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A natural rivarly

[ 0 ] November 24, 2011 |

Iowa and Nebraska have played just twice in the last 28 years.

But once the Huskers were added to the Big Ten, it seemed inevitable that the two teams were on a collision course.

“I think it makes perfect sense,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Today, Iowa (7-4, 4-3) and Nebraska (8-3, 4-3) finally square off as Big Ten rivals for the first time.

“It’s a natural rivalry,” senior linebacker Tyler Nielsen said. “Border states and all. Both farm states.

“Its going to be a big rivalry. I don’t want to talk about it too much, because we haven’t even played a game in it.”

The Huskers were a good fit for the Big Ten, but had only a little shared football history with the conference. And Nebraska only shares a border with one other Big Ten team … Iowa.

“It’s something naturally that happens,” junior center James Ferentz said. “I think its healthy for us, I think its healthy for them, its healthy for the Big Ten. It should become an annual rivalry game at the end of the season.

“I think everyone is really going to enjoy it.”

The Big Ten scheduled the game for the final weekend of the season, a spot that had been occupied on Iowa’s schedule by Minnesota since 1983 (with a few exceptions).

The two schools decided to continue the Nebraska tradition of playing their final regular-season game on the day after Thanksgiving.

“I don’t know if we quite look at it as rivals yet, but we know they are a great program and have been for a long time,” junior quarterback James Vandenberg said. “Whenever you have the chance to play a great program like Nebraska, everyone gets up for it a little bit.

“Being able to have them at the end of our season every year, it’ll be a great tradition.”

Iowa and Nebraska played 34 times between 1891 and 1946, but just six times since. Ferentz had to give his team a little history lesson.

“They are a great program,” senior safety Jordan Bernstine said. “Coach talked to us yesterday, he explained (that) the history of Nebraska football is really good.”

In case you didn’t know, the Huskers have won five national titles and rank fourth among all FBS programs with 845 victories (only Michigan, Texas, and Notre Dame have more).

And if you rank teams by wins since the start of 1970, Nebraska is on top with 411.

But Hawkeye fans love to point out is that since Nebraska won its fifth national championship in 1997, the program slowly has faded.

If you measure the two programs from 2002 on, Iowa is 85-40 and Nebraska is 81-47. The Hawkeyes went to two BCS Bowls during that stretch, and the Huskers, zero.

“I think the fans really make the rivalry,” senior defensive end Broderick Binns said. “Any game as a college football player, you’ve got to go out and play at your highest level.

“There’s no doubt Nebraska is going to come out ready to go. I think we’re going to be ready to go. The fans and the media hype up the rivalry.”

The two teams are playing for a traveling trophy for the first time. The Heroes Trophy becomes the fourth such trophy game for the Hawkeyes, but it will be the only trophy game for the Huskers.

Nebraska’s rivalry with Oklahoma was neutered when the Big Eight turned into the Big 12 and now is over. Last year, Nebraska gave up its trophy game with Missouri after 104 meetings. No more Victory Bell.

Iowa is 0-for-2 in trophy games this year, and currently have no rivalry trophies.

“We obviously haven’t done well in our trophy games lately, which is disappointing,” Nielsen said. “Hopefully we can start fresh here.”

Coach Bo Pelini — who worked for a short time under former coach Hayden Fry at Iowa — has led Nebraska to two straight 10-win seasons, and still has a chance to make it three in a row this season.

Pelini has returned the Huskers to their roots as a running team, led by dynamic sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez, who has 817 rushing yards and 1,810 passing yards.

“He’s fast, if not faster,” Binns said of Martinez compared to other Big Ten quarterbacks. “He’s able to throw the ball. He can keep it, he can pull it, he can pitch it. As a defensive player, we’ve got to try to get as many guys to the ball as we can, and stop that run attack.”

Martinez is paired with Rex Burkhead, who has 1,108 rushing yards at tailback.

In their three losses, Nebraska has rushed for 159 yards or less. In their eight victories, they’ve ran for 188 yards or more.

“They are very fast and athletic,” senior defensive tackle Broderick Binns said. “Play disciplined football, just do what we’re supposed to do.”

The game is the only 11 a.m. game on TV, and will be shown coast to coast on ABC.

The winner will have a big leg up when the bowls start picking in two weeks.

“We’re going in to get our eighth win, and its at their place, senior night, and its a trophy game,” junior cornerback Micah Hyde said.

“It means we can potentially get nine wins with a bowl game,” Binns said. “Team moral goes up if we end the season on a high note. We have a chance this year.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

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