LINCOLN, Neb. — Bump Elliott didn’t see this one coming back in the day he was overseeing University of Iowa athletics.
During his 22 years as athletic director between 1970-91, Iowa and Nebraska played football just four times, and that was all right, because “they were a very good program and we were trying to raise up our level,” Elliott said.
“Back then, we felt that was plenty enough to be playing Nebraska.”
Then came realignment. Then came Nebraska to the Big Ten.
Friday comes the birth of a conference rivalry — the first game in an every-year border series that’s being called “The Heroes Game.”
The 11 a.m. showdown at 22nd-ranked Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium is the 42nd meeting between the schools, but first as members of the same conference.
“They’ve been a premier program for a long time,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They look the part, and they play the part.”
Big Ten officials put the teams in the Legends Division, which meant annual home-and-home games. School officials, in conjunction with the conference and television big-wigs, decided Iowa-Nebraska fit on the Friday following Thanksgiving — at least through next season.
Thus Friday’s game at a stadium boasting 317 consecutive 80,000-plus sellouts.
“The minute the announcement was made with Nebraska coming into the conference, we started talking about the possibility of a Friday game,” Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said. “Nebraska is used to playing on Friday, but it was something that I had to make sure we could take to our community, so we committed to two years — one at their place and one in our place. I’m certain it will go beyond that.”
Playing on Black Friday is old news for an 8-3 Nebraska team that has faced Oklahoma and Colorado on the day after Thanksgiving. Facing Iowa, though, could be better from at least one standpoint.
“It got to where our fans wouldn’t go out there (to Colorado),” Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne said. “That won’t happen with the Nebraska-Iowa game.”
While today’s combatants have a history, it’s certainly new for the players. The last time the schools met was 2000, while Iowa State has played at Memorial Stadium every-other-year.
“When the Iowa players walk from the locker room to the field, it’ll be like walking through the Nebraska media guide,” former Cyclone quarterback Austen Arnaud said.
VIDEO: PREVIEWING THE GAME (PART I)
Arnaud knows the 50-yard stroll from locker room to field like few others — he has walked it, the last of which was onto the field in 2009 where it was the Cyclones who left others seeing Red after upsetting Nebraska 9-7.
This batch of Iowa players will walk that walk for the first time since many even knew the Big Ten existed.
“I don’t look at this as being our big rival,” said cornerback Shaun Prater, and he’s from Omaha. “The in-state battle — Iowa State. When we think of rivalry, that’s what comes up. Maybe with the Cornhuskers coming into the conference … that can be a rivalry, too.”
Voters on a HawkCentral.com poll weighed in: Of nearly 1,800 respondents, 36.6 percent viewed Wisconsin as Iowa’s biggest rival, followed by Iowa State, and Nebraska — before the best Big Ten game between the two had been played.
First, though, this word from reality: Before everyone gets too caught up in the game’s headlines, there is more to consider.
Friday is about bowl-game placement.
Michigan State will represent the Legends Division in the conference’s first championship game Dec. 4, and Michigan finishes second if it wins at home against Ohio State.
PREVIEWING THE GAME (PART II)
Iowa and Nebraska, meanwhile, are next at 4-3, while the Cornhuskers have eight overall wins, one more than the Hawkeyes. The winner could reach the Outback Bowl. The loser maybe gets the Insight or Gator.
So what’s on the line?
“It amazes me people could ask that question,” an edgy Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said this week. “Obviously when you’re an athlete, you compete and you compete. It’s not always about trophies. There’s a lot of things that play into it.
“Trust me — both teams will be out there ready to play.”
THE NEBRASKA “WATCH” LIST
Rex Burkhead, tailback
Didn’t score for the first time in 10 games during last Saturday’s loss against Michigan, so it’s no secret the Huskers will try to get Burkhead going. He enters the game with 1,108 rushing yards, averaging 100.7 yards a game.
Taylor Martinez, quarterback
Not a great passer, but combined with his running ability … the sophomore accounts for 61.0 percent of the Husker offense. His ability to elude rushes has been problematic, and today, he just happens to perform against a team that had had trouble containing versatile quarterbacks.
Lavonte David, linebacker
The hub of Nebraska’s defense, David is coming off a 17-tackle game against Michigan, and he’s within eight of moving into the school’s top five career tacklers. That’s saying something, because the Huskers traditionally have been among the nation’s stingiest teams.
Brett Maher, punter/kicker
This guy does it all — topping the conference with a 43.6-yard punting average that includes dropping 14 of 31 inside conference opponents’ 20-yard line; and he’s 9-for-11 in the Big Ten on field goals, with a longest of 51 yards.
THE IOWA “WATCH” LIST
Marvin McNutt, receiver
The Hawkeyes’ top offensive threat is 12 receptions from owning all the school’s major receiving records. The senior makes acrobatic catches, and then turns them into long gains. His big-play potential has included three catch-and-runs of 51 yards or more, including two over 80 yards.
James Vandenberg, quarterback
Four more TD passes, and Vandenberg enters rare Iowa air. He has 23 this season, four shy of Chuck Long’s season record with two games to play. He leads the Big Ten with an average of 238.5 passing yards in 11 games, while owning a spectacular 23-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio.<SW>
Marcus Coker, running back
If keeping the chains moving is the goal, Coker is the guy. His 131.0 rushing average against Big Ten opponents is second in the league, and he enters the game with seven 100-yard games regardless of opponent. He needs 181 more yards to have the school’s third-best rushing season.
Jordan Bernstine, safety
The last time Iowa faced a versatile quarterback like it faces today, Michigan’s Denard Robinson, Bernstine had a career-best 15 tackles in the Hawkeye victory. The senior also is dangerous after catching kickoffs — with his longest returns being 62 and 61 yards.
5 THINGS TODAY ON WEB, MOBILE
Friday on HawkCentral.com — online or on your smart phone:
— Read live Tweets before and during the game from fans and our team of reporters and editors at the game.
— Check out videos of the fans and fun.
— Join in the live game chat with reporters and fans.
— Follow blog posts about the game, the atmosphere and more.
— Return after the game for hundreds of photos.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football