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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY - Try to remember, as a certain song says, when grass was green and grain was yellow.
Back in the warmth of summer, we looked in the distance to this very day. Many of us saw Nebraska-Iowa at the end of the 2014 football schedule and thought 'This could be the year that game is huge. This could be the year that game really means something nationally.”
It isn't, and it doesn't.
Sure, it's still Nebraska-Iowa, and that will always be a big deal around here. But as my Gazette colleague Scott Dochterman wrote, this is the Big Ten West's bronze-medal game. As I'm adding, nobody remembers bronze-medal games.
In August, only laziness stopped me from writing a lighthearted column explaining how the Huskers and Hawkeyes would knock down 11 straight dominoes each to wind up meeting at Kinnick Stadium in one of the biggest college football games of the millennium. I was going to have it played in an snowstorm.
I won't give away the ending, but let's just say the game would have taken a permanent place in American sports lore.
Instead, it's 8-3 Nebraska staggering from two straight losses, and a 7-4 Iowa team that hasn't tasted as much as a spot in the Top 25.
It's Year 4 of Nebraska and Iowa owning this particular piece of national television real estate, but it remains undeveloped. The opportunity was there this autumn, but the Hawkeyes faltered early and the Huskers stumbled later.
As for this being a genuine rivalry, that will be up to the programs to make it so. It hasn't happened yet.
'This is like in the infant stage, if you will,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday.
It wasn't just local yokels who thought Iowa could have pulled up to Kinnick Stadium today with a lot on the line. ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit was one of quite a few football wise men who picked the Hawkeyes to win the West. A preseason Big Ten media poll had Iowa a close second to Wisconsin, with 11 first-place votes to the Badgers' 15.
But Wisconsin and Minnesota were the ones who earned their stripes, and they'll meet Saturday in the West's game that does matter.
Iowa's 2014 schedule looks no more daunting now then it did in the summer, but that didn't help. The Huskers, meanwhile, melted defensively in each of the three times they played a Big Ten team that pushed back.
The Big Ten invited Nebraska into its money-printing cabal because of football, and football only. You didn't have to explain Cornhusker football to America.
But that was trading on the past. Nebraska hasn't won a conference football crown since 1999, hasn't been to a major bowl since the 2001 Rose. It wins nine or 10 games every year, but it doesn't win the games that matter. It too frequently gets embarrassed in those.
Iowa, meanwhile, simply was overrated this season. It's not a bad team. It's just not a great one. It couldn't replenish its supply of terrific linebackers who were seniors last year, which a lot of us glossed over in the off-season. And, it didn't find its offensive groove nearly soon enough.
If nothing else, the winner of today's game can walk away feeling good of how it finished things out. It's doubtful the season will ever exist in which Iowa would dismiss a victory over Nebraska as insignificant. And vice versa.
But until it has a little more riding on it, it's just two faces in the Black Friday crowd.
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