AMES, Iowa – The annual matchup between the Cyclones and Hawkeyes is viewed as perhaps the biggest sporting event of the year in Iowa.
The game might not feel quite so big this year, with Iowa and Iowa State off to unimpressive starts, though the Cyclones insist Saturday's matchup will be as intense as ever.
Iowa State has only played once, losing to FCS school Northern Iowa at home on Aug. 31. The only win for the Hawkeyes (1-1) came last weekend against lowly FCS opponent Missouri State.
Those early stumbles have threatened to take some of the buzz out of the 61st meeting between the state's largest schools. But for Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads, early losses won't dull the drama that always precedes their matchup with the Hawkeyes.
"The week is electric," Rhoads said. "There's great energy and emotion surrounding this football game, but absolutely no difference going into the game based on records of our first game or theirs, I'm sure."
What has changed for Iowa State is their depth chart. After slipping up in a 28-20 loss to the Panthers, the Cyclones have shifted things around on defense.
Freshman linebacker Luke Knott, whose brother Jake ranked among the best to ever play at Iowa State, has been named a starter ahead of junior Jevohn Miller. Sam E. Richardson, a sophomore with the same name as Iowa State's starting quarterback, has moved ahead of freshman Charlie Rogers as the left cornerback.
Knott came on in relief of Miller after Iowa State was gashed on three long drives that ended in touchdowns for the Panthers. Knott's presence helped steady the defense, much like his brother did as an All-Big 12 performer in 2012.
"He's fast. He fills the gaps correctly, and that's big for us right now," safety Deon Broomfield said of Knott. "I'm excited for him. He'll be good for us."
Richardson was impressive in fall camp, but he couldn't quite hold off the surging Rogers for the spot opposite senior Jansen Watson. He'll get his shot against the Hawkeyes, though Rogers will likely play a lot as well.
"Did he get attacked a little bit in the (first) game? Yes, but it was more positioning than it was him," Rhoads said about Richardson. "But he's really played well from August 5th on."
On Saturday, Iowa snapped a seven-game losing streak that had hung over the program for nearly a year.
But Hawkeyes fans weren't exactly blown away by a meager 28-14 win over the FCS Bears, who have just five victories since the start of 2011.
Still, Iowa was finally able to move beyond the constant stress caused by the skid, and Rhoads thinks the Hawkeyes will likely be a much better team now that it's over.
"They were trying to get that (win) and put an end to what people were talking about and so forth. Any time you put pressure on yourself, you don't perform at a maximum level," Rhoads said.
Saturday's game in Ames is sold out, of course, and the incessant jawing between rival fans from Sioux City to Dubuque will go on unabated.
The matchup might not be as highly anticipated as in recent years, when both programs were expected to go to bowl games. But by the time kickoff rolls around on Saturday afternoon, Rhoads thinks the state will pick sides and tune in like they always do.
"I refer to it as a fun rivalry. I think the state enjoys it. I think both programs enjoy it," Rhoads said.
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