This year's Iowa-Iowa State showdown in football doesn't need controversy to be interesting

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Iowa players celebrate with the Cy-Hawk trophy after last season's 44-41 overtime victory in Ames.

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Matt Campbell's decision to allow his three suspended players to return to action against Iowa this coming Saturday has supposedly caused a controversy.

Or, so I’m told.

Some Iowa fans apparently feel it is wrong for Campbell, Iowa State's third-year head coach, to treat this past Saturday’s game against South Dakota State as a one-game suspension for Iowa State starters Julian Good-Jones and De’Monte Ruth and reserve Kamilo Tongamoa because it wasn’t even a game.

The two teams barely played for 4 minutes before the game was cancelled due to lightning in Ames.

Some Iowa fans apparently feel that the suspensions should carry over to the next game, which seems convenient considering Iowa is Iowa State’s next opponent.

The problem is I can’t find hardly any Iowa fans who feel that way. I’ve checked social media and the message boards where controversies usually start, and while there is some disagreement with the suspensions not carrying over, it hardly seems at a level to qualify as a controversy.

I asked a number of people in Iowa City on Tuesday, probably 15 to 20, for their thoughts on Campbell lifting the suspensions and one did say that it was bush league, but then followed up by saying that he didn’t really care and that Campbell was free to do as he chooses.

The other people I spoke with mostly didn’t care, or they agreed with Campbell’s decision to treat the cancelled game as a real game.

I also agree with Campbell’s decision because so much more goes into a one-game suspension than just the one-game suspension.

At least, that is the case at Iowa under Kirk Ferentz, and it would be silly to think that Iowa is the only school that treats a one-game suspension as more than just a one-game suspension.

I’m certainly not ready to anoint Campbell as the savior of Iowa State football, but I also have no reason to question the way he disciplines his players.

If Campbell feels that his three suspended players have met their responsibilities, even without missing a full game, then who am I to argue?

I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes at Iowa State, but have seen, read or heard nothing to suggest that Campbell is soft on discipline.

I’m also willing to say that Kirk Ferentz would make the same decision under the same circumstances because by the time this past Saturday’s game against Northern Illinois had started, Iowa’s four suspended players already had served most of their one-game suspensions.

Offensive tackles Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs and defensive tackles Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff all paid a price beyond missing the season opener.

“They did community service work. It's a pretty standard rule we have,” Ferentz said Tuesday “They got four hours in on Friday and eight more on Saturday and missed the game. But they're in mind and spirit, and they came back Sunday and we've welcomed them back, and they're all doing a good job. Really happy with the way they've handled it.

“Obviously, wish they hadn't been in that situation, but I think they've handled it the way we would hope, and what's most important now is they continue to do that, and I expect that from all four guys. I think they've got a great attitude.”

We can assume that Campbell feels the same about his three suspended players or he wouldn’t play them.

The fact that Iowa is the next opponent, I’m willing to say is only a coincidence in this case.

Some Iowa fans would disagree with that, and there probably is nothing I could say to change their opinion.

As for assuming that Ferentz would handle a one-game suspension the same way, it has nothing to do with thinking that Ferentz is soft on discipline, because we’re talking about a coach who suspended star cornerback Desmond King for the first quarter of the Nebraska game in 2015 for being late to a team meeting.

It has everything to do with thinking that the so-called suspension controversy isn’t a big deal and that Campbell made a fair decision based on how his three players handled their suspensions.

Ferentz explained in detail on Tuesday just how a suspension works at Iowa, and it seems that almost every second is accounted for with tough love.

“There's certain things -- most of these cases it's university protocol that we have or athletic department protocol, which is good, and a lot of that is educationally based, but then on that, they spend the week on the scout team, so I guess if we benefit in any way, our preparation gets a little better because you get guys that were in the two deep typically on the scout team,” Ferentz said. “And then they do the community service on Friday and Saturday, they miss the game.

“So there's got to be a price to pay. It's got to hurt a little bit, and there's got to be some consequences, but that's just part of learning and moving forward. Then how you handle those things and how you respond is, I think, very, very telling.”

Unlike some years when the so-called big game was lacking in rich storylines, or had little interest beyond our state’s four borders, this year’s game is different because both teams are relevant beyond our four borders.

This year’s game, which starts at 4:05 p.m. on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, doesn’t need controversy or trash talk to be interesting.

The Iowa players were careful not to say anything close to being controversial on Tuesday while meeting with the media. It was genuine, but it also seems likely that the players were reminded by their coaches to think before you speak, especially this week.

A controversy would only take attention away from what really matters, which is the intriguing matchup on the field between two in-state rivals that both would be disappointed if they didn’t win at least eight games this season.

Rarely, can you say that about this game.

Iowa State running back David Montgomery might be the best player in the country at his position, and the same could be said about Iowa tight end Noah Fant.

This game deserves to be played with both teams at or near full strength, injuries aside. And thankfully, that appears to be the case, and it didn’t come at the expense of discipline.