Big showdown of 2002 has had to wait a season
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Iowa-Ohio State comes a year too late.
In 2002, the teams were unbeaten in the Big Ten and shared the title. Late in the season, they took turns lobbing challenges and insults back and forth about how much they regretted not having the opportunity to beat the other.
They enter Saturday's showdown ranked in the national Top 10, but tied for sixth in the Big Ten.
Even though the conference's rotating schedule prevented them from meeting last year, that doesn't mean both sides aren't trying to use this game to stake a claim to superiority for last season as well.
"You want to prove that you are the best team in the Big Ten," Ohio State wide receiver Drew Carter said. "The fact that we didn't play last year, you kind of want to come out and show you are the best. We hope to prove that this weekend."
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said he hasn't lost any sleep thinking about what might have happened had the teams squared off in 2002.
"Both teams probably would have enjoyed the opportunity," he said. "None of us wasted much time on it though. It wasn't going to be a reality."
The ninth-ranked Hawkeyes and No. 8 Buckeyes have the same records (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten). Both have hard-hitting defenses, solid special teams -- and offenses that haven't met expectations.
"The only thing I would say, the difference obviously is last year we were a much more explosive offensive team than we are now," Ferentz said. "That would have been an interesting contrast from that standpoint. Now, if anything, we probably look more like each other than we did a year ago."
Ohio State is 10th in the country in total defense, Iowa is 25th. The Hawkeyes are giving up just 13.3 points a game, Ohio State 15.7.
They are mirror images on offense, where both have had difficulty moving the ball and scoring. Iowa is 10th in the Big Ten in total offense, one notch above the Buckeyes.
Ohio State isn't looking back to last year so much as last week. The Buckeyes had a 19-game winning streak snapped in the rain at Wisconsin, 17-10. For the most part, the offense was punchless.
"The only thing on our minds this week is that we did not perform well last week," quarterback Craig Krenzel said. "We need to take this week and make ourselves better. We need to play a better football game Saturday or else the same result might happen."
Ferentz didn't think it was an advantage that Ohio State lost last week.
"The last time they lost, they won 19 straight," he cracked.
Iowa offensive lineman Brian Ferentz, son of the coach, said the Hawkeyes nonetheless picked up several things from watching Wisconsin rush for 176 yards against the Buckeyes.
"Everybody learned it's not impossible to run the ball against them, but they have some excellent players everywhere," he said. "Seeing Wisconsin run the ball gives you hope that maybe we'll be able to grind out a few yards on the ground."
Ohio State offense was being assailed for another listless effort and the defense gave up a late 79-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans for the deciding points.
"Whenever Ohio State loses we get that flak," safety Will Allen said. "There wasn't nobody expected us to win the national championship last year. Nobody expected us to win over eight games this year because we lost a lot of people and had a young defense. Our offense is struggling right now but we all know what we have to do. We have confidence in ourselves and we believe in ourselves."
The Buckeyes know they cannot repeat their national title unless they win out -- something that may be teetering on the edge but is still not off the table just yet.
"Our guys did a nice job a year ago of not succumbing to that question and keeping their eye on what's going on this moment," coach Jim Tressel said. "I'd like to think that they'll be able to do the same thing this week."
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index