Aug. 29, 2012
Editor's Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa's Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- It's great to be a Hawkeye, and for the University of Iowa football team, it's great to be in game week.
Listen as senior quarterback James Vandenberg talks about playing in a great atmosphere (Chicago), in a great venue (Soldier Field), against a great opponent (Northern Illinois).
"The excitement is ramped up," said Vandenberg, who threw for 219 yards and two touchdowns in last season's 34-7 opening win against Tennessee Tech. "We've had three good weeks of work and we're ready to get game week going and start preparing."
The Hawkeyes are looking for their 12th consecutive successful season-opening Saturday. Six of those wins came against teams from the Mid-American Conference: Kent State (2001, 2004), Akron (2002), Miami (2003), Ball State (2005) and Northern Illinois (2007).
The current edition of Huskies enters the game with the longest winning streak of any Football Bowl Subdivision program (nine games). Northern Illinois, one of eight bowl-qualifiers on the Hawkeye schedule, defeated Arkansas State, 38-20, in the GoDaddy.com Bowl last season. Yes, the same Arkansas State program Iowa hosted (and defeated) in 2009.
Playing against a defending bowl champion with the longest winning streak in the land makes the first game week of 2012 more intriguing for the Hawkeyes.
"Camp is heavy lifting. It is work for us and time to come together as a team. We've been together in a hotel all those weeks during camp, and now we're switching phases and trying to focus on Northern Illinois."
UI senior strong safety
Donatell and big-hitting sophomore Nico Law are battling for the start in Iowa's defensive secondary.
"It feels like everyone is excited," Law said. "Game week has just started, it's the beginning of the season, and we're about to find where we are as a football team. I want to do whatever I can to help our team get this W."
The last time the Hawkeyes played Northern Illinois was also the last time the Hawkeyes competed in Chicago's Soldier Field. It was Sept. 1, 2007, and the Iowa won, 16-3.
For backup center Conor Boffelli, the best part of yesterday's practice was about aiming at a tangible target; Northern Illinois is in the sights.
"We're all prepared and we're all ready to see what we do on the field Saturday," Boffelli said. "It's about knowing all the hard work we have put in the last three weeks is about to pay off."
"In camp you're working Iowa and Iowa, ones (first team) versus ones," Donatell said. "Now we're into scout work, game-planning toward (Northern Illinois') plays and not just playing against us. It's a big difference."
Tuesday was practice No. 25 of preseason, which opened Friday, Aug. 3. UI head coach Kirk Ferentz says that the length of camp makes it seem like eternity before game week arrives. But once it does, look out.
"(Tuesday) officially begins game week, so we'll be in a different mode of operation, which is good," Ferentz said. "It always feels like it takes forever to get to the first one. Once you're here, it's going to be a blink and we'll be done."
While the nine-game winning streak by the Huskies will be at the forefront of many pregame conversations, there are a couple statistics that don't bode well for Northern Illinois. One, the Huskies are 3-35-1 against Big Ten Conference competition, including a 49-7 loss to Wisconsin last season in Soldier Field. Two, Iowa is undefeated in seven previous head-to-head meetings between the schools.
"It's going to be interesting, but that's why you work, that's why you practice," Ferentz said. "Now we'll see how things start to come together. It's going to be 13 weeks, and we'll learn every week."
Each successful season needs a starting point. For the Hawkeyes and Huskies, that will be Saturday, Sept. 1.