IOWA CITY, Iowa – Trust is earned over time.
It’s earned from doing the right things over and over and from being reliable.
Or in the case of the Iowa football team, it’s earned by winning every game on the schedule.
Trust also can be fleeting and fragile. What takes months to build can collapse with just one setback or poor performance.
That’s the situation facing the 11-0 Hawkeyes heading into Friday’s regular-season finale at Nebraska.
A victory would bring further validation and would keep Iowa in the thick of the four-team playoff hunt, where it currently is ranked fourth. It also would mark the first time that Iowa has won 12 games in a single season. And it would make Iowa 4-0 in trophy games this season and 2-0 in its last two games in Lincoln, Neb., where winning used to be next to impossible.
A loss, on the other hand, likely would destroy any chance Iowa has of making the four-team playoff. It’s been suggested that Iowa could lose to Nebraska, but then win the Big Ten championship game and still be a playoff contender.
Like I’ve said before, good luck with that scenario because it’s hard enough for an undefeated Iowa team to stay relevant in the playoff picture.
That’s why Friday’s game at Memorial Stadium is already sort of like a playoff game. Win and the Hawkeyes are just one victory from securing a playoff bid. But lose and the improbable dream almost certainly would come to an end.
In other words, Iowa would control its own destiny until it loses.
“Yeah, it kind of is our own version of an extended playoff,” said Iowa senior linebacker Cole Fisher, who is from Omaha, Neb. “Because that’s pretty much what we’re hearing that if you lose, than you’re not (in).
“That should be how it is. I agree what that. So yeah, it really is our own little extended playoff.”
This whole season has been an extended playoff for Iowa. We just didn’t know it until recently. All it would’ve taken up to this point was just one loss to change everything.
Iowa fans would’ve been happy with being 10-1 or maybe even 9-2 at this stage after what happened last season. But they wouldn’t have had reason to be concerned about the playoff because the Hawkeyes would’ve been a non-factor with either of those records.
Fair or not, it’s undefeated or bust for Iowa.
In addition to staying in the playoff hunt, a victory also would keep 5-6 Nebraska from qualifying for a bowl game and would help to avenge the misery that Nebraska caused last season by storming back to defeat Iowa 37-34 in overtime in the regular-season finale at Kinnick Stadium.
Although, I’m not sure the Iowa players even care much about what happened last season or whether Nebraska makes a bowl game because the Iowa players have more important things to be concerned about.
“We try not to think about it,” said junior offensive lineman Cole Croston. “They came back on us last year and we kind of let one slip away. But they earned it last year and we’re looking forward to getting them this year.”
There probably aren’t too many other fan bases more annoyed with Iowa’s sudden resurgence than Nebraska fans.
It’s hard enough for Nebraska fans to watch their program slip from elite status to mediocrity. But combine that sobering reality with Iowa’s success in a bordering state and you have a compound fracture.
The roles have sort of been reversed with Iowa now the hunted and Nebraska the hunter.
I picked Nebraska to win this game before the season. But I also had Iowa 7-4 at this stage, with its other losses coming against Iowa State, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Minnesota. I obviously underestimated this Iowa team and the impact that C.J. Beathard would have at quarterback.
It comes back to the trust factor again.
I still think Friday’s game will test Iowa to the extreme because the Cornhuskers are hungry, talented, well-rested after coming off a bye week and playing at home. They also seem to have found a groove under first-year coach Mike Riley.
And yet, I’m still changing my mind and picking Beathard and his cohorts to prevail, 31-30. At 11-0, the Iowa players and coaches have earned my trust. But just barely.