Two nationally-televised football games Friday, head-to-head for a couple hours, both involving a team from Iowa.
America, learn to love it. And why not? It’s not like you’d rather be out shopping during a pandemic.
The headliner is Iowa State-Texas, on ABC at 11 a.m. If the Cyclones win, they’re a home victory over West Virginia next week from an outright Big 12 regular-season title. Should Texas prevail, the league is likely to end up in a three- or four-way tie at the top.
Then there’s Nebraska-Iowa, on Fox at noon. If you’re not connected to those two teams, this is one you might switch over to when ISU-Texas is at halftime or on commercial breaks.
It’s not the Hawkeyes’ fault. They may be the best of the four mentioned teams. But their Big Ten West title hopes are almost nil, so this game is just … a game.
The primary reason for that is Nebraska. While it once brought big star power to Black Fridays back in the day, it’s become a Big Ten foot wipe. Losing at home to Illinois the way the Huskers did last Saturday was a light year from the Bo Pelini era, let alone that of Tom Osborne.
So let’s focus on the day’s top football selection. As you’ll undoubtedly hear a time or 20 during the ABC telecast, a win over the Longhorns would give Iowa State its first conference title since 1912. Adding to the storyline, as these things get called, is that the opponent is Texas.
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Texas. The 100,000-seat stadium. The even-larger reservoir of resources (meaning cash). The gigantic population base and vast array of high school talent to cherry-pick. Its own television network. Hook ‘em.
Yet, since Nebraska left the Big 12 for the Big Ten, the Huskers and Longhorns have been similar in their football achievements, or lack thereof. Texas won a league championship in the last decade, and has been better than 5-4 in the conference just twice.
But the Longhorns are 4-2 in the Big 12 this season and can go on to a first-place share and a spot in the league’s championship game if they beat Iowa State. Which would feel normal to most fans in Austin, as well as Anaheim, Asbury Park and Anchorage.
Since the start of the 2017 season, however, the two have looked each other eye to eye. Iowa State is 22-12 in the Big 12 in that time, and Texas is 21-12.
Two years ago, Iowa State went to Texas in November with a five-game winning streak. The game amounted to a play-in for the Big 12 championship contest. The Longhorns controlled it, winning 24-10. It was too much, too soon for the Cyclones.
“I think at that time we were babies,” ISU Coach Matt Campbell said this week. “We were just evolving and everything was so brand new.
“I think that now I feel there’s a really good rhythm to the entirety of our program. From day to day, from game to game, there is an expectation and a standard that I think we want to live by and work really hard to play by when we have the opportunity to play the sport.
“I feel like we’re a lot closer to that type of program today than maybe we were even the last two years.”
Now it just has to win at Texas. Why not?
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Meanwhile, Eastern Iowa has a team that has folded, spindled and mutilated its last three opponents. The Hawkeyes of Iowa did that to Michigan State, Minnesota and Penn State. Two of those programs have won Big Ten championships in the previous five years, and Minnesota was 11-2 a season ago.
Those three are all down this year, though the Gophers got a precious offensive pass interference gift from the officials last week in their “win” over Purdue.
Iowa started this season down itself. It’s gone up, up and away since then. Here comes another Black Friday, and here comes the fourth-straight year of Nebraska bringing a losing record into the game.
But both participants have been responsible for this being a series without any real stature. Of the 10 Black Friday meetings between the two counting this year’s, just four featured two teams with winning records. The Hawkeyes have come in as a Top 25 team just twice and Nebraska three times, and never were they both ranked when they met.
That’s not what everyone had in mind when this Thanksgiving Week pairing was created and seemed like something that would grow into a storied series.
Iowa isn’t ranked now, but if it isn’t one of the 25 best teams in America then crossing I-80 in Nebraska is the Midwest’s version of driving in the Swiss Alps.
The Hawkeyes have vanquished those last three opponents by a total of 90 points. They haven’t had a similar consecutive three-game domination of Big Ten teams since 2002 when they dropped Wisconsin, Northwestern and Minnesota by a combined 93.
An oft-heard question this week in my world is who would win a game between Iowa State and Iowa. The answer is simple. If the Cyclones don’t win their way into the Cotton Bowl, match them up with the Hawkeyes in Phoenix’s Guaranteed Rate Bowl. Then move the game to the UNI-Dome since the sites won’t matter this year, anyway.
Do I have to think of everything around here?