Football fans of the Iowa Hawkeyes and Nebraska Cornhuskers will play a large role in the newest and intense rivalry in the Big Ten Conference.
But if the Iowa football team wants the rivalry to be special on the field, the Hawkeyes are going to have to show the nation and the fans that it belongs on the same field as the Huskers.
Nebraska has won national championships. It has multiple Heisman Trophy winners. And the Huskers were a standard of winning under former head coach Tom Osborne. Now under Bo Pelini, Nebraska seems to be making its way back to prominence once again.
“They’re a very talented football team. If you look at them offensively, defensively, they got a lot of speed, special teams the same way.” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Got good size, good athleticism. They’ve been a premiere program for a long, long time. They look the part and they play the part. They’re really a good football team.”
When Ferentz took over the Iowa program in 1999, the Hawkeyes played Nebraska in the first two seasons he was in control. Those games did not go so well for Iowa, but the Hawkeyes are much improved from the days of 1-10 and 3-9 in Ferentz’s first seasons.
While Iowa cannot compare to Nebraska in national championships, the Hawkeyes have been to two BCS bowls, won a share of two Big Ten Conference titles and sent several players to the NFL under Ferentz. And the Hawkeyes have been bowl eligible for the past 11 seasons.
“They play physical and they play hard,” Pelini said. “I have a ton of respect for Iowa and for Kirk Ferentz. They do things the right way.”
Nebraska leads the all-time series 26-12-3 and have won three straight and five of the last six in the series. However, the two teams have not met since 2000. The Hawkeyes’ last win against Nebraska came in 1981 and the last time Iowa won in Lincoln was 1943.
“Iowa is very sound, and they do what they do well,” Pelini said. “They are well coached and they do a great job. We need to get back being focused. We need to have the right preparation and have the right attitude. Nobody plays a perfect game, and we certainly did not last week against Michigan.”
Iowa comes into the game at 7-4 and 4-3 in league play. Nebraska is 8-3 and 4-3. So the winner of this game should be higher in the bowl game pecking order. And the Iowa-Nebraska natural rivalry is something that makes sense to both coaches.
“I think it makes perfect sense. It was great for the conference,” Ferentz said. “Obviously I think it affects us probably more than anybody. So it’s a good thing. Again, how lucky can you be to experience this? If you like college football, this is a great thing. At the end of the day, the stadium and the fans won’t decide the game, it’s what we do on the field. It’s not a field trip, but at least it’s another exposure to something pretty neat about college football.”
Pelini said, “this is just the next game on the schedule for us. Geographically, there’s a lot of crossover between the two states. Iowa makes for a natural rivalry in that regard.”
Hopefully, the Hawkeyes can make that natural rivalry extend beyond the fans and the national expectations. What makes for natural rivalries and good rivalries is good competition. If a team wins every meeting, then there is not much of a rivalry.
“Two competitive teams,” said Ferentz when asked about what makes for a good rivalry. “We haven’t done so well in this series. Hopefully we’ve closed the gap a little bit. We’ll see. Time will tell.”
The Iowa-Nebraska game will kick off at 11 a.m. on Black Friday. Something that is familar to Nebraska and very different for the Hawkeyes.
“First half of the season, I think it would be a real challenge,” Ferentz said. “I think at this point it really works out pretty well. We’re not in school right now, which is nice. I think that makes it a little bit easier. It does allow us for things to move quickly. Quite frankly, I think in November, might not be bad to have a six‑day cycle for all of our games. I’m not going to volunteer that. It’s really not a big deal.”