. "It's going to be a tough, hard-nosed physical football game."
Chryst, a former Badgers player and offensive coordinator, has a great appreciation for the history of the rivalry. He recalled hearing about the 1958 game when his father, George, played for Wisconsin. That season, Iowa defeated Wisconsin 20-9, preventing the Badgers from reaching the Rose Bowl. Iowa would go on to beat Cal that season in Pasadena.
"Certainly have a lot of respect for Iowa and their program, and yet this is all about this year, these two teams," Chryst said. "We're going to have a great week of preparation so we can play our best Saturday."
If so, Wisconsin may commence an enthusiastic, yet cautious, postgame celebration with the brass bull.