IOWA CITY — Everyone keeps asking if the Iowa-Nebraska game is a rivalry.
Nebraska players were asked that Monday. They didn’t know. They thought maybe. On Tuesday, Iowa players had their turn at the topic. They didn’t know, either.
“People, when they come into the conference, they assume there’s a new rivalry and we have a trophy and all of those things,” senior linebacker James Morris said. “But I don’t think a rivalry is something that can be cultured and made in a lab.”
There’s logic to the fact that Iowa and Nebraska share a border and have some geographic familiarity, so, sure, the matchup has the makings of a rivalry.
If you have to ask if it’s a rivalry, it’s not a rivalry.
The Hawkeyes (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) will to into Memorial Stadium on Friday and try to win there for the first time since 1943. The alarm drops out of that factoid when you consider the Hawkeyes have played at Nebraska (8-3, 5-2) just five times since that game. Iowa hasn’t beaten Nebraska since 1981. Friday’s game will be just the sixth since that ’81 victory kind of sort of launched a Rose Bowl season for the Hawkeyes.
So, whatever culture existed for an Iowa-Nebraska rivalry in the great petri dish football died off before the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten in 2011. Time is one factor. If you look on either side of the game, which now comes with the “Heroes Trophy,” you see big-red domination.
There just hasn’t been enough give-and-take, at least not yet.
“If we played them every year, that would be really concerning,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said about past records. “What happened even in ’79 really doesn’t impact this team right now. What happened last year [13-7 Nebraska victory at Kinnick Stadium] doesn’t impact this team at all.
“It’s another challenge for us certainly. We haven’t played there an awful lot, especially since they put facemasks on helmets. Last time [a 20-7 Nebraska win in '11], they pretty much dominated the game in every phase. We need to step it up and do better. That’s our challenge right now.”
Iowa and Nebraska lacks the history that rivalries need. The two schools have met just 43 times compared to 107 times for Minnesota, 87 for Wisconsin and 84 for, yes, Purdue. There is no trophy for the Purdue game.
“You guys have been asking that a lot,” quarterback Jake Rudock said to “Does Iowa have to win to make this a rivalry?” “I’d venture to say that every game is a rivalry game because both teams really want to get the win. You can take that as you want.”
That kind of fell along the same lines as what Nebraska quarterback Ron Kellogg said Monday about the notion of rivalry here. Maybe someday it’ll be Cubs-Cardinals, Packers-Bears or that little game they’re playing in Ann Arbor this weekend. You know, the one with the helmets with the wings and the other helmets with the leaf stickers.
“There’s a trophy, so I guess it’s a rivalry,” said Kellogg, the probable starter this week with redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong (ankle) questionable. “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.”
Did Ferentz play the psychology card during Tuesday’s Big Ten teleconference? He fielded a question that called Iowa-Nebraska a “young rivalry.”
“Hopefully, we can make it one,” Ferentz said. “We haven’t beaten them in a while . . . like decades.”
Let’s start a checklist: The Black Friday game doesn’t have history. It’s also lopsided in Nebraska’s favor. It has a logo and it has a trophy that hasn’t changed hands in two seasons, with Nebraska holding Iowa to one TD in both games. It has a prime TV spot on ABC 11 a.m. this Friday, so it has a big stage.
Could stakes push this thing along?
There might be some Friday in Lincoln. No, Iowa and Nebraska aren’t playing for a championship, but speculation continues to swirl around Nebraska coach Bo Pelini’s job status.
Ferentz was asked about Pelini. He talked more about the storm of criticism that coaches face with every move. Pelini has two chances to win his ninth game for the sixth consecutive season as the Huskers head coach. And then Ferentz gave Iowa’s recent history against NU another jab.
“They have two chances to get nine right now, ” Ferentz said. “Based on the way they’ve played us historically, their chances are good Friday.”
This needs some more time. Maybe 10 years, maybe 50 years. It definitely needs more Iowa victories.
“For it to be a rivalry, it needs to be a competitive series,” Morris said. “The last couple of years, it hasn’t been ultra-competitive. If people want it to be a rivalry, that would involve us winning some of the games.”