There are any number of key issues that could determine who will win the inaugural Heroes Game between Nebraska and Iowa. Will Nebraska’s beleaguered secondary be able to handle Iowa’s Marvin McNutt? Will Iowa’s defense be able to keep up with Nebraska’s offensive speed? Is James Vandenberg mobile enough to give the Blackshirts trouble, or does Iowa’s offense set up like Michigan State’s?
But if you want to boil it down to one question, one key issue, then look to Nebraska’s motivational level.
I know, just asking about it will put head coach Bo Pelini in a snit. And, of course, high-level athletes always have the competition itself as a motivation.
But the question—how does Nebraska get motivated for the Iowa game with the divisional title being out of reach—is not unfair. Motivation isn’t a binary issue, where a team either is or isn’t motivated. There are grades of intensity a football team can play with. And even a slight difference in motivation and energy levels between two otherwise evenly matched teams can make all the difference.
Nebraska under Pelini has a disturbing history of coming out flat. Like Iowa State in 2009. Like Texas in 2010. Like the Holiday Bowl against Washington. Like the first half of Ohio State this year.
And after seeing two ugly losses this year, Nebraska fans are understandably nervous about the status of the program. For the first time in the Pelini era, Nebraska has taken a distinct step backward from the previous year. There are lots of reasons (or, to be less charitable, excuses) for that regression, but the Children of the Corn have felt too many games that were uncomfortably like the end of the Callahan era. Massive collapses and heavy defeats that Nebraska fans thought were behind them.
Do you think Bo Pelini was right to dismiss concerns about Nebraska's motivation level against Iowa?
So if Nebraska struggles, and particularly if Iowa takes a lead, the fans could easily turn on the team and make a good performance all the more difficult. And that makes the motivation and intensity level of the team even more important. While the “us against the world” card has been played by Pelini and the players, it seems unlikely that an anxious crowd will help.
Iowa has been, in many ways, a mirror image of Nebraska in terms of its struggles and inconsistencies. But the Hawkeyes have arguably the best wide receiver in the B1G, have one of the best rushing attacks in the conference, and always play solid defense. Nebraska needs a fully motivated effort if it wants even a chance at avoiding a disastrous end-of-season loss.
Thankfully for NU fans, Iowa’s offense sets up much better with regards to the strength of Nebraska’s defense. Nebraska’s speed advantages on both sides of the ball have the potential to swing what would otherwise be an evenly matched game in NU’s favor. So look for Nebraska to ride the home-field advantage to an inaugural Heroes Game victory.
Fearless Forecast: Nebraska 31, Iowa 24
Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter @patrickrunge to track my thoughts and observations about college football—and one or two other topics—throughout the year!
And if you would like to contact me directly to schedule an interview, ask a question or to get my recipe for a killer peach cobbler, you can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. (DISCLAIMER: Peach cobbler recipe might not be all that killer.)