By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – No matter what happens the rest of the way, the 2018 Iowa football team will be remembered mostly for what it could have been, or should have been or almost was from a performance standpoint.
A victory over a surging Nebraska team on Friday would only help to perpetuate that narrative because it would reinforce the belief that this Iowa team was so close to being special.
Iowa could finish anywhere from 9-4 to 7-6, which from a record and from a perception standpoint is vastly different.
So there still is plenty on the line heading into Friday’s regular-season finale at Kinnick Stadium.
It isn’t what fans or the media envisioned when Iowa was 6-1 and showing signs that it could be a Big Ten contender.
But to still have a chance to defeat Nebraska for the fifth time in the last six games, win a bowl game and finish with at least nine victories for the seventh time in 20 seasons under Kirk Ferentz is pretty significant.
Iowa’s 63-0 demolition at Illinois this past Saturday shows that the players still are engaged and determined to send the 13 seniors on the team out on a high note.
That was basically the messge from the players on Tuesday as they met with the media to discuss the Nebraska game and other topics.
Illinois is certainly a mess, but you can’t just dismiss Iowa’s level of dominance.
Iowa had as many tackles for loss (11) as Illinois had first downs. Illinois also converted on just 2-of-17 third-down plays.
But enough with Illinois because Illinois isn’t Nebraska, which has won four of its last five games after starting the season 0-6 under first-year head coach Scott Frost.
The Cornhuskers have gone from being a punch line to now punching back behind an explosive offense, and behind what apparently is an improving defense, considering Nebraska defeated Michigan State 9-6 this past Saturday.
Nebraska’s only loss since being 0-6 was a 36-31 thriller at Ohio State.
So the stage could be set for a highly entertaining game on Friday.
Because as good as Nebraska has been, Iowa still looks better on paper, and is playing at home on Senior Day.
It’s hard to know for sure how many fans had bought into this Iowa team after seven games, but it sure seemed like a lot based on the feedback from social media and from water cooler talk.
The media, including myself, also bought into this Iowa team when it was 6-1, some maybe even before that. I was convinced in mid-October that Iowa was better than my preseason prediction of 8-4 after watching the Hawkeyes defeat Minnesota and Indiana in back-to-back games by scores of 48-31 and 42-16, respectively.
I then overreacted by switching my picks for the games against Penn State, Purdue and Northwestern from Iowa losing to Iowa winning, but was wrong in all three cases by a combined 12 points.
Iowa’s biggest flaw this season has been the inability to win close games because losing three close games in a row by a combined 12 points hardly seems like an unfortunate coincidence.
Iowa has lost from a lack of offense (Northwestern), a lack of defense (Penn State and Purdue) and from poor special teams (Wisconsin).
The running game also has sputtered more times than not, while the passing attack has been inconsistent.
Combine all those things and you have a 7-4 team that is arguably better than its record, and with two more chances to prove it.
Friday’s game isn’t relevant on the big stage, but it’s huge for both teams and for both fans bases.
Iowa fans can imagine how miserable life would be in the wake of a Nebraska loss because Cornhusker fans would be insufferable.
A loss to Nebraska would further validate Frost as the savior and would cause Ferentz fatigue to climb to another level.
So if you really think about it, there is a lot on the line on Friday.