A team that can’t move the ball against a team that can’t stop anyone from moving it ...
That’s not a good sales pitch to watch today’s Iowa-Nebraska game, and it isn’t how the Hawkeyes-Huskers series was supposed to go. This was once presumed to be a big deal, something to interest college football fans even in places that don’t have corn as part of their team’s nickname or their state’s identity.
The Big Ten put this game on Black Friday after the Cornhuskers joined the conference seven years ago. It was to appease the new guys, since Nebraska has played on the day after Thanksgiving since 1990. So the Big Ten gave Big Red a new neighbor for this Friday extravaganza, and what an extravaganza it would be.
After all, Nebraska was Nebraska. It was no longer a kingpin, but was still better than most. And Iowa, which played in the Orange Bowl five months before the 2010 day the Big Ten welcomed Nebraska to its moneymaking fraternity, wasn’t chopped liver.
Yes, this all made sense at the time. But today, Herky the Hawk vs. Herbie Husker is without national-playoff or division-title implications. The loser in Lincoln is guaranteed a losing Big Ten record. Alas, so is the winner.
FS1 probably thought it was getting a prize when it landed the television rights to this game earlier this year after Fox swooped up part of the Big Ten package. Uh, FS1 has this triple-header today: Baylor-TCU, Iowa-Nebraska, California-UCLA. That’s a cold turkey sandwich without any meat in the middle.
Six years or six months ago, who would have guessed today’s lone battle of ranked teams would be South Florida-Central Florida?
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Meanwhile, we who are somewhere in the middle of America seek beauty and meaning in our own surroundings. That may be difficult today, football-wise. At least there have been a couple moments that counted for something in this series.
In 2012, Nebraska needed to win at Iowa to assure itself a spot in the Big Ten’s title game. It did so, but by only 13-7 against a 4-7 Hawkeyes club. The Huskers then fell to Wisconsin in Indianapolis by the unsightly total of 70-31. It was 42-10 at halftime, the same score Nebraska trailed Penn State by at halftime last Saturday.
In 2015, Iowa needed to win at Lincoln for a perfect regular-season. That’s just what happened, though it wasn’t easy. The score was 28-20. The Huskers had 433 yards, the Hawkeyes a mere 250. But Nebraska threw four interceptions, one returned for a touchdown by defensive end Parker Hesse.
The rest of the series hasn’t had anything significant on the line. Iowa, however, did warm its fans’ hearts by plastering the Huskers 40-10 last year in Kinnick Stadium. That helped make the Hawkeyes’ subsequent Outback Bowl fiasco against Florida a bit more forgivable.
Forgiveness for what has happened to the Hawkeyes the last two weeks may be harder to come by. Perish the thought of a loss today and a 6-6 regular-season. Oh, what a winter of discontent that would bring.
Maybe the most-memorable moment regarding this series came two days after Nebraska rallied for a 37-34 overtime win at Iowa in 2014. Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichhorst held a news conference announcing football coach Bo Pelini had been fired.
Asked if Nebraska’s win over Iowa impacted his decision to dismiss Pelini, who had a 67-27 record at the school, he said it did, but ...
“But in the final analysis, I had to evaluate where Iowa was.”
And, “We just weren’t good enough in the games that mattered.”
Eichhorst replaced Pelini with Mike Riley, who is about to join Eichhorst as Nebraska state employees receiving pink-slips this year. Now, the Huskers aren’t even good enough in the games that don’t matter.
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The popular choice in Nebraska to take over for Riley is Scott Frost, who is coaching Central Florida in the game of the day.
As for Iowa-Nebraska, it no longer will be played on the season’s final weekend, effective in 2020.
We’ll miss it. That’s something we often say about things we forget about soon after they’re gone.