WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Tanner Miller has lived on both sides of this.
He grew up an hour south of Hastings, Neb., just north of the Kansas border. In eighth grade, his family moved to Kalona and the rest, as they say, is history.
Miller became a star athlete at Mid-Prairie High School. He strongly considered following in his dad and uncle’s footsteps and walking on at the University of Nebraska. His dad, Brian, walked on and played middle linebacker for the Cornhuskers.
But then, in late January 2010, Iowa called and offered a scholarship. You know the story. Miller was traveling with the school bus with his Mid-Prairie basketball teammates on a road trip for Fairfield.
Miller came up with two interceptions from his free safety spot in the Hawkeyes’ 31-21 victory last week at Purdue. And now, it’s time for a little bit of a reunion for all concerned parties.
The Hawkeyes (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) will revive — or start, really — whatever they had with Nebraska (8-3, 4-3) on 11 a.m. (ABC) at Memorial Stadium. It’s difficult to buy into the notion of “rivalry” with Iowa and Nebraska just because of the infrequency of games. The schools have met just six times since 1949 with the last being a 42-13 Huskers’ victory in 2000.
“As far as rivalry, it seems like a lot of people are saying this will be a rivalry, this is natural and so on,” Nebraska athletics director Tom Osborne said in Cedar Rapids this summer, “but rivalries usually occur when you don’t declare them rivalries. They occur over time.
“There has to be a certain level of excellence on both sides. I suspect eventually, it will be a rivalry.”
This is the NU-Big Ten, with Nebraska being the “NU.” In this Big Ten, Iowa and Nebraska are natural rivals, with Iowa being the only Big Ten state that shares a border with the Huskers. What this game lacks in frequency to have “rivalry” status attached to it, it more than makes up for in fan energy. It’s a border game, that brings brings a natural amount of vitriol.
The Big Ten has picked up on this. The two schools are scheduled for season-ending games through 2014.
“I think as time goes forward, and because of proximity, because they’re a very fine program, I would imagine it could grow into a rivalry of some kind,” Osborne said. “But we’ve only played each other four times in the last 25 years or so, so there may not be quite the history. But we’re looking forward to playing them and I think there will be a lot of interest in those games.”
An added bonus for Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, this is a short week, with the game on Friday in Lincoln. This is the first Iowa has had in his 13 seasons as coach. It’s a wrinkle that Ferentz has planned for, which means pushing through all week. Ferentz said the players’ next day off is next Saturday.
“That’ll be Thanksgiving for them, I guess,” Ferentz said.
Obviously, Iowa’s schedule condenses. Also, there won’t be a lot of contact in practice this week, which, given the state of certain areas of this team — defensive line, linebacker, running back — would’ve probably happened anyway.
“That’s a decision we made back in the out-of-season,” Ferentz said. “We talked to several people who’ve handled short weeks. This time of year, I’d be concerned if it was week 4. This time of year, the game is more mental than anything.”
The Legends Division title isn’t on the menu Friday. Michigan State locked that up with a victory over Indiana last weekend. There is a trophy, the Heroes Game trophy. There are bowl considerations, with the Gator and Texas Bowls in view. But strip that all away and it’s a competition and these are athletes.
“There is a lot to play for,” said wide receiver Marvin McNutt, who needs 12 receptions to have his name on top of every Iowa receiving record. “As a team, you never just want to give up. You want to keep playing.”
For Miller, Friday is a family reunion of sorts.
“I have a bunch of family over there,” Miller said. “I’ve been looking forward to it all season. It’s finally here. Hopefully, I can make it a good memory.”
Miller, with blond hair and blue eyes, is almost a spitting image of Herbie Husker. He did seriously consider a walk-on opportunity before the call from Iowa came.
“I grew up a Huskers fan all my life. My dad and uncle played there,” Miller said. “It’s going to be special and I’m looking forward to it.”
Miller was asked if his dad had any Nebraska gear around the house.
“I’m sure he’s got one somewhere. Those are all put away,” Miller said. “He’s got all Hawkeye stuff now.”
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