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Commentary: It all comes down to Saturday

BY BRENDAN STILES | NOVEMBER 11, 2009 7:20 AM

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One game. That is all that stands in the way between the No. 15 Iowa Hawkeyes and a trip to Pasadena, Calif.

After everything — both good and bad — the Hawkeyes have endured, it now hinges on one contest. One moment. One opportunity.

I don’t care how battered and bruised Iowa is. If Saturday’s game against Ohio State doesn’t have all Hawkeye or Buckeye fans excited, I’d question those people’s fanhood.

Just about every Iowa fan I’ve ever encountered has told me how they’d do anything to see the Hawkeyes play in the Rose Bowl.

I got a taste of what it all meant in 2002 after Iowa went 8-0 in Big Ten play. And while that season was thrilling to watch, two things still stick — not playing Ohio State and not going to the Rose Bowl.

Well, guess what? Here’s a crack at Ohio State to determine the Big Ten’s best and a chance to smell roses on New Year’s Day.

There’s the saying, “In order to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.” The Buckeyes have earned at least a share of the Big Ten title the past four years, all of which have concluded with Ohio State playing in a BCS bowl game.

In other words, if the Hawkeyes leave Columbus with a victory, they will have earned every bit of it.
Now I realize the odds of Iowa leaving “The Horseshoe” with a win on Saturday look very slim. I understand all the discouragement regarding the Hawkeyes losing to Northwestern, watching Ricky Stanzi (an Ohio native) go down to injury, and the Buckeyes being tabbed double-digit favorites by Las Vegas oddsmakers after looking like world-beaters at Penn State last weekend.

I can throw a lot of facts out there to change your minds, such as Iowa being 2-0 at Ohio Stadium on the date of Nov. 14, or that the Buckeyes lost to a 4-6 Purdue squad last month, or that the Hawkeyes have already played and won in atmospheres this season that are as epic as “The Horseshoe” will be on Saturday.

One could also argue that Ohio State’s track record in big games, especially at home, has been pretty bad lately. In 2007, the Buckeyes’ hopes of returning to the national championship game were nearly destroyed after losing to an Illinois squad that lost to Iowa.

Last year, Penn State went into “The Horseshoe” and won, even with quarterback Daryll Clark getting hurt.

And just this past September, Ohio State had a chance to redeem its national identity in a home game against USC. But a true freshman quarterback named Matt Barkley, in his second career start, looked John Elway-esque in leading a game-winning fourth-quarter drive.

But in the grand scheme of things, none of that stuff matters when the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes take the field on Saturday. Which is why you have to be excited if you’re a fan of either team.

The Hawkeyes may be down, but they’re definitely not out. Regardless of how they got there, or who can actually play in Saturday’s game, they’re one step away from making their dreams, and the dreams of many Iowa fans, come true.

And no one could ask for anything more.


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