IOWA CITY, Iowa — I’m not sure many college football teams compete in more trophy games than Iowa, which plays in four. Of course, there’s unequal meaning among the four, but the Hawkeyes share a history with each of its annual opponents — regardless of trophy status.
Minnesota is Iowa’s oldest and most-played rival. Every year since 1935 they’ve competed for the Floyd of Rosedale, a 98.3-pound bronze pig.
Iowa and Wisconsin have played 90 times, and since 2004 they’ve battled for the Heartland Trophy.
The Cy-Hawk series between Iowa and Iowa State has featured four different trophies (seriously) since 2010, but that doesn’t detract from the rivalry’s intensity.
Nebraska is a recent Big Ten addition and the Heroes Trophy between the Cornhuskers and Hawkeyes is a noble symbol of victory in what has developed into a heated series.
Iowa and Purdue nearly set up a trophy when they were glued together as annual opponents in the old Legends and Leaders divisions. Illinois and Iowa once ceased their rivalry for 15 years because it had reached white-hot status after a 1952 field-storming incident in Iowa City. Northwestern could play Iowa in touch football at the DeKalb Oasis parking lot and it would turn into a rumble.
The Hawkeyes play these seven teams every year and will continue to do so — at least until the next wave of Big Ten expansion or the Iowa-Iowa State contract expires. Some of the games are designated for specific weeks. Most of them are shuffled annually. So what weeks make the most sense for Iowa to play its rivals?
IOWA STATE — Ever since the series was reignited in 1977, the teams have played in September, except in 2001 because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. From 2008 onward, they’ve competed on the second Saturday of September, which seems perfect. Both fan bases are energized for the upcoming season and the weather allows tailgates to stretch for miles around either stadium. Perfect game week: Second Saturday in September.
MINNESOTA — From 1984 through 2010, these old foes usually ended their Big Ten season against the other, and they always played in November. With Big Ten expansion, the series has bounced from late September, throughout October, and into mid-November. Based on their shared history, this rivalry date needs some consistency. Perfect game week: Third Saturday in November.
WISCONSIN — In recent years, these teams have become the powers in the Big Ten’s western region. Five times in the last seven years, either the Badgers (three) or the Hawkeyes (two) have won at least 11 games. Traditionally, there’s been no consistency to their scheduling. They’ve gone decade-long stretches of playing in October and the same span in November. Considering the game’s importance, it deserves to be late enough to matter, but early enough for fans to enjoy the fall foliage along the 3-hour drive from Madison to Iowa City on Highway 151. Perfect game week: Fourth Saturday in October.
NEBRASKA — When the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten for the 2011 season, league and school officials decided to play the game on the season’s final week. A few months later, they agreed to move the game to Black Friday. Nebraska has a long tradition with that game date against other opponents. Unless Oklahoma joins the Big Ten in the near future, it makes sense to keep this game the day after Thanksgiving. Perfect game week: Black Friday.
NORTHWESTERN — Only twice in the past 30 years have the teams met before Oct. 10 — in 2008 and 2016. Like northeast Iowa and southwest Wisconsin, Evanston is beautiful in mid-fall. It seems appropriate for the Hawkeyes and Wildcats to compete when the leaves are orange and brown. That also would be in concert with history. Perfect game week: Third Saturday in October.
PURDUE — Many fans would be surprised to know the Hawkeyes have played the Boilermakers 87 times, third-most among Iowa’s opponents. In six of their last seven meetings, they’ve played in November. Although they’ve engaged in some doozies in early October (2002 comes to mind), it appears these teams should face off every November. Perfect game week: Second Saturday in November.
ILLINOIS — No Iowa series has featured more bumps in the schedule that its border battles with the Illini. The teams didn’t play from 1953 until 1967 after an apple-tossing incident in Iowa City. Then with multiple rounds of realignment, they didn’t play from 2009 to 2014. Perhaps the series’ instability has led to the chaotic scheduling. They played in late November last year and will meet in early October this season. In the last 20 years, they’ve played three September games, five November games and five October games. Perfect game week: Doesn’t really matter … OK, first Saturday in October.