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Entire state of Iowa abuzz for Cy-Hawk Series rivalry

No one is pretending Saturday's Iowa-Iowa State matchup is just another game. That's impossible.

For the in-state players, the importance of this rivalry has been ingrained into their heads since before they strapped on helmets. Hawkeyes linebacker Travis Perry remembers wearing his black and gold outfit during elementary school classroom parties on the eve of this game. Cyclones linebacker Levi Peters recalls shouting at the TV on Saturdays, his whole day ruined if the right team didn't win.

"I know some out-of-state kids who may not feel it as much as us Iowa boys do, but you want to win every year no matter what," Peters said. "It's bragging rights. It's being the best team in the state. Every game's important, but there's a lot of emphasis on this."

Added Perry: "It means a lot. Even the fans that don't normally come are always turning to the game. There's a lot of buzz and excitement in the state this week."

The state of Iowa is bigger than Pennsylvania and New Jersey combined, but no sporting event approaches the importance or excitement of this one. There are no pro teams in Iowa, after all. Just Iowa and Iowa State -- and, on a smaller level, FCS school Northern Iowa.

The state legislature pressured these schools to resume the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series rivalry in 1977, with the teams playing every year since while alternating stadiums. Since 2008, every game has either been a sellout or the most attended game of the season.

"I can say, from my experience here, that when this week comes, we grind harder than we ever do any other week," Iowa State offensive lineman Jamison Lalk said. "And, when it comes to the field, it's going to be the most physical game of the year."

Added Iowa tight end Henry Krieger Coble: "This has just been a part of my life forever, as long as I can remember. It's definitely a state divided on each Saturday in the fall; it's definitely special."

Nearly half of both teams' rosters are comprised of in-state players. Fifty Hawkeyes players grew up in Iowa, while 49 Iowa State athletes call The Hawkeye State home. And both teams boast seven in-state starters apiece.

A lot of these players know each other, and most have crossed paths at some point with the university on the other side of the state. Perry, a Hawkeye, attended his first Iowa-Iowa State game when he visited the Cyclones on a recruiting visit. He wore an Iowa State shirt. ("Yeah, it's goofy," he admitted.) Lalk, a Cyclone, was recruited by Iowa and remembers how they made "everything sound awesome."

This is one of the oldest rivalries in the nation, one that dates back to 1894 when Coca-Cola was first sold in bottles. Their first meeting pre-dates most of the Big 12's football programs altogether, with the exception of Kansas (1890), West Virginia (1891) and Texas (1893).

The hatred each school feels for the other has been marinating for more than 120 years. And they are separated by only a two-hour drive. The directions are simple: Get on U.S. 30, then exit about 120 miles later.

"For me, it's my senior year. This is the last chance I'll get to play these guys," Perry said. "Every year, it means a little bit more. It's just a special game."

Said Lalk: "It really sets the tone for the rest of the year. And this is one of our goals -- to win the state."

Records and past performances haven't meant much in this rivalry. Since 2000, the Cyclones have only twice finished with a better overall record than the Hawkeyes -- but they have an 8-7 series edge during that span. Iowa State has also won three of the past four meetings, despite the Hawkeyes fielding the seemingly better team all but one season.

On Saturday, none of that matters. The entire state's population will either be at the 4:45 p.m. kickoff, or will be crowded around televisions, as has been the case every season for the past 38 years.

If you live in Iowa, you don't just forget about this game. It's more than just a mark in the win column; for the players, it's bragging rights for life.

"This game's huge to everyone in Iowa," Lalk said. "And I want to tell my kids one day that when I was playing, we beat them. We were the top dog in Iowa."