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Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Huskers, Hawkeyes work to develop rivalry

By Mitch Sherman

LINCOLN, Neb. -- In the view of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, before his program can claim a rivalry with Nebraska, the Hawkeyes ought to first clear one hurdle.

“We haven’t beaten them in a while,” Ferentz said. “Like decades.”

Kirk Ferentz
Kirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes hope to beat Nebraska for the first time since 1981.
It was 1981, in fact. Nebraska has won its past five meetings with Iowa and seven of the past eight, including victories in each of the past two seasons after the Huskers joined the Big Ten.

Iowa visits Memorial Stadium on Friday (noon ET, ABC).

Ferentz is 0-4 against Nebraska. The games in 2011 and 2012, billed as the conference’s newest border showdown, frankly, have lacked intrigue.

A year ago, the Huskers clinched the Legends Division with a 13-7 win in Iowa City marred by biting cold and wind. Nebraska won 20-7 in Lincoln in 2011, holding the lackluster Hawkeyes scoreless until less than four minutes remained.

It’s not exactly the stuff of Little Brown Jug or Paul Bunyan’s Axe, though Nebraska and Iowa have branded this annual day after Thanksgiving clash as the Heroes Game. To the winner goes a trophy sponsored by Hy-Vee, a grocery store chain prominent in both states.

Really gets your blood boiling, huh?

“We’re playing for a trophy so I guess it’s a rivalry,” Nebraska linebacker Michael Rose said. “Geographically, it makes sense. I don’t know what really constitutes a rivalry, but it’s a game on our schedule, and we need to be ready to play.”

Here’s a thought: Construct the rivalry on the field, the way Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn and other historic post-Thanksgiving games were born.

It’ll take years, but maybe, this third meeting as Big Ten foes can serve as the start of something good.

First, there’s intrigue at Nebraska surrounding coach Bo Pelini as questions swirl about his job status in the vacuum of public support from the school’s administration. The Huskers are playing to extend their streak of nine-win seasons to six years and secure an attractive postseason destination, possibly matched against an old Big 12 rival.

Iowa, after a four-win season in 2012, has rebounded nicely. It seeks an eighth win on Friday.

“It’s nothing fancy,” Pelini said of Iowa. “They execute. They are very fundamentally sound. It exudes the fact that they are a well-coached football team.”

Notably, the Huskers and Hawkeyes play a similar style that figures to create a competitive, if not eye-pleasing, matchup. Nebraska ranks 19th nationally in rushing offense; Iowa is 20th against the run.

The Hawkeyes’ defense has played more consistently since September. Iowa ranks 10th in total defense, allowing 304.5 yards per game. Nebraska, while burned early, has shown strong defensive growth in November.

“This is a new rivalry, but being border states, you can really feel it growing more and more each year,” Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah said. “With each year that passes, I feel the rivalry getting stronger. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

No reason to force it. Over time, likely, passionate feelings will develop. Nebraska and Iowa are set to play on Black Friday through at least 2019.

“I hope Nebraska fans don’t get mad at me, but I think Nebraska and Iowa are almost the same kind of culture,” said Rose, a freshman from Kansas City, Mo., “just a hard-working, blue-collar kind of state.

“They’re not really know for anything flashy, anything way out there, but just a consistent approach in everything they do. I think that adds to the rivalry.”