'Spoiler role' among Huskers' motivations vs No. 3 Hawkeyes
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) The stakes for Friday's Iowa-Nebraska game are sure to punch up this young border rivalry.
Third-ranked Iowa is unbeaten and has a legitimate shot to make the College Football Playoff if it wins in Lincoln and in the Big Ten championship game the following week. The Cornhuskers would love nothing more than to ruin Iowa's magical season while winning a sixth game to clinch bowl eligibility.
''It adds another level, that's for sure,'' receiver Lane Hovey said. ''There are a lot of different motivations coming into this game on why we want to win. The spoiler role just adds another dimension to it.''
Nebraska has won three of four games against Iowa since joining the Big Ten in 2011. Before that, the teams had met only six times since 1979.
In a conference that relishes trophy games, Nebraska and Iowa were designated rivals and put in the same division because of their geographical proximity. A supermarket chain with stores in both states sponsors what has become known as the Heroes Game, which honors citizens who have performed heroic acts.
Other than in 2012, when Nebraska earned a spot in the Big Ten title game by winning at Iowa, the outcome of this game has yielded mostly bragging rights for the winner.
This year the stakes are much higher, with Iowa (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten, No. 5 CFP) enjoying one of the best seasons in program history and Nebraska (5-6, 3-4) bouncing back from a 3-6 start to now having a chance at .500 if it can knock off a second top-10 opponent in a month.
''We've been looking forward to it,'' quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. said. ''We wanted them to be undefeated coming in just like we wanted Michigan State to be undefeated. We want to prove that our record doesn't say anything about the team we have. Yeah, we lost some close games, a lot of close games. We are a very good football team. We just have to put it all together and when we do, it shows.''
Nebraska coach Mike Riley lauded the playmaking ability of Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard, a strong contender for All-Big Ten honors, and the Hawkeyes' stout defensive line. He said special teams will be crucial because he expects field position to decide the game.
Though in his first year at Nebraska, Riley recognizes a good rivalry brewing.
''I think our guys are excited for the opportunity to play in a big game against a good team and prove what we can do,'' Riley said. ''Everybody's obviously aware of the ramifications for them. For our guys, my sense is they want to play and win, and whatever motivates them, it's really about us more than anything.''