Since Mike Riley doesn’t get nearly enough suggestions on how to operate the Nebraska football program, here’s another:
Call Kirk Ferentz at Iowa and see if he wants to move Black Friday’s Husker-Hawkeye showdown from Iowa City to Lincoln. Though it would never happen, there is some evidence to indicate perhaps Ferentz should.
Iowa, with Saturday’s 28-0 win at Illinois, completed its road schedule with a 4-1 record. The only loss was to No. 8 Penn State.
At home, the Hawkeyes are 3-3, including losses to FCS foe North Dakota State and sub-.500 Northwestern (5-6). Until the Nov. 12 out-of-the-blue upset of then-No. 2 Michigan, ticket-buyers at Kinnick Stadium hadn’t had a victory to celebrate in 62 days.
If that leaves you scratching your head, welcome to Iowa football 2016. Digging into your noggin every time something weird happened this season would have left you bald.
The Hawkeyes, coming off a 12-0 regular season in 2015 before losses in the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl, were overwhelming favorites to repeat as West Division champions.
In a preseason poll of league writers, Iowa got 33 of 40 first-place votes. Nebraska was next with three. Wisconsin, which will win the West with a home victory Saturday over Minnesota, got two.
Iowa is widely known for following up its occasional big seasons with relative clunkers. After going 11-2 in 2004, the Hawkeyes went 7-5. After another 11-2 record in 2009 came an 8-5 season that started a five-year run of sub-.500 play against FBS opponents.
But it was going to be different this year.
Thirteen starters returned from that 12-2 team, including All-America cornerback Desmond King and second-team All-Big Ten quarterback C.J. Beathard. The schedule was highly manageable with winnable road games and the three biggest West challengers — Nebraska, Wisconsin and Northwestern — at home.
And Ferentz was “New Kirk” after 2015, complete with fresh ideas, a deeper playbook and a far-less cranky public attitude.
Things were fine the first two weeks. Then North Dakota State came to Iowa City and won by running for 239 yards while limiting Iowa to 34. Two games later, Northwestern won by running for 198 yards and holding Iowa to 79.
When the Hawkeyes can’t run the ball or stop the run, that’s the equivalent of simultaneous earthquakes. Confidence was rattled, particularly after a number of offensive line injuries.
No one at Iowa wants to hear other schools complain about ailments after using three starters at left tackle, three at left guard, two at center, two at right guard and two at right tackle through 11 games.
The cobbled-together line also hasn’t offered Beathard much pass protection. But Beathard also isn’t the same quarterback after offseason sports hernia surgery. He doesn’t make nearly the number of scrambles for first downs or successful throws under duress as a year ago.
Last season, he completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 200 yards per game with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. This season, he is at 58.2 percent, 157 yards a game with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
When Iowa lost 41-14 at Penn State two weekends ago, dropping its record to 5-4, some wondered if bowl eligibility was in jeopardy.
But the 14-13 upset of Michigan — despite gaining just 230 yards — and Saturday’s first Big Ten shutout in seven years at Illinois have re-energized Iowa (7-4, 5-3).
“It’s awesome,” linebacker Josey Jewell, the Big Ten’s leading tackler, said of the November surge. “Some games didn’t end how we wanted early in the season. But it’s all about finishing now.
“We’re looking forward, not looking back. We’re trying to get as much momentum going as we can.”
No. 17 Nebraska (9-2, 6-2) has a big piece of negative momentum it wants to reverse.
A victory Friday would likely mean the Huskers will lose fewer than four games in a season for the first time in 13 years. My god, has it really been that long since Frank Solich went 9-3 and got fired in 2003?
Nebraska still has a chance to win the Big Ten West by beating Iowa and having No. 5 Wisconsin lose at home Saturday to Minnesota.
The Hawkeyes can’t get to Indianapolis for the title game, but could end up in a four-way tie for first at 6-3 if they win and Minnesota wins. Wisconsin would win a four-team tiebreaker sequence.
So besides border pride, there’s plenty for Nebraska and Iowa to play for, all of which brings up one more reason Iowa might want to move Friday’s game to Lincoln.
The visiting team in this series has won past four games.
Quote of the year
After Rutgers gained 87 yards in Saturday’s 39-0 loss to Penn State, first-year coach Chris Ash was asked if his offense was too one-dimensional. His reply:
“Look at the stats. We aren’t even one-dimensional.”
The poor man speaks the truth. In games against Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State, the Scarlet Knights were outscored 224-0.
In eight Big Ten games — counting only possessions not stopped by halftime or the end of a game — Rutgers has gone on offense 107 times. It has scored nine touchdowns.