IOWA CITY, Iowa - Its fate in its hands, Iowa plays host to Nebraska Friday in the regular-season finale for both teams. A Hawkeye victory means a return trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game. A loss by the home team opens the door for Purdue and Illinois.
The Hawkeyes (7-4 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) are riding a four-game winning streak, while the Huskers are losers of five in a row. Iowa owns seven consecutive victories in this series.
The pressure clearly rests on the Hawkeye sideline in this game. Nebraska's campaign ends Friday, and its search for a new full-time head coach continues.
This Iowa squad appears prepared for the moment, but upsets happen across college football weekly. This a trophy game, one that has been decided by an average of 4.7 points during its last four chapters.
Last season in Lincoln, the Huskers (3-8, 2-6) limped into this contest with a 1-7 conference record and took Iowa to the wire. The division-champion Hawkeyes needed late-game, special-teams' heroics to pull out a 28-21 victory.
Friday is Senior Day at Iowa, adding to the emotions. It takes a back seat to the task at hand, says senior quarterback Spencer Petras:
"Our focus is on the opponent we're playing because they're talented and they play us tough every year. If we want to achieve our goal, we're going to need a win on Friday, and there's no time to think about anything else."
Nebraska features Texas transfer Casey Thompson at quarterback after a long run by Adrian Martinez, who was thriving at Kansas State until an injury hit two weeks ago. Thompson (6-0, 195) is completing 63.0 percent of his passes for 2,129 yards and 14 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He has five scores rushing but minus-six yards on the ground thanks to Husker signal callers being sacked 31 times.
LSU transfer Trey Palmer (6-1, 190) serves as Thompson's top target. The junior receiver ranks fourth in the Big Ten in receptions (62), receiving yards (878) and touchdown catches (7). Fellow wideout Marcus Washington (28-419) and tight end Travis Vokolek (20-240-2) factor into the passing game.
Florida State transfer Anthony Grant leads the Nebraska rushing attack. He averages 82.6 yards per game (4.5 a carry) on the ground with six TDs.
"They've got some good athletes," Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean said. "They have some transfer guys. They have some good receivers, good (running) back. Their offensive line plays well. So, they're a well-rounded offense. We're going to have to play well, play disciplined, do our job."
The Huskers rank 11th in the league for scoring offense (22.5 points per game) and 10th in total offense (345.5 yards per game). Iowa sits a 13th (17.5) and 14th (253.7).
Defensively, the Hawkeyes come in fourth among conference foes in scoring against (13.5 PPG), while Nebraska checks in 12th (28.5). Iowa is third in total defense (273.3 YPG) with the Huskers at 13th (427.2).
"If you look at their defense, if you look at their starting 22, there is not one transfer in there," said Nebraska interim head coach Mickey Joseph, who replaced the fired Scott Frost in September. "So they have all been raised through the program. Like I have been saying at these press conferences, you have to raise them through the program. That coach has kept them in the program, so those kids have been in the system three years, four years, five years, and they have not changed their system."
Junior linebacker Luke Reimer leads the Nebraska defense with 86.0 tackles (38 solo, 3.5 for loss). He has a sack, an interception, a quarterback hurry and five pass breakups. Junior edge Garrett Nelson is enjoying a nice season with 9.0 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, four quarterback hurries, two pass breakups and a forced fumble.
"They have big guys up front. They play hard," Hawkeye offensive tackle Jack Plumb said. "They're sound defensively. It will be a good test for us up front."
Husker punter Brian Buschini is averaging 44.5 yards on 62 attempts with 12 being downed inside the opponent 20 yard line and 22 fair catches with 16 traveling 50-plus yards. Kicker Timmy Bleekroad is 8 for 10 on field-goal tries, including 2 of 3 from 40 or more yards.
Nebraska ranks 19th nationally in kick coverage (17.3 yards per return) and 100th in punt coverage (10.1). The Hawkeyes come in at 22 in covering kicks (17.4) and 19th covering punts (3.7).
When the Huskers joined the Big Ten for the 2011 season, some people wondered how competitive the border matchup with Iowa would be. While the Hawkeyes ranked as a consistent winner, Nebraska was considered by many observers to be a blue blood program.
The Huskers took three of the first four meetings with their new conference counterpart. They've not beaten Iowa since '14, when then AD Shawn Eichorst uttered his now-famous line when asked about changing head coaches after that campaign.
"In the final analysis. I had to evaluate where Iowa was," he said as a way of minimizing a win against the Hawkeyes and it not being enough to save Bo Pelini's job as head coach.
Since that comment, Iowa is 70-29 overall and 47-22 in the Big Ten with two division championships. The Huskers are 37-56 overall and 24-45 in the conference with no titles.
Friday, we'll see if the Hawkeyes can extend Nebraska's misery or the Huskers can show signs of life in potentially keeping their rival from a second consecutive West crown.
TV ANNOUNCERS: Brandon Gaudin, Jake Butt, and Rick Pizzo on BTN.
SERIES: Friday’s game is the 53rd meeting in the all-time series. Nebraska holds a 29-20-3 advantage in the series that began with a 22-0 Iowa victory in 1891. Iowa has won seven straight and eight of the last nine meetings.
The Hawkeyes have outscored the Huskers 236-137 during the seven-game winning streak. The 56 points in 2017 are the most in the series’ 52-game history. The four meetings since 2017 have all been decided by seven points or less.
BETTING LINES: Iowa opened as a 9.0-point favorite in the Vegas Insider consensus Sunday night. It rose to the Huskers +10.5 Monday morning. The total opened at 40.5 and dropped to 37.5 Monday morning.
-Nebraska is 5-1-1 Against The Spread (ATS) in its last 7 games in November.
-Under is 4-0 in Cornhuskers' last 4 games overall.
-Iowa is 4-0 ATS in its last 4 games overall.
-Under is 5-1 in Hawkeyes' last 6 home games.
NEBRASKA PLAYERS TO WATCH
-Trey Palmer, WR – Palmer has been an impact newcomer in his first season in Lincoln. The transfer from LSU set a Nebraska single-game record with 237 receiving yards on seven catches at Purdue, with touchdown catches of 37 and 72 yards. Palmer was a member of the watch lists for the Biletnikoff Award and the Paul Hornung Award.
-Casey Thompson, QB – Thompson's three games with 300 or more passing yards ties for third on the Nebraska single-season chart. The school record for 300-yard passing games is five by Joe Ganz in 2008. Despite missing two games, Thompson is just outside of the single-season top 10 in passing yards. He needs 295 passing yards against Iowa to crack the season top 10.
-Luke Reimer, LB – Reimer has totaled at least 10 tackles nine times in his career, including twice in 2022. Henrich has recorded four games with double-figure tackles. Reimer needs 14 tackles at Iowa to become the first Husker since Lavonte David (2010-11) to have back-to-back 100-tackle seasons.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Nebraska: Force Iowa's offense into mistakes. Otherwise, it will be long day for the Husker offense. It might be anyway.
Iowa: Take care of the football on offense then cash in when defense and special teams provides opportunity.
-Husker senior edge rusher Caleb Tannor will play in his 56th game at Nebraska on Friday. He is set to tie the school record for games played held by Cameron Meredith (2008-12). Tannor has played in every game since arriving on campus in 2018.
-Nebraska is playing on Black Friday for the 33rd consecutive season dating back to 1990. The Huskers have met Iowa on Thanksgiving Friday the past 12 seasons, and played Colorado (1996-2010) and Oklahoma (1990-95) prior to that.
-The Huskers have scored a touchdown on their opening possession five times this season (NW, UND, OU, IND, MINN), including four of the first five games. Most recently, the Huskers marched 75 yards in nine plays for a touchdown to open the scoring against Minnesota.
-The Nebraska roster features 17 first-year Huskers who had previous FBS or FCS experience before 2022. The first-year transfers came to Nebraska with a combined 368 games played and 184 starts in their college careers. The starting lineups through 11 games have featured 10 transfers, including seven on offense, two on defense and both the starting punter and place-kicker.
-Through 11 games, 21 players have made their first career start in a Husker uniform in 2022. The group includes nine players on offense, 10 on defense and two specialists. True freshman cornerback Malcolm Hartzog is the latest first-time starter, earning the starting nod the past six games.
-Iowa’s defense surrendered 10 points or fewer for the eighth time this season in the road win at Minnesota (and Iowa has given up 13 or less in nine games). It is the first time since 1929 that the defense has allowed 10 or fewer points in eight games. The 1929 Hawkeyes gave up 28 points in the entire eight-game season.
-The Hawkeyes have won all three of their November games this season and 14 consecutive games in the month of Thanksgiving dating back to the 2019 season.
-Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell has seven 10-plus tackle games this season, giving him 110 tackles this season. It is the second straight year he has 100 plus tackles as he led the nation with 143 stops a year ago.
-Hawkeye tight end Sam LaPorta has had at least one reception in 14 straight games and has been Iowa’s top receiver in 10 of 11 games in 2022. LaPorta has a team-best 53 receptions for 601 yards and one touchdown. He is leading the Big Ten in receptions and receiving yards this season among tight ends.
-Iowa is 2-1 in trophy games this season. The Hawkeyes fell 10-7 to Iowa State in their first trophy game of '22 – the team’s first loss to the Cyclones since '14. Iowa reclaimed the Heartland Trophy on Nov. 12, downing Wisconsin, 24-10, in Kinnick Stadium and defeated Minnesota for the eighth straight time, winning 13-10, to retain the Floyd of Rosedale trophy.
Nebraska – Weldon Kees
Iowa - Charles F. Lynch
HOWE I SEE IT: Look, Iowa has no business losing this game. That's not being disrespectful to the opponent. It means the Hawkeyes' performance to date dwarfs what Nebraska has done in '22.
Nebraska is 2-6 in the conference for a reason. It's a bad football team. Its wins came against Indiana and Rutgers, two bottom-feeder teams in the East Division.
The Huskers don't have a star running back like the ones that have troubled Iowa this season. Saying their defense is porous would be too kind.
It's a rivalry game. Nebraska should be motivated if the locker room isn't lost. Maybe it can hang for awhile because of those factors.
In the end, the better team and program will win.
PREDICTION: Iowa 24, Nebraska 13