Lincoln, Neb. — This dream season is starting to get real for third-ranked Iowa.
Now that the Hawkeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) have moved up to No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings, destiny is in their hands.
Get win No. 12 at Nebraska today and No. 13 next week in the Big Ten championship game, and the Hawkeyes will have made a strong case to be in a national semifinal.
First things first, though. Nebraska (5-6, 3-4) is better than its record looks, and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has made sure his team knows it.
The Huskers have won three of four meetings with Iowa since they joined the Big Ten in 2011, and this, their first season under Mike Riley looked like a bust because of a run of close losses.
But after a 3-6 start, Nebraska defeated previously unbeaten Michigan State in Lincoln on Nov. 7 and posted a convincing road win over Rutgers a week later. A victory over Iowa would make the Huskers eligible for a bowl.
“Probably the big thing right now is that they’re meshing,” Ferentz said. “The new staff got there, and it takes a while for things to come together typically, and I think we’re witnessing that. They had some very difficult losses. They were playing well but just couldn’t quite finish things, and they’re coming off two very, very impressive victories now.”
Nebraska defensive coordinator Mark Banker expects four quarters of old-school football against the Hawkeyes, whose C.J. Beathard-led offense employs a stable of four running backs and heavily involves the tight ends in the passing game.
“I don’t know overall what type of athlete they have or where they come in (from) or how many stars, but they perform at a very high level,” Banker said. “It’s just a methodical approach to football and they know what they’re doing. … There’s none of this flash and dash. Just solid football.”
Beathard leads all FBS quarterbacks with 19 third-down runs for first downs, 13 coming on third-and-3 or shorter.
“There are certain plays we have called that get just past the sticks,” Beathard said. “When I’m running the ball, I know where the sticks are.”
Iowa is going for the fifth undefeated regular season in program history, and first since the Hawkeyes went 7-0 in 1922. Iowa and Clemson are the only remaining unbeaten teams in the FBS.
Nebraska surprised Rutgers with a tight end reverse that went for a touchdown two weeks ago, and Ferentz said he’ll be on the lookout for any trick plays the Huskers might have added during their bye week.
“I’m sure they’ll have something for us, and it really gets down to playing good, sound, fundamental football,” Ferentz said. “That’s how you stop those types of things, and if you don’t, if you leave the door open a little bit, you can be victimized by those, and we have in the last couple weeks.”
This is the 26th straight season Nebraska will have a Black Friday game. The Huskers have played Oklahoma, Colorado or Iowa on the day after Thanksgiving every year since 1990 and are 19-6 in those games.
On the line
Games this week that will affect the top of the College Football Playoff rankings (listed with CFP rankings):
No. 4 Iowa at Nebraska, 3:30 (ABC)
No. 7 Baylor at No. 19 TCU, 7:30 (ESPN)
No. 1 Clemson at South Carolina, noon (ESPN)
No. 2 Alabama at Auburn, 3:30 (CBS)
No. 6 Notre Dame at No. 9 Stanford, 7:30 (Fox)
No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 11 Oklahoma State, 8 (ABC)
No. 5 Michigan State vs. Penn State, 3:30 (ESPN)
No. 8 Ohio State at No. 10 Michigan, noon (ABC)