Yesterday was my first time in Iowa City, and now that I have been to 6 of the 11 Big Ten stadiums (and also Notre Dame) for Michigan games, I thought I would throw out my thoughts from the experience, including some comparisons and game observations.
Note: My rankings below are based purely on my opinion and obviously influenced by what my experiences were at each individual campus. Also, in some instances it was very hard to separate 2 or 3 schools. Basically what I'm trying to say is that I don't want this post to piss anyone off.
University of Iowa Campus:
I don't know about you guys, but I love college campuses. Every time I get a chance to visit a school, I make a point to get a feel for the campus. I am obviously biased, but the University of Michigan has the best campus I have ever been to (which is a lot more than the the seven mentioned above). Ann Arbor is the perfect size college town, and the campus itself seamlessly blends right into it. My view on Iowa's campus is that it was very nice, but mostly unspectacular. The town of Iowa City really is in the middle of nowhere, with Cedar Rapids being the biggest thing nearby. And all of the stereotypical jokes about corn, tractors, etc that are associated with Iowa are partially true from what I saw. The campus itself was pretty nice with a lot of the brick and stone buildings that I like and a riverside location. Their Union has nothing on Michigan's but thats the case almost everywhere. Overall ranking amongst Big Ten + ND places I been: Michigan, Wisconsin, ND, Iowa, OSU, Northwestern, MSU.
Pre-game Atmosphere / Tailgating Scene
I've got to be pretty honest here and say that considering it was a night game with Iowa being ranked so high, I was a little disappointed with this part of the Iowa experience. Sure there were a ton of people, with a large number of parking areas that were completely packed, but other than that I felt it was business as usual. Maybe I was expecting too much, but to me it seemed like it easily could have been just an average day game from what I observed. Overall ranking amongst Big Ten + ND places I've been: Wisconsin, OSU, MSU, Iowa, Michigan, ND, Northwestern.
Kinnick Stadium has a reputation for being one of the tougher places to play in the Big Ten, and again I have to say that I was a little disappointed considering where my expectations were. The "blackout" was excellent. The student section was there early, and they were loud. And the stadium itself is aesthetically very nice, if not for it being fairly small. Don't get me wrong, the place got LOUD at times, especially early. But as the game wore on, the crowd really only got up at obviously important moments. I am sure the freezing temperatures and other things played a role in this. But overall, OSU and even Wisconsin seemed to more consistently loud. And I was sitting in the 6th row from the field, just opposite the student section. One thing I will say about Kinnick is that the crowd is extremely close to the players. In the endzone nearest me, the people in the front row seats actually had their feet on the playing surface. Courtside baby! Overall ranking amongst Big Ten + ND places I've been: OSU, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, ND, MSU, Northwestern.
EDIT: One thing I left out was how terrible the loud-speaker music and other jumbotron things were. Absolutely terrible. At one point on the jumbotron, there was a cartoon video of four pick-up trucks racing that obviously ended with the black Iowa one winning. A promotion for corn growers or something like that. Also -1000 for the Iowa band playing the Monday Night Football song (not "Are You Ready for Some Football" but the other one). Thinking of this stuff just dropped Iowa down one spot on my list.
Iowa Fans (Treatment of Opposing Fans)
Not sure how many of you are interested in this portion of my post, but I have to say that Iowa fans were definitely some of the more hospitable I have come in contact with. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy getting ribbed by opposing fans at away games, but some places definitely go too far on occasion (cough OSU cough). We had very little profanity thrown our way, and even the post-game trash talk was minimal. One issue I do have was the running the field thing that I know has already been brought up on this blog. Even the fans around me seemed to be celebrating the win as though they had just won the Big Ten. I just don't understand being that excited when your number 12 ranked team barely escapes at home against an unranked team that is extremely inexperienced. If the roles had been reversed, I would have let out a big WHEW and went back to my apartment feeling very lucky to still be undefeated. That was not the reaction I saw from Iowa fans. Overall ranking amongst Big Ten + ND places I've been (I'm leaving out Michigan here because I have never been to the Big House as an opposing fan obviously): Iowa, Northwestern, ND, Wisconsin, MSU, OSU.
I'm not going to go into too much detail here, but despite the loss I am very encouraged about what I saw last night. In the moments after the game ended, part of me was very happy because the team played pretty well when they weren't making a monumental mistake. The other part of me was extremely disappointed because if we had not made as many monumental mistakes we would have won that game, sliding back into the top 20 and making a January bowl seem very likely.
For the first time since the Western Michigan game, I found myself really liking the way our defense looked at points in the game. Sure they allowed 30 points, but the offense gave them a short field at least twice and the TD that came after the 3rd and 24 conversion is credited to the coaches IMO (from my vantage point it looked like we went into three-man-rush death mode, but correct me if I am wrong).
Offensively, we definitely struggled at points. But our ability to consistently line up and push Iowa off the ball with the running game was what really got me excited. I also enjoyed being re-reminded of how important Brandon Minor is to our team. Watching the physicality of his running from the 6th row was incredible. I hope he can somehow stay healthy for the next 6 games.
Overall, a loss is still a loss. But going forward I feel really good about the rest of the season and the future. I think it's going to be a tough battle to make it to 7+ wins, but I think we can do it based on what I saw in Iowa City. For the first time this year, I feel that PSU and OSU are definitely winnable games. Hope some of this was helpful!