The Nebraska Cornhuskers have endured a revolving door of rivalries courtesy of multiple conference realignments over the past couple decades.
The Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalry that dominated the Big Eight disintegrated when the conference expanded, sending the Sooners and Huskers to separate divisions. And right when the Missouri and Colorado games were beginning to feel rivalry-like, Nebraska took off for the Big Ten.
Now in the Big Ten, the conference is trying to force a rivalry upon the annual Nebraska-Iowa matchup. While the obvious proximity of the schools and the game’s unique placement the day after Thanksgiving lend themselves well to a rivalry, sometimes ill will just cannot be forced.
A season ago, the Iowa Hawkeyes made the short trip to Memorial Stadium for what was expected to be a competitive start to the annual Heroes Game. Although neither team was still in contention for the division title, both were having decent years and had already earned bowl game berths.
But what transpired was not all that competitive. The Blackshirts dominated Iowa, posting a shutout into the fourth quarter as Nebraska cruised to a 20-7 victory.
Yet that might be a nail-biter compared to what will happen on Friday. In truth, this year’s Heroes Game matchup is as lopsided as ever.
The Huskers are rolling. They will take their highly-touted offense and now 19th-ranked defense into Kinnick Stadium to square off with one of the worst Iowa teams Kirk Ferentz has fielded in years. The Hawkeyes are on a five-game losing streak, ranked 107th in the nation in scoring, and regardless of Friday’s result will be the first Iowa team since 2000 to fail to win six games.
And perhaps the worst part of this supposed rivalry is that its lopsided nature is nothing new.
Although Nebraska and Iowa began their series back in 1891 and have played 41 times since then, they have only met seven times in the last 65 years. In those meetings, Nebraska is 6-1 with its only loss coming in a three-point upset loss in Iowa City in 1981 when the Huskers were ranked seventh in the nation.
And the apparent Hawkeye pessimism surrounding this 2012 matchup is indicative of this Husker dominance. Less than 48 hours before kickoff, there are still over 1,000 tickets available for sale online, some as low as thirty dollars per seat.
If this is a rivalry, the Iowa faithful could have fooled me. After all, no one would expect to see tickets at those prices and in those quantities available for a Michigan-Ohio State game or Texas-Oklahoma Red River Shootout.
Yet the fans are not the only ones struggling to consider this a true rivalry.
So if history, ticket sales and the players all indicate that this is just another game on the schedule, why is this hailed as the Big Red’s new rivalry?
It is simply the work of the Big Ten and the media to try to engineer a heated annual matchup. Rivalries promote interest, and interest generates revenue.
But unfortunately for the Big Ten, no matter what the game is called or what strange trophy (because the Big Ten has a weird infatuation with rivalry trophies) the victor claims, the importance of Nebraska and Iowa’s annual meeting cannot be forced.
It will take time and greater parity between the Huskers and Hawkeyes for the Heroes Game to truly mean something special for the fans and players alike.