Nebraska Football: Husker Struggles Make Rivalry Game with Hawkeyes More Intense

Patrick RungeCorrespondent INovember 22, 2011

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 29: Nebraska Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini reacts during their game against the Michigan State Spartans at Memorial Stadium October 29, 2011 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Michigan State 24-3. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

Nebraska fans, are you looking for a silver lining in the wreckage of NU’s 45-17 mauling by Michigan? Well, at least it made Friday’s Corn Bowl against Iowa a lot more interesting.

Ever since the B1G announced that Iowa would replace Colorado as Nebraska’s day-after-Thanksgiving rival, the Children of the Corn have been working hard to ho-hum the game. Much like with Colorado, many Nebraska fans view Iowa as a school with less tradition and less pedigree and therefore not worthy of filling Oklahoma’s shoes as NU’s rival.

But with Nebraska losing two of its last three games coming into the post-Thanksgiving tilt with the Hawkeyes, NU fans are going to be hard-pressed not to see the Iowa game as critically important for Bo Pelini’s future at Nebraska.

Is it that big of a game? Well, think about the ramifications of a win and a loss against Iowa. A win, and Nebraska ends the season at 9-3, gets a shiny new trophy to display, and likely ends up in a New Year's Day bowl game.

But a loss? A loss ends Nebraska’s season at 8-4, losing three of its last four games. A loss leaves NU fans walking out of Memorial Stadium with images of Iowa players parading a trophy around the big red N at midfield. A loss puts Nebraska out of the top 25 for good in 2011, and likely out of the preseason top 25 for 2012. A loss puts Nebraska in a bowl like the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas—and we all remember how well Nebraska performed in a bowl game the team didn’t care about last year. So an Iowa win could very well spell an 8-5 end to the 2011 campaign.

And, most importantly, a loss would set the narrative going into 2012 of a Nebraska program in decline once again. Like it or not, those types of narratives are poison not only to recruiting but to the confidence of the returning players.

So the inaugural Corn Bowl (as I said, I refuse to use the self-important moniker the schools have chosen) is, in many ways, a fight for Nebraska’s survival as a top-tier program. It bears some resemblance to the Colorado-Nebraska “hammer” game in 2004, Bill Callahan’s first year as head coach. Nebraska came into the game at 5-5, needing a win to preserve its 35-year bowl appearance streak. Colorado came to Lincoln carrying hammers, to put the “nail in the coffin” of NU’s bowl streak.

Colorado won the game, 26-20, and broke Nebraska’s bowl streak. This game has a very similar feel to that 2004 game, in that the negative connotations of a loss are far more worrisome than the positive connotations of a win.

Fear is a powerful motivating factor, and Nebraska fans have quite a bit of fear after seeing NU’s performances at the end of 2011 (and at the end of 2010). That fear could produce a tense and hostile atmosphere in Lincoln during the Nebraska-Iowa game, particularly if Nebraska struggles and the sure-to-be large contingent of Iowa fans have something to cheer about.

And that’s what a rivalry is supposed to look like. So, out of Nebraska’s end-of-season struggles in 2011 could be the birth of a real, honest-to-goodness, bare-knuckled rivalry, with a silly trophy given to the winner.

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