Football: Calling all college football sickos to the Fitzgerald-Ferentz bowl, a Big Ten West meeting for the ages


Daily file photo by Gabe Bider

Junior running back Evan Hull runs the ball last year against Iowa. Hull will need to have a big day against a stout Hawkeyes defense if Northwestern is going to leave Iowa City with a win.

Alex Cervantes, Assistant Sports Editor

Big Ten West football enthusiasts, come one, come all for the scariest sight you’ll see this Halloween weekend: Northwestern defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil and Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz putting on their respective headsets to do battle against one another Saturday.

“(The season is) going to continue to get better because I think we’re really well-coordinated,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said at a Monday press conference. “We adjust really well and our staff has really good teachers and coaches. And our players believe and buy into what we’re doing.”

The matchup between the last two Big Ten West champions bears all the signs of a chaotic display. The Hawkeyes, boasting the nation’s worst total offense, takes the field at Kinnick Stadium this weekend against a Wildcat defense that has conceded about 408 yards per game to opponents. 

Fittingly, sportsbooks set the over/under line for Saturday’s contest at a modest total of 37.5 points — though five touchdown scores and a field goal might be too much to ask for from both teams. The line originally opened at 31.5 at Circa Sports, which might have been the lowest over/under tally in college football history, but a six-point boost sees that hope nullified. 

Amid turbulent and uninspiring seasons, fans of the two programs have called for heads to roll — namely Ferentz and O’Neil — on each coaching staff. But on repeated occasions, both teams’ head coaches, Fitzgerald and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, have shown support of their coordinators. 

“We’re still putting together that side of the ball,” Fitzgerald said of the defense. “We’re not there yet.”

Fitzgerald reiterated that no one should direct blame toward any of his coordinators, and if someone wants to point the finger, it should be directed toward him. Regardless of the 47-year-old’s best attempts to shoulder the burden, NU is still riding a six-game losing streak and looking to rebound from a second-half collapse at Maryland. 

Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes boast a lifeless offense and what could possibly be college football’s best defense. Iowa has yet to eclipse 27 points in a game this season and are coming off the heels of a 54-10 loss to No. 2 Ohio State last weekend — the Hawkeyes’ defense scored the team’s only touchdown courtesy of a fumble return. 

Sportsbooks saw the impending Saturday scaries and responded accordingly, attaching an over-under line that places almost zero faith in either offense — the two teams average a combined 32.6 points per game this season. 

“There’s five or six plays that make a difference in a game,” Fitzgerald said. “I just can’t tell the guys when those five or six plays are going to happen. We win a lot of one score games here, typically because we end up making those plays and right now, we’re just not making them at a consistent level.”

For a brief moment, the initial 31.5 O/U line was like dangling a hook in front of a fish to college football fanatics and sports bettors. In the 21st century, could there really be a world where two Big Ten teams instill such little confidence?

Well, here we are. The total would’ve supplanted 1995’s bout between Arizona and Oregon State (O/U 33) as the lowest tracked college football betting total ever — that game between the Wildcats and Beavers ended 14-9. 

While a low-scoring, punt-filled mid-afternoon affair — there have been 38 punts across the last three meetings — may not entice the average college football fan, here in the Big Ten West, it’s different. Watching all four quarters of NU and Iowa’s battle will allow viewers to ascend to their final form as a true sicko of the sport. 

So sit back, relax and enjoy the Cats and Hawkeyes duke it out on the grandest stage in sports: ESPN2. 

And remember NU fans, not all is lost. Fitzgerald said on Monday that he does “give away free hugs” — some might need to take him up on that offer after this weekend.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @CervantesPAlex

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