AMES, Ia. — Cy-Hawk week, for many, is a twisted pretzel of justification — of scores, of matchups, of history, of barometric pressure and planet alignment.
Hardcore fans in the state dig as deeply as any other week of the season to explain why their team will win the annual football game.
Here’s the rub in 2013, though: This is the most confidence-rattled matchup in generations.
Iowa lost its season opener to Northern Illinois for the program’s seventh straight loss. The justification pretzel-ers pointed out that the team played in the Orange Bowl a season earlier, despite a MAC schedule and being exposed against Florida State. Quarterback Jordan Lynch is a Heisman-type guy, but the pretzel-ers often forget to mention the Huskies replaced seven starters on defense.
Then the Hawkeyes missed a chance to build swagger a week ago in a less-than-breezy win against FCS Missouri State.
Iowa State fell in its opener to a team with fewer scholarships and less recruiting-celebrated talent — at home — to FCS Northern Iowa.
Cy-Hawk ulcers, indeed.
Cutting through merits and warts reveals a few basics:
— There’s more confidence Iowa can run behind a stout offensive line with sturdy, ball-toting Mark Weisman and capable back Damon Bullock. There’s less confidence Iowa State can stop the run after allowing 199 yards to Northern Iowa’s David Johnson.
— If Iowa owns a clear, early-season Achilles’ heel, it seems to be a group of defensive backs more burn-able in the pre-conference schedule than any decked in black and gold want. One game in, though, Cyclone quarterback Sam Richardson has nearly as many rushing attempts (21) as completions (22).
— Iowa, too, has a proven-kicker edge in Mike Meyer — always a big-game plus.
— Last season, I picked the road team — Iowa State, by two points — because of defenders like Jake Knott and A.J. Klein. The Cyclones won by three.
I’m sticking with the road warriors again.
IOWA 23, IOWA STATE 17