IOWA CITY, Iowa – If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that some of the Iowa football players are robots who are programmed to always say the right thing.
From taking it one game at a time to having the utmost respect for every opponent, the Iowa players rarely stray too far from saying the company line or from echoing what head coach Kirk Ferentz has to say.
Tuesday’s weekly press conference was no exception.
The Iowa players are so focused on the one-game-at-a-time battle cry that hardly any of them referred to Friday’s regular-season finale at Nebraska as being a rivalry game. They weren’t disrespecting or dismissing the Cornhuskers. It was a more a case of the Iowa players sticking to what has worked so brilliantly this season.
Every game, regardless of the opponent, deserves the same preparation and focus, although, senior linebacker Cole Fisher did let his guard down just a little bit on Tuesday. He didn’t provide Nebraska with any bulletin board material by talking trash.
Fisher just spoke truthfully and candidly about growing up in Nebraska and wanting to be a Cornhusker, but not getting the opportunity to chase his dream.
“I’ve told a lot of people I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to go there as a kid, just about every high school player in Nebraska wants to go there,” Fisher said Tuesday. “I’m perfectly happy with where I am. I wouldn’t have my career go any other way.
“But at the time, it kind of hurt a little bit.”
It probably hurt a lot to be snubbed by the mighty Cornhuskers, who truly are about the only show in Nebraska. There isn’t another BCS program in Nebraska, nor are there any professional teams in the state.
It also didn’t help that Fisher’s father and his older brother both played football for Nebraska. Cole was eager to make it a family threesome if only former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini had offered him a scholarship.
“I won’t lie to you guys; it’s still personal to me,” Fisher said Tuesday. “But you really do have to treat it as just another game. If you want to see it as a rivalry, you can let that motivate you. But just as long as you don’t let it consume you or anything.”
Fisher has let it consume him this week, but not just because he still holds a little grudge. The Iowa players are on Thanksgiving break and don’t have classes this week.
So it’s easier for football to be paramount in their thoughts.
And even though Nebraska has struggled this season under first-year coach Mike Riley, Fisher knows what could happen if Iowa doesn’t perform at a high level.
“You just try to not think about it as much as possible,” Fisher said about the chance of losing on Friday. “Yeah, the possibility is there. They’re a dangerous team.
“But we’ve worked too hard this season and come too far to let that happen. And especially since we don’t have school this week, we’re putting every possible minute into making sure that doesn’t happen.”
Fisher’s rise from seldom-used linebacker to starter as a fifth-year senior is one of numerous storylines to unfold during this historic season in which Iowa is 11-0 for the first time ever and the Big Ten West Division champion.
Iowa is having the kind of season that Nebraska was accustomed to having for decades under former legendary head coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne.
It’s unusual seeing the 5-6 Cornhuskers still not bowl eligible this late in the season.
“I watched some really good teams at Nebraska growing up,” said Fisher, who attended Millard North High School in Omaha, Neb. “I think they’ll be fine in the future. This is just kind of a rebuilding year for them. It’s definitely strange to see them fighting for a bowl game here in the last part of the season.”
Iowa was one of the first schools from a power five conference to offer Fisher a scholarship. The offer came before Fisher had suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
The Nebraska coaches took a wait-and-see attitude with Fisher after the injury had occurred, whereas Ferentz stayed committed to him.
“They just wanted to see how I would come back for my senior season,” Fisher said of the Nebraska coaches. “And then actually after I tore my ACL, coach Ferentz, the first thing he did was call and say, `hey, this changes nothing. We still want you to come.’
"So that played a huge role in my decision making and with the whole process.”
Fisher has gained a new perspective on just how devoted Nebraska fans are to their beloved football program. Playing for Iowa has allowed Fisher to step back and see the Big Red from a different viewpoint
“It is kind of crazy,” Fisher said. “You grow up and it’s all people talk about this time of year. And when you see it from the outside looking in, you kind of realize – I don’t want to say the wrong thing here – but with a different perspective, you see things that maybe you wouldn’t have realized before or just how intense it really is.”
Fisher is one of two Nebraska natives who start for Iowa on defense, the other being sophomore tackle Nathan Bazata. It used to be three until fellow Nebraska native Drew Ott suffered a season-ending knee injury against Illinois on Oct. 10 at Kinnick Stadium.
Bazata was among a select group of players who attended Tuesday’s press gathering. But unlike Fisher, he took more of the robot approach when asked about facing the Cornhuskers.
“It’s just kind of like a normal week, just trying to get better,” Bazata said. “It’s just another one out of twelve.”
Fisher chuckled when told that Bazata was guarded with his answers. Bazata said he used to hold a grudge against Nebraska for not offering him a scholarship, but he has since moved on.
Fisher also has moved on, but not entirely.
“It definitely adds a little personal edge to it for me, a little extra motivation, I guess,” Fisher said of playing against Nebraska. “Because I’m pretty sure that every high school player in Nebraska wants to go play for the Huskers. And I was included in that.”
There is nothing wrong with Fisher making it personal. Especially, if it makes him play better on Friday.