By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Considering everything that’s at stake, including the chance to win the Big Ten West Division, and to have a 10-win regular season, you would like to think that the Iowa football players wouldn’t need any more incentive to beat Nebraska.
But just in case, Kirk Ferentz could bring up the point spread, which has Nebraska favored by one point heading into Friday’s game in Lincoln, Nebraska. But that’s only because Nebraska will be without starting quarterback Adrian Martinez, who will miss Friday’s game due to a shoulder injury.
Before it was announced that Martinez was out, Nebraska was favored by 3 ½ points.
A home team gets three points for hosting, so the odds-makers had Nebraska as the slightest of favorites with Martinez playing quarterback.
But without Martinez, and with a little used redshirt freshman now playing quarterback for a 3-8 team, the odds-makers still seem to be saying that 9-2 Iowa is vulnerable and perhaps headed for an upset loss.
It’s hard to recall another game in which a 3-8 team was favored against a 9-2 team at any time.
Nebraska is far more explosive and productive on offense than Iowa. But that’s with Martinez playing quarterback and challenging defenses as a runner and passer.
Redshirt freshman Logan Smothers hasn’t played enough, with just five appearances, to really know what to expect from him.
Alex Padilla, with just two starts under his belt, barely has played enough at quarterback for Iowa to know what to expect from him.
But unlike Smothers, Padilla has started the last two games and played the better part of the last three games.
Iowa is also 3-0 during that three-game stretch, while Nebraska has lost five games in a row.
All eight of Nebraska’s losses have been by nine or fewer points, including last Saturday’s 35-28 loss at Wisconsin.
So perhaps the odds-makers are taking into consideration that Nebraska performed way better against Wisconsin than Iowa did during a 27-7 loss in October. The Iowa offense was borderline inept against the Badgers, while Nebraska shredded Wisconsin’s vaunted defense for 452 yards.
But again, that was with Martinez playing quarterback and passing for 351 yards.
The point spread for Friday’s game is a glaring sign that Iowa has doubters who are pretty good at knowing what to expect in games like this.
Nebraska has come so close to beating Iowa in the last three games to where you might wonder, or, if you’re an Iowa fan, worry that the law of averages finally would tilt in Nebraska’s direction on Senior Day in Lincoln.
The teams will also compete for the Heroes Trophy, adding more incentive to win.
“We’re all looking forward to the challenge that Nebraska brings,” said Iowa punter Tory Taylor. “I know they haven’t won as many games, but they’ve had a lot of close ones. I know they could easily be 8-3 or 9-2 like us. They’ve certainly been in a lot of close games.
“So we’re under absolutely no allusions, yeah, they’re going to be bringing it come Friday at kickoff.”
But without Martinez, it’s hard to picture the Nebraska offense having sustained success against the Iowa defense.
However, the odd-makers also seem to be questioning the Iowa offense, and for good reason, considering Iowa is ranked last in the Big Ten in total offense, averaging just 293.18 yards per game.
Both teams have issues on offense, but Nebraska will be without its best offensive players, and yet, the odds-makers still give the Cornhuskers a good chance to win at home.
That says as much about Iowa as it does Nebraska from a perception standpoint.
Nebraska seems to find ways to lose under Scott Frost, while Iowa finds ways not to lose under Kirk Ferentz. And this series is a perfect example of that with Iowa having won the last six games, with four of the games decided by eight or fewer points.
If Iowa can’t defeat a 3-8 Nebraska team that will be without its starting quarterback, then Iowa doesn’t deserve to be Big Ten West Division champion.
It’s that simple.
The point spread speaks loudly and says that Iowa could be in trouble on Friday.
The challenge for Iowa is to prove the odds-makers wrong.
Prediction: Iowa 27, Nebraska 14