LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Everything’s in place for No. 22 Nebraska and Iowa to start up a good old-fashioned football rivalry. All that’s missing for their first Big Ten meeting Friday are high stakes, but don’t suggest to Nebraska coach Bo Pelini that there is little to motivate the teams. “It amazes me that people could ask that question,” Pelini said. “Obviously, when you’re an athlete, you compete to compete. It isn’t always about trophies. There is a lot that plays into it. When you go to compete, you go to compete. Trust me, both teams will be out there ready to play.”
The Big Ten and the schools have done all they can to lay the groundwork for a rivalry, contrived or not. Their game is at the end of the regular season, when all the big rivalry games are played, and in the prime day-after-Thanksgiving slot, no less. They even have a trophy for what’s being called the Heroes Game. A sidelight to the game is that citizen heroes from each state will be honored. There’s no shortage of passion among the fan bases. Supporters of the Cornhuskers (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten) and Hawkeyes (7-4, 4-3) have been tossing barbs across the Missouri River seemingly forever. To Hawkeyes fans, Huskers fans are an arrogant bunch always gloating about their team’s five national championships. To Husker fans, Hawkeyes fans are jealous wannabes.
Maybe someday the Legends Division title will be decided by this game. Not this year, though. This year it’s all about jockeying for better bowl position. Nebraska has hopes of landing in the Capital One Bowl if a second Big Ten team receives a berth in a BCS game. The Outback, Insight and Gator also are possibilities for both teams. Nebraska is looking to lock up at least a nine-win season for the fourth straight year and an above-.500 conference record after an embarrassing 45-17 loss at Michigan last week. Iowa is going for a third win in four games, which would secure at least an eight-win season for the fourth straight year. The Big Ten assigned Iowa and Nebraska to the same division and let the Hawkeyes’ game with Wisconsin drop off the schedule for now.
Call it a wash, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We traded one team from the east that wears red uniforms that is really good and picked up one from the west that is really good and wears red uniforms,” he said. “It’s one tough team to another. That’s the nature of this conference, though. I think we’re all really pleased about Nebraska joining the league. It’s made us a stronger league, but with that strength comes more challenge, and this is certainly going to be a challenge for us.”
There are only two players from the state of Nebraska on the Iowa roster; no native Iowans are on the Huskers’. It’s been a red-letter game for Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg, though. The junior from Keokuk, Iowa, had a scholarship offer from former Nebraska coach Bill Callahan, and athletic director Tom Osborne told Vandenberg that the offer stood after Callahan was fired. Ferentz came along with an offer, and Vandenberg accepted. But Vandenberg said he was impressed with the Huskers.
“The one thing you notice when you go on visits there is how passionate their fan base is,” he said. “They live and breathe Nebraska football just like everybody in Iowa lives and breathes Iowa football. It’s great to be able to play such a quality opponent at such a venue.”
Nebraska is playing a nationally televised game on the day after Thanksgiving for the 22nd straight year. The tradition dates to the days of the Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry in the Big Eight. Ferentz said he’s excited about the increased exposure his team will receive. “How can that be a bad thing, unless we go out there and play bad?” he said. “What the heck, I think it’s a great opportunity for our guys to play. They (Nebraska) have had that, enjoyed that. I don’t want to call it a luxury, but I remember that for many years, I used to watch them as a kid. Didn’t they play Oklahoma on Friday? It’s a good thing for us. We’re excited to get invited to the party.”