IOWA CITY — Ihmir Smith-Marsette has a multitude of reasons to be ready for the Iowa football team’s Big Ten opener today.
The 11 a.m. game against Rutgers at Kinnick Stadium is the only chance the junior receiver from Newark, N.J., will have to play against the school from his home state during his career at Iowa.
"This is my one shot to play against them. It’s a big thing for me and my family," said Smith-Marsette, who matched a career high with four receptions in the 20th-ranked Hawkeyes’ season-opening 38-14 victory over Miami (Ohio) last Saturday. "They’ll all be watching back home, and this is a game I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It means a lot."
For Iowa, it means a lot.
Tucked into the schedule before next week’s Cy-Hawk battle against Iowa State, the earliest Big Ten opener in Hawkeye history is a match-up that coach Kirk Ferentz does not want his team to overlook.
"It’s different and it’s significant," Ferentz said. "Any time you’re in a conference game, it’s a significant thing. You only get nine of those, so that’s really important."
Rutgers, coached by Ottumwa, Iowa, native Chris Ash, ended an 11-game losing streak a week ago when it overcame a 21-7 deficit after one quarter and piled up an attention-grabbing 554 yards of offense on its way to a 48-21 victory over Massachusetts.
The Scarlet Knights and Hawkeyes have little history against each other, meeting just once with Iowa surviving a 14-7 game in 2016 at Piscataway, N.J.
But, this is a Big Ten game and that has the attention of the Hawkeyes.
"It seems a little strange to be playing a Big Ten game this early, but it is what it is and we need to be ready for it," running back Toren Young said.
No matter the foe, Smith-Marsette works to maintain a steady approach from one week to the next, believing that helps create consistency in his game.
"I’m looking at this week the same way I look at every week. I don’t worry about that it’s Big Ten. I just look at it as another opponent," he said. "Obviously, it comes with more of an impact because it’s in the conference, but I just look at it as just being the next week and the next opponent. That way, it’s just another day."
The early Big Ten tests will be more commonplace moving forward for all league schools as the conference looks to expand its early-season inventory of Big Ten games for its television partners.
In addition to today’s game, Iowa visits Minnesota during the third week of the season in 2020 and opens its 2021 schedule with a game against Indiana.
"I’d rather play our non-league games first, but nobody asks for my opinion, and I’m not waiting for that to happen either," Ferentz said. "That’s just the way it is, so we’ll play them."
Quarterback Nate Stanley said the Scarlet Knights will pose more of a physical test than Iowa experienced last week.
"It’s a little different facing a Big Ten team so early, but we have to be there. They’re all about physical football," Stanley said. "They’ll play physical and fast. That’s part of it when you get into conference play, and we need to be ready for that."
Stanley will be working behind a line which spent the bulk of last week’s game without projected starters Alaric Jackson and Cole Banwart. Both were sidelined by injury, with Jackson leaving the game with a knee sprain and bone bruise late in the first quarter.
Iowa rotated nine offensive linemen in its first game of the season, something that was planned to help improve depth.
Even though the results of this game will be something the Hawkeyes will live with until returning to Big Ten competition on Oct. 5 at Michigan, Ferentz expects that rotation to continue today.
It’s a time of the year that is about development, and that is also among the things the Hawkeyes are focused on in its league opener.
"To me, the month of September, especially, is just about really focusing on trying to improve and put things together, tie up loose ends, those types of things," Ferentz said. "I’m sure they’re fighting the same battle, though. It’s their second game, too, so it’s even footing for both teams.
"But, it’s a significant game. Every game is significant, and we’re just racing against time. I know that’s what we’re doing. I’m sure they’re trying to do the same thing."