IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — For most of the country, the Nebraska-Iowa game Friday will be little more than a holiday diversion.
It’s a meaningless matchup that means everything to the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini’s status is yet again a hot topic ahead of the Iowa game. Pelini kept his job despite a 38-17 home thrashing against the Hawkeyes last November, and he rewarded new athletic director Shawn Eichorst with a bowl win over Georgia and an 8-1 start in 2014.
But a two-game slide has left the Huskers (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten) in danger of their sixth straight four-loss campaign.
A bad showing in Iowa City could spell the end for Pelini.
“I think the last two weeks we didn’t play very well. I said this earlier in the year: Some of the things were happening and weren’t hurting us. And that’s reality. In the last two weeks it’s hurt us,” Pelini said.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz isn’t going anywhere, not after signing a huge contract extension in 2010.
But a second straight win over Nebraska — and the 8-4 mark that would go with it — would go a long way toward satisfying a fan base that thought the Hawkeyes (7-4, 4-3) could have won the Big Ten West.
Both teams enter Friday’s game unranked and out of league title game contention. But the circumstances surrounding this year’s matchup should help turn this series into the rivalry the Big Ten always hoped it would become.
“We want to win really bad. They want to win really bad,” Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock said. “Does that make it a rivalry? It probably does.”
Here are a few key things to consider with Nebraska and Iowa set to meet in Iowa City:
ABDULLAH’S DAY? The Big Ten’s best backs have done big things against the Hawkeyes in Kinnick Stadium. Indiana’s Tevin Coleman had 219 yards rushing on just 15 carries and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon had 200 in last week’s 26-24 win. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah could be the next back to slice through the Hawkeyes, but he hasn’t been the same since he sprained his left knee against Purdue this month.
RUDOCK: Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock has made plenty of strides since the last time he played Nebraska. Rudock has 14 TD passes, a league-low four interceptions and is less than a point behind Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett for the Big Ten lead in completion percentage. “It’s not only he has ability, but he really works at it hard. The other part is, can you do that when you get knocked around a little bit?” Ferentz said. “It’s really a tough job. Some guys are better than others. He’s really doing a nice job.”
GREGORY VS. SCHERFF: The matchup to watch inside will be Nebraska defensive end Brandon Gregory against Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff. Gregory has seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss. But Scherff is one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy given to the nation’s top lineman. The Huskers will likely move Gregory around to exploit matchups, but it’ll be fun to see Gregory and Scherff square off.
WIDEOUT WOES: Pelini said Monday that Jordan Westerkamp will play after hyperextending his knee in last week’s loss to Minnesota. But Kenny Bell, whose 171 career catches are the most in school history, is questionable after sustaining an apparent concussion against the Gophers. “When somebody has a head injury, it’s difficult to say,” Pelini said.
TICKETS: Iowa and Nebraska’s fan bases have long been regarded among the most passionate in the Midwest. But that hasn’t translated at the ticket office. Iowa spokesman Steve Roe said Wednesday that just under 3,000 tickets were still available. Kinnick Stadium seats 70,585.
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