Iowa: the best team Eastern has ever played

All 70,585 seats in Kinnick Stadium, home of the Iowa Hawkeyes, are sold out for this weekend’s game pitting Eastern against the Hawkeyes.

Last season, Eastern traveled to Beaver Stadium, home of the Penn State Nittany Lions, and played in a sold-out stadium. According to Penn State’s athletic website, the stadium hits capacity with 107,282 fans.

Eastern has played in front of big crowds before, Penn State might have been the biggest and Beaver Stadium might break that record. But who is the biggest and best football team that they’ve ever played?

To solve this riddle, we have to look into the history books. History majors, get out your pens.

During the Bob Spoo era (1987-present), the biggest names that pop out at you are Purdue, Navy, Missouri, Iowa State, Kansas State, Illinois, Hawaii, Penn State and now Iowa.

Before Purdue played us, they were 8-6 in 2006 (we played them in 2007). Navy wasn’t good when we played them. Missouri was 8-5 the year they played us.

The Panthers have played Illinois 19 times in Spoo’s era; however, it’s the one-timers that we play that should count as a response to this question.

Kansas State was 10-2 in 2002. The Wildcats were atop the Big 12 Conference when they played us, making the Big 12 Title Game in 2003, 2000 and 1998. Their argument as the best team Eastern has played is a strong one.

Iowa State and Hawaii are not big enough names to be the best opponent Eastern has ever had. But Iowa and Penn State stick out.

Penn State was 11-2 last year. They started the season ranked No. 8 in the USA Today Poll and finished ranked No. 8. The Nittany Lions ended 2008 ranked No. 8 in the nation, too. In 2007, they finished the season 9-4, ranked No. 25.

Without question, the Penn State program was peaking a few years before they played Eastern, even last year when they did play us. But is their argument as impressive at Iowa’s? There is a key factor.

This season, Iowa is ranked No. 10 in the USA Today Poll to start the season.

Remember, Penn State was ranked No. 8 last year to start the season.

Last season, the preseason polls tabbed Iowa at No. 21 in the nation, but finished as No. 7 in the polls – ahead of Penn State.

In 2008, Iowa was unranked to start the season, but finished No. 20 with a 9-4 record.

In 2007, Iowa wasn’t ranked at the beginning of the season, nor did they finish in the Top 25. Clearly, the Hawkeyes’ Top 25 history isn’t as impressive as the Nittany Lions’ but Iowa has been the better program over the past couple seasons.

The power ladder of the Big Ten over the past couple years has certainly been Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State/Wisconsin. In that, Iowa is the better team but Penn State has more history.

So what are our arguments here?

Iowa: Most recent success.

Penn State: Recent success and long history of topping the Big Ten.

Kansas State: Dominant when they played us.

Given the different years we played each team, there is no clear-cut winner as to which team is the best Eastern has ever played.

However, there are subcategories.

Iowa wins the award for being the best team the year that we play them.

Penn State wins the award for having the steadiest dominance over a rich history.

Kansas State wins the award for being the most dominant team before, during and after the year we played them.

No matter the answer, it will be amazing to see Eastern play a team at the height that Iowa’s football program is as we play them.

Alex McNamee can be reached at 581-7944 or [email protected]