IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Anyone who watched last November's de facto Big Ten championship game between Ohio State and Iowa didn't see much separating the teams.
The visiting Hawkeyes gave Ohio State all it could handle, despite playing without their starting quarterback, Ricky Stanzi. Iowa rallied from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game, and had a chance to win at the end of regulation before eventually falling 27-24 in overtime.
Both teams went on to win BCS bowls and both enter the 2010 season ranked in top 10. The overwhelming sense is that the Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl -- or even the BCS title game -- will be decided Nov. 20, when Ohio State visits Iowa at Kinnick Stadium.
It seems natural to group Ohio State and Iowa entering the season, but Stanzi doesn't see things that way.
"Until someone beats them, there's really nothing to talk about," Stanzi told me Thursday. "They're a tremendous team, and we have no reason to even comment on them because we don't deserve to."
Shouldn't Iowa be put in Ohio State's class, especially after the Orange Bowl win?
"No, why should we be?" Stanzi replied. "What would be the reason to categorize us with them? Because we had a close game with them last year? They've won five straight titles; we haven't won five straight titles. Until a team beats them in the Big Ten, I don't think any team has a reason to hype up that game.
"Obviously, Ohio State's not buying into it because they're beating everybody."
Ohio State has beaten Iowa three consecutive times and 11 times in the teams' last 12 meetings.
Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz owns only one win against Jim Tressel (2004), and Iowa owns just four wins against the Scarlet and Gray since 1962. Most of the losses have been ugly.
Looking at the evidence, Stanzi's assessment might be spot on.
"I hope we are at some point," Ferentz said when asked if the Hawkeyes could be in Ohio State's class. "People are talking about them in the national championship, and rightfully so, and they've won five straight [Big Ten] championships. If you look at those criteria, we're certainly not in that class.
"But that's the great thing about the conference race: We're all on the same starting line next week."
Iowa hopes to be hitting its stride when the Buckeyes come to town.
"We haven't beaten them yet," defensive tackle Christian Ballard said. "We haven't beaten them in a while, actually. It's going to be a good, tough match this year."