The subject of a rivalry between Nebraska and Iowa always comes up this time of year, and I always push back on the talk of it being much of a rivalry. From my perspective, rivalries develop over time; they can’t be created.
Or designated, as the Big XII tried to do with the Huskers and Colorado. Nebraska fans didn’t take too kindly to the antics of Colorado fans, and many never accepted the Buffaloes as the Rival of the Huskers. To them, Nebraska’s Rival was Oklahoma, even though they only played half the time since the Big XII separated these old Big Eight rivals into separate divisions. At that time, Nebraska was really, really good while Oklahoma was stumbling and bumbling around with coaches like Howard Schnellenberger and John Blake. The Sooners were fine with setting that rivalry aside at that time. So the Big XII tried to make something more out of the Nebraska/Colorado series, even though Nebraska’s matchups with Kansas State and Missouri probably mattered far more during Nebraska’s time in the Big XII.
So when Texas was threatening to blow up the Big XII, Nebraska chased the safety, security and B1G money of the Big Ten, leaving that forced rivalry behind. Of course, nature abhors a vacuum, so Big Ten officials thought to recreate a similar rivalry for Thanksgiving. Heck, Iowa’s colors matches Colorado’s, so why not? Especially when a regional supermarket chain decides to plop down the money to sponsor the series. Perfect corporate alliance. Synergy.
Except it’s not a Capital-r Rivalry. Sure, the fans of both schools make fun of each other, and they are neighbors, but the history of the two schools shows the series to be extremely one-sided. 29 Nebraska victories, 17 Iowa victories, three ties.
And that’s why the Nebraska/Iowa series is not a Capital-R Rivalry. In fact, this series means more to Iowa than Nebraska. Nebraska won three of the first four matchups between the schools, with the one loss coming when Nebraska was forced to play a third-string walk-on at quarterback. And after the 2014 victory over Iowa, Nebraska decided that change was in order in Lincoln. You see, it wasn’t about beating Iowa for Nebraska... it was about not getting past Wisconsin. (And getting blasted in that Capital-R Rivalry game.)
So a change was made. Except that the change made things worse. Much worse, in fact.
Nebraska still couldn’t beat Wisconsin. But now Nebraska was struggling to beat anybody, with three losing seasons in the last four. (And staring at a fourth losing season right now.) Among those teams now beating Nebraska regularly is Iowa, with blowouts in 2016 and 2017. It’s not like Iowa has suddenly become a great program all of a sudden; except for a magical 2015 season, Iowa is still that 7-8 win program they’ve traditionally been.
At Nebraska, records like that generally gets coaches fired. At Iowa, records like that get coaches multi-million dollar contract extensions. That’s the difference between the two programs.
If Nebraska beats Iowa on Black Friday, the joy is in becoming bowl eligible and not having to listen to Iowa fans lord over the last few years. Don’t get me wrong, Nebraska fans want to win this game, just like they wanted to win games against Minnesota and Purdue. Nebraska wants to win all of these games. But the one Husker fans REALLY want is a victory over the Badgers, because when Nebraska has done that, they’ve played for a Big Ten conference championship.
Wisconsin doesn’t really respect that, and for good reason. Nebraska has been woefully inept the last few years. That’s something Nebraska has to fix. Beating Iowa is a good first step towards getting there, but it’s not Nebraska’s primary rivalry.
It’s because Nebraska needs to seize that “W” from isconsin. That’s Nebraska’s rival.