A bowl bid might not have been realistic to Nebraska at the beginning of the season, particularly with a first-year head coach admitting a massive rebuilding plan was set to begin.
And then the Cornhuskers found themselves one win from postseason eligibility entering November. Victory No. 6 remains elusive.
The Cornhuskers are still one win shy of being bowl eligible for the first time since 2016. Their last chance comes Friday when they host Iowa in Lincoln, Neb.
Iowa (9-2, 6-2) has already wrapped up the Big Ten’s West Division title and a spot in the conference title game Dec. 2 in Indianapolis. It will be the program’s third trip to the final, losing in 2015 and 2021.
Three consecutive Nebraska losses, by a combined 13 points, continues a trend in recent years for the Cornhuskers (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) in one-score games. The most recent was a 24-17 overtime defeat at Wisconsin, a game Nebraska led 14-0 in the first quarter.
“Couldn’t be happier about where we are, couldn’t be angrier about our record,” Nebraska coach Matt Rhule said. “Two things can be true.”
The Hawkeyes have won three in a row and six of seven despite having one of the lowest scoring offenses in the country. Iowa averages 18.5 points per game, which is 121st out of 130 FBS teams.
Low-scoring games aren’t just the norm for Iowa. Oddsmakers set the point total at an all-time low for a Power 5 matchup at 27.5 combined points, meaning projections indicate a total of less than 28 points on Friday.
“They’re so comfortable in a 10-9 game,” Rhule said.
The Hawkeyes scored a 15-13 home win over Illinois last week. Iowa failed to reach 300 total yards off offense for the eighth time this season. But they’re 6-2 in those games, aided by a defense that ranks seventh nationally with 281.4 per game allowed.
“This group is really special,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They’ve endured a lot.”
Nebraska started a third different quarterback in 11 games last week. Sophomore Chubba Purdy threw for 169 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also ran for 105 yards and a score. That extends a season-long trend with mobile quarterbacks for the Cornhuskers. Jeff Sims ran for 158 yards and a TD in his two starts and Heinrich Haarberg is the team’s leading rusher with 477 yards and five scores.
Iowa has also started multiple quarterbacks, with Deacon Hill passing for 390 yards and two TDs total over the past two games while completing 65 percent of his passes. But running back Leshon Williams is a main weapon, with 688 yards on the ground.
The offensive woes for the Hawkeyes led to the decision that Brian Ferentz, the head coach’s son, would not return as offensive coordinator in 2024.
The Big Ten’s top tackler will be in action in Iowa senior linebacker Jay Higgins, whose 133 total tackles are 31 more than any other defender in the conference.
Nebraska holds a 30-20-3 edge in the series, winning last year in Iowa City to snap a 7-game skid. The Hawkeyes have won their last trips to Lincoln, taking the last two by one score.
An Iowa win would get it to 10 for the seventh time in 25 seasons under Ferentz, whose 195 victories are most of any active FBS coach with one team.
–Field Level Media