Iowa hopes to make Nebraska game true rivalry
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP)
When Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, the thought was that the Hawkeyes and Huskers would be natural border rivals, and that the day after Thanksgiving would be the perfect time for them to meet.
Problem was, Iowa (7-4, 4-3) and Nebraska (8-3, 5-2) rarely played each other in nonconference games over the years. Hawkeyes fans were conditioned to look north each fall to the ''Floyd of Rosedale'' game against Minnesota or the Heartland Trophy game against Wisconsin. Huskers fans were accustomed to Thanksgiving week games against Oklahoma and, later, Colorado.
Now comes Friday's third rendition of the Heroes Game, sponsored by a supermarket chain that has stores in both states.
Contrived or not, this is the latest Big Ten rivalry.
''Hopefully we can make it one,'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. ''We haven't beaten them in a while, like decades.''
Nebraska has won both meetings since joining the Big Ten and five in a row since losing 10-7 in Iowa City in 1981.
At stake Friday is second place in the Legends Division and bowl position. The winner would get strong consideration for the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day. The loser would be up for a bid in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 28.
The anticipation for rivalry week wasn't quite palpable when players met with the media this week.
''There's a trophy, so I guess it's a rivalry,'' Nebraska quarterback Ron Kellogg III said. ''I didn't know it was. I'll just assume it's a rivalry for your columns you have to write - so yeah, it's a rivalry.''
Five things to chew on, along with your turkey sandwich, while you watch Iowa-Nebraska:
PELINI'S PLIGHT: It seems no one except Nebraska's low-profile athletic director, Shawn Eichorst, knows if this is a must-win game for coach Bo Pelini. The sixth-year coach's future has been the hot topic in the state in recent weeks. Ferentz said it's a sign of the times that a coach who's going for a sixth straight nine-win season could be on the hot seat. ''I'm just saying complaining about whatever is pretty common in sports,'' Ferentz said. ''I think that's one thing that attracts it in some sick way. When Baltimore won their first Super Bowl, not enough offense. Tampa Bay, not enough offense. Chicago Bears in `85, not enough offense.''
FERENTZ COMING AROUND: Ferentz wasn't enthusiastic when the Big Ten initially scheduled the Hawkeyes and Huskers to play the day after Thanksgiving. The game will continue to be played on Black Friday through at least 2019, so Ferentz said he's come to accept it. ''Personally, I think it used to be nice when the kids had a week to go home and get away from football, get away from coaches and get away from everything,'' Ferentz said. ''But that's changed. We've got gas-powered cars now and we're not driving horse and buggies. It's not going back.'' The Huskers are playing on Black Friday for the 24th straight year.
SENIOR DAY START? The best Senior Day story might revolve around Kellogg if he gets to make his first start. Kellogg wasn't recruited much when he was coming out of Omaha Westside High and walked on at Nebraska in 2009. He didn't appear in a game until last season, when he performed mop-up duty for Taylor Martinez. This year he threw the game-winning Hail Mary against Northwestern and played most of last week's overtime win at Penn State. With Tommy Armstrong Jr. questionable because of an ankle injury, Kellogg would be next man up.
TOUGH UP FRONT: Big Ten rushing leader Ameer Abdullah will face a big challenge picking up yards between the tackles. The Hawkeyes have held 10 of 11 opponents under their rushing average and have allowed only four touchdowns on the ground. Abdullah is averaging 135 yards a game and has gone over 100 in all but one game. Nothing will come easy for him Friday.
FAREWELL TO SENIORS: This marks the final game at Memorial Stadium for 23 Nebraska seniors. Sixteen are fifth-year seniors who have helped the Huskers to 47 wins and three conference championship games since 2009.