By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Do you feel it?
Because I sure don’t.
I don’t feel there is any chance that Iowa will lose to Nebraska on Friday at Kinnick Stadium, but that isn’t necessarily a good feeling because assuming victory can be dangerous.
Of course, there is always the chance that Iowa will lose because that is the beauty, but also the risk, in facing competition.
The unknown, the uncertainty, and the unpredictability is all part of what makes sports, and college football in particular, so intriguing.
And yet, I still give Nebraska little to no chance of winning on Friday, and that’s a weird feeling to have.
It also says more about 1-3 Nebraska than 3-2 Iowa.
I’m certainly not a homer, considering I picked Nebraska to defeat Iowa last season, and wasn’t that far off as Keith Duncan made a 48-yard field goal with one second remaining to lift Iowa to a 27-24 victory in Lincoln, Neb.
Iowa also needed a late field goal to beat Nebraska 31-28 in 2018 at Kinnick Stadium.
So while the Hawkeyes have won the last five games against Nebraska, three of the five games have been competitive, while two have been routs with Iowa winning 56-14 in 2017 and 40-10 in 2016.
My confidence in Iowa is based on several factors, not the least of which is the plain and simple fact that Iowa is better in all three phases of the game; offense, defense and special teams.
Scott Frost was considered the savior when he returned to his alma mater in 2018, but so far, Frost has failed to deliver, his record just 10-18 overall at Nebraska, and 1-3 this season.
Nebraska has no identity on offense, no physicality on defense and no business winning Friday’s game unless Iowa self-destructs, or just chokes.
I had to consider where Nebraska is as a program before making my prediction, and festering in mediocrity is where Nebraska football is right now, and has been ever since former Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst made his infamous statement about the Iowa football program shortly after having fired Bo Pelini as head coach in 2014.
Eichorst held a news conference announcing Pelini’s firing two days after the Cornhuskers rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat Iowa 37-34 in overtime. He was asked whether the win made his decision more difficult.
“Our kids showed great character and resiliency in a tough environment,” Eichorst said, “so it did play a factor. But in the final analysis, I had to evaluate where Iowa was.”
Iowa has a 50-21 record since Eichorst put his foot in mouth, while Nebraska has a 29-37 record during that same time.
Eichorst was also fired as the Nebraska Athletic Director in 2017 and replaced by current athletic director Bill Moos.
As for Friday’s game, I expect Iowa to control the line of scrimmage, much like it did in the last three games against Penn State, Minnesota and Michigan State, games in which Iowa prevailed by a combined 90 points.
Illinois had two 100-yard rushers against Nebraska last Saturday and rolled to a 41-23 victory in Lincoln.
Nebraska performed so woefully that some fans and members of the very loyal Nebraska media are even starting to question Frost, who had seemed untouchable.
But every fan base has a breaking point, even when it comes to a local hero.
Iowa has certainly had its issues off the field in the wake of a tumultuous offseason in which multiple former Iowa black players accused the program of racial disparities.
But this evaluation is based solely on what’s happening on the field, and right now Nebraska is failing to make the present anything close to its storied past.
Frost’s job isn’t in jeopardy, but he has to start winning games like the one on Friday, or it will be at some point.
I just don’t see it happening, though, because his team isn’t good enough.
Kirk Ferentz never would say that, nor would any of the Iowa players because the last thing they need is to give Nebraska bulletin board material.
“Obviously, we have a lot of respect for their program,” Ferentz said. “Strong tradition they have there. Just very strong fan base. Very loyal, supportive fan base, just like we enjoy. A lot of respect for them.
“I think you look at this, it’s a trophy game. Really all you have to do is look at the last two games since Coach Frost has been there. We played two really competitive games against each other, literally went down to the last play in both games. That’s what you expect from a rivalry game. I would expect more of that this week.”
Ferentz has to be careful about what he says, but I don’t because I’m not playing or coaching in Friday’s game.
I’m just sharing my opinion, and my opinion is that Nebraska football leaves much to be desired right now.
The 1990s were a long time ago, and that’s the last time Nebraska was elite.
Nebraska was good under Pelini, winning at least nine games in each of his seven seasons as head coach, and 10 games three times. But Pelini was such a miserable, foul-mouthed bully who embarrassed the university one too many times to where he was fired.
Nebraska hasn’t been the same since on the playing field.
By expressing so much confidence in an Iowa victory, I’ve certainly set myself up for ridicule should it not turn out that way because nobody ridicules and trolls better than Nebraska fans out for vengeance.
But so be it.
Again, unless Iowa lays a major egg, or Nebraska catches lightning in a bottle, or both, it’s hard to see an upset happening.
Prediction: Iowa 34, Nebraska 17
Iowa vs. Nebraska
When: Friday, noon
Where: Kinnick Stadium
TV: Fox Sports
Radio: Hawkeye Sports Network