A rivalry can’t be forced, even one with as many built-in advantages as the Iowa-Nebraska football rivalry has to offer.
It certainly helps to have loyal fan bases that despise each other, to come from bordering states and to be in the same division within the same conference, as is the case with Iowa and Nebraska.
“I think it’s going to grow into that,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said this week when asked if playing Nebraska felt like a big rivalry game to him.
For now, though, the Iowa-Nebraska rivalry is missing the most important part of a rivalry: two competitive teams.
And we know which side to blame for that.
Nebraska has won four games in a row against Iowa, including a 20-7 victory last season in Lincoln, Neb. Iowa was held to 270 yards and had a 15-minute disadvantage in time of possession.
As lopsided as that game was last season, Nebraska’s previous three victories over Iowa were even worse, with the Cornhuskers winning by scores of 42-13 in 2000, 42-7 in 1999 and 42-7 in 1982.
The Iowa losses in 1999 and 2000 came before Ferentz had rebuilt the Iowa program , so it’s hard to hold that against him.
Nebraska was still riding a wave of dominance from the legendary Tom Osborne coaching era when it put a hurt on Ferentz’s first two teams at Iowa. Former Osborne assistant Frank Solich coached Nebraska back then, but Osborne’s influence was still evident on the field.
Iowa, on the other hand, was reeling after the transition from Hayden Fry to Ferentz. Fry had become a legend himself after rebuilding the Iowa program in the early 1980s, but the program had fallen on hard times when he retired after a 3-8 record in 1998.
The situation improved dramatically under Ferentz, with Iowa winning Big Ten titles in 2002 and 2004. But by the time Nebraska returned to the schedule last season, Iowa had slipped back to mediocrity.
Nebraska also has struggled during parts of the past decade, enough to where coaches Solich and Bill Callahan were fired.
Their dismissals showed how different the expectations are in football at Nebraska compared to most BCS programs. Few can match Nebraska’s storied tradition, and Iowa certainly can’t. Solich was replaced after coaching Nebraska to a 9-3 record during the 2003 regular season.
For Ferentz, a 9-3 record probably would get him more years on his contract.
Nebraska has sustained success far better than Iowa has in football with this season being the latest example. The Cornhuskers are 9-2 under under fifth-year coach Bo Pelini, have won five games in a row and would clinch the Legends Division title with a victory over Iowa.
Iowa (4-7) has lost five games in row and failed to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2000.
The odd-makers have Nebraska as a two-touchdown favorite despite playing on the road. That says as much about Iowa’s weaknesses as it does Nebraska’s strengths.
Today will be a celebration at Kinnick Stadium even if Iowa fails to pull off the upset. Nineteen Iowa seniors, including Ferentz’s son, center James Ferentz, will be honored before the game. How they’re received will say a lot about the Iowa fans, and let’s just hope they live up to expectations.
The seniors deserve a rousing ovation despite what’s occurred on the field. It’ll already be embarrassing enough sharing the stands with thousands of Nebraska fans. So why make it worse?
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Iowa-Nebraska story lines
Iowa and Nebraska have been heading in opposite directions for more than a month with the Hawkeyes losing their last five games and the Cornhuskers winning their past five. Nebraska (9-2, 6-1) would clinch the Legends Division title with a victory over Iowa (4-7, 2-5) or with a Michigan loss to Ohio State on Saturday.
Nineteen seniors, including 11 with starting experience, will play their final game today with Iowa not being bowl eligible. Cornerback Micah Hyde is the most experienced and the most celebrated of the seniors as a three-year starter who made second-team all-Big Ten last season. Center James Ferentz also is a three-year starter and quarterback James Vandenberg will be make his 25th consecutive start today.
The winner of the Iowa-Nebraska game will claim the Heroes Trophy. One hero, or heroes, from Iowa and Nebraska now are honored before each game. Jason Parks of Omaha will represent Nebraska and Lois and Bill Hall of Clinton will represent Iowa. Parks was chosen after he witnessed a collision between two semitrailer trucks. He rushed to the scene of the accident and pulled one of the drivers from the flaming wreckage only moments before the truck exploded. The Halls and the K-9 dogs they raise and train provide more than 1,500 hours of service to their community each year.
Former Iowa defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski is in his first season at Nebraska in the same job. His new players have responded to his leadership with Nebraska ranked second in the Big Ten with 28 sacks in 11 games. Iowa is last in the conference with just 11 sacks in 11 games.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football