IOWA CITY, IA. — Geography will only take a rivalry so far.
In other words, the annual football series between Iowa and Nebraska cannot be elevated to grudge-match status until the Hawkeyes score a victory.
Their next opportunity comes 11 a.m. Friday, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.
“We’re expecting a battle,” Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “They make good plays and we make good plays.”
When the Cornhuskers became Big Ten Conference members in 2011, anticipation for an Iowa-Nebraska showdown went into overdrive — based on the success of each program as well as state borders.
It was even given a national platform by ABC Sports, on Black Friday.
So, does this feel like a rivalry?
“Every Big Ten game feels like a rivalry, to me,” Kirksey said. “When two teams get together and battle, it’s always fun for people to watch.
“It’s fun to play in a game like this.”
The Hawkeyes haven’t really kept their end of the bargain.
While Nebraska has posted a 27-11 record the past three seasons, Iowa has gone 18-18.
The Cornhuskers also won both head-to-head meetings, 20-7 in 2011 and 13-7 in 2012.
The Hawkeyes averaged 235 yards of offense in those losses.
“I think the thing is, they have been tough games,” Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock said. “You could say every single game you play is a rivalry, because you both want that same thing in the end.”
The mood this week feels a little different.
Iowa (7-4) rebounded from last year’s 4-8 debacle and rallied last weekend to beat Michigan 24-21.
If the Hawkeyes defeat Nebraska and finish the regular season 8-4, it would be their best record since 2009 (when they went 10-2 before winning the Orange Bowl) and their best one-year improvement since 2002 (when they went from 6-5 in the regular season to 11-1).
“It would feel great to get an eighth win,” Kirksey said, “but it’s not going to be given to us. We’ve got to work for it.”
The Cornhuskers (8-3) have spent the past two months teetering on despair.
First, someone released an audio clip of coach Bo Pelini bashing Nebraska fans.
Then, the Cornhuskers followed with a series of improbable wins.
A Hail Mary pass to beat Northwestern as well as narrow escapes against Michigan and Penn State helped Pelini stay employed.
Does he need another win Friday to keep his job?
Depends on which Internet message board you want to believe.
Either way, many of the Nebraska faithful see Iowa as an afterthought or annoyance.
There is little reason for animosity.
The Cornhuskers still view themselves as a college football blueblood, with 43 conference titles and five national championships.
Are they out-dated or delusional? Perhaps.
But the only way the Hawkeyes can alter perception is by knocking Nebraska down to size.
When I talked to Kirksey and Rudock, they took a diplomatic approach.
Both were complimentary of the Cornhuskers, and low-key about the role a victory would play in this rivalry.
“It helps to win,” Kirksey said, before adding, “It’s business as usual.”
Andrew Logue covers Hawkeye football and sports media for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLogue.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football