Commentary: The Northwestern Nightmare

BY J.T. BUGOS | NOVEMBER 15, 2010 7:20 AM

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EVANSTON, Ill. — The Northwestern Wildcats are the destroyers of dreams and the slayers of hope.

Last year, Northwestern famously defeated Iowa, 17-10, in Kinnick Stadium. The Wildcats took not just the game and the Hawkeyes' starting quarterback, but also national championship hopes from then-No. 4 and previously undefeated Iowa.

Dreams of a Big Ten title remained, but hopes of a perfect season and a crystal football limped out of Kinnick.

On Nov. 13, the situation was far from the same but decidedly similar. The Hawkeyes lacked the swagger of a year ago, having already been shamed with defeat twice, but the game against the Wildcats was a must-win if a Big Ten title was to arrive in Iowa City.

Again Northwestern pulled the upset. Dan Persa led the Wildcats to 14 unanswered points, including the go-ahead touchdown with 1:22 remaining.

Dreams of revenge became a nightmare, and hopes of a Big Ten title evaporated.

It was the fifth time in six games Northwestern beat the Hawkeyes.

Only once during my time at Iowa have the Wildcats been tamed — and it was my freshman year in 2007, when Iowa was led by the infamous Jake Christensen. That same year, the Hawkeyes lost their final game of the season to Western Michigan.

I became a Hawkeye largely because of the football program. Dreams of attending Rose Bowls and hopes of meaningful November games in an electric Kinnick Stadium were packed into suitcases and moved to Iowa City.

Through nine games last season, dreams seemed more real, and hopes seemed more certain.

Then Northwestern struck.

This season, Iowa was poised for a national championship run — the Rose Bowl was just a backup.

Losses to Arizona and Wisconsin destroyed title dreams, but the Hawkeyes still had hopes of a Big Ten championship. And those hopes were legitimate, as evidenced by a 37-6 dismantling of then-No. 5 Michigan State on Oct. 30.

Then Northwestern struck.

The Wildcats gutted Iowa two seasons in a row and stole from the Hawkeye faithful a chance to see a national championship game, a Rose Bowl, or back-to-back BCS bowls.

Obviously, Northwestern wasn't the only culprit. If Iowa had beaten Ohio State last year, the Rose Bowl would have featured the Black-and-Gold. If special teams miscues hadn't cost the Hawkeyes against Arizona and Wisconsin, preseason promise might have been fulfilled this season.

But it all comes back to Northwestern.

Until the Wildcats showed up in Iowa City last year, the Hawkeyes had the swagger of a contender. The Rose Bowl was inevitable, whether it was for a national title was the only question.

But Northwestern changed Iowa's flight plans from Pasadena to Miami and stole the glamour of the Coach's Trophy from the Hawkeyes.

On Nov. 13, the Wildcats officially put to rest Iowa's Big Ten title chances.

When I first heard "Back in Black" pour from the Kinnick Stadium speakers in 2007, I never expected Northwestern to keep Iowa from glory. Ohio State, maybe. Wisconsin or Michigan, possibly.

Now in my senior year, I've learned that the main factor in keeping Ricky Stanzi, Adrian Clayborn, and Derrell-Johnson Koulianos from eternal Hawkeye lore is Northwestern — the destroyer of dreams and slayer of hope.

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