Penn State vs. Iowa: The Accidental Rivals

By John Morgan on October 11, 2019 at 11:00 am
Penn State Wide Receiver KJ Hamler
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Since Penn State joined the Big Ten, its matchup with Iowa has taken a few twists and turns. The conference went to 11 teams in 1993, the Legends and Leaders divisions were formed following Nebraska's addition, and the current arrangement now has an East and West. Despite all the changes, Penn State and Iowa have developed an interesting rivalry. Since 1983, the two teams have faced off 21 times with the Nittany Lions clinging to an 11-10 record in that span. In those games, only Hayden Fry, Joe Paterno, Kirk Ferentz, Bill O'Brien and James Franklin have lead their teams. The two meet once again on Saturday night, continuing a series that has developed into another great conference rivalry. 

THe History

In 1983 and 1984, the pair split the first two games when the Nittany Lions were an independent. They didn't play again until Penn State joined the Big Ten, with the Nittany Lions winning the first three meetings before Iowa pulled off an upset in 1996 thanks to the heroics of Tim Dwight. 

After a three year hiatus, the teams played for six straight years starting in 1999. Following a Nittany Lion beatdown, Iowa went on a run of wins as Penn State entered their "dark years." That forgettable stretch ended in 2004 when Iowa won the infamous 6-4 game. That game needs no more recognition and the teams would not meet for three years.

2007 kicked off a split six-game series, that included Penn State's devastating loss in 2008 on a last second field goal by Iowa kicker Daniel Murray to ruin a perfect season. That time frame also included a Bill O'Brien led Penn State team dismantling the Hawks in Kinnick Stadium 38-14.

That brings us to the James Franklin vs. Kirk Ferentz era, which began in 2016. Penn State Saquon'd Iowa 41-14 in 2016, but the next two games proved to be a battle. The 2017 game was an all-time classic as Saquon Barkley set Penn State's all-time, single-game, all-purpose yardage record with 358 yards, and Trace McSorley found Juwan Johnson on the final play for a game-winning touchdown. The 2018 game remained close until Nick Scott was able to intercept Nate Stanley late in the game to seal a victory.

The Future

Penn State and Iowa are set to play for three more seasons, including this weekend. The cross-division teams have provided their fair share of great games. The Big Ten West has had a tough run, but it's Iowa and Wisconsin who are carrying the group until Nebraska is willing and able. In the manner the games have played out, Penn State and Iowa have played plenty of games that run the gamut of emotions. Saturday night looks to be just another chapter in a rivalry that the Big Ten didn't foresee, but has surely embraced.