The third iteration of the "Heroes Game," the moniker given to the nascent Iowa-Nebraska rivalry by the Big Ten, comes now as the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers get set to battle on Black Friday.
Nebraska remains without QB Taylor Martinez, who may return for the bowl game but still hasn't healed from a serious foot injury that has essentially sidelined him since Week 4. He returned to play against Minnesota in mid-September, a generally woeful affair that Nebraska lost. As with most Martinez losses, however, the defense bore a heavy brunt of blame.
Indeed, if there's one key to the game it's Nebraska limiting the points it gives up—through tighter defense and smarter ball control—as the Huskers have allowed nearly 39 points a game in their three losses, but less than 19 points per game in their eight wins. That's not as severe as last year's disparity (53.5 in losses, 17.2 in wins) but it's still a pretty big gulf in performance that Iowa should endeavor to be on the right side of.
Rankings and records: Iowa is 7-4 (4-3) on the year while division rival Nebraska is 8-3 (5-2). Nebraska is unranked, but at least receivet a few votes in both of the polls. Iowa and Nebraska have a history that goes back to the 19th century, but in terms of games played within the last 65 years, Nebraska holds a 7-1 lead in the series, including wins in its first two seasons in the Big Ten.
Vegas: Nebraska is a 3-point favorite with an over-under of 48 points, according to OddsShark.com.
Weather: The temperature should hit its high of 46 during the game under clear skies. That's as good as you can ask for in the Midwest in November.
Three names to know
Ron Kellogg III: Nebraska's fifth-year senior an former walk-on finally got his day in the sun when he threw the miracle Hail Mary that beat Northwestern at a delirious Memorial Stadium last week. He's been slowly wresting playing time away from Tommy Armstrong Jr. over the past few weeks and looks to take most of the snaps on Friday. He's big, no doubt about it (listed at 6'1 and an, um, implausibly low 220 pounds) and has decent wheels, but his main value is as a passer.
Jake Rudock: Iowa's situation at quarterback is markedly different, however, as sophomore Rudock has taken control of the offense in his first year of playing time. Iowa's passing offense is hardly great (it's 86th in the nation in passing yardage), but all we're going to point out is that Rudock is 65th nationally in passing efficiency, one spot ahead of another first-year QB with a little more hype: Christian Hackenberg of Penn State. Take that information how you will.
Randy Gregory: If Nebraska's going to keep Iowa off balance, controlling the line of scrimmage and attacking the quarterback is priority one, and sophomore DE Randy Gregory is as big a part of that plan as anybody in the Husker front seven. Gregory has been a terror off the edge, logging 8.5 sacks and 14.5 TFLs thus far, and he's on pace to take up residency in the All-Big Ten team for years to come.
Two things at stake
The winner of this game is pretty clearly the fourth-best team in the Big Ten. The top three (Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin) are miles ahead of the mish-mash that includes these two teams, Minnesota, Michigan and maybe Penn State, but a win here puts either team in second place in that meat grinder that is the Legends Division. With two Big Ten teams likely to make BCS bowls, the winner of Iowa-Nebraska should expect an Outback Bowl invite.
Moreover, it's an opportunity to put a flag in the dirt in this rivalry. Nebraska took control of the first two iterations with Iowa looking mediocre-to-awful. Iowa has a decent team now, and obviously Nebraska does too, so this is the first time the game feels like it merits attention from outside the Missouri River Basin. If Iowa wins it'll actually feel like a two-sided rivalry. A Nebraska win means domination.
How to witness
TV: ABC is covering this game nationally at noon ET (11 a.m. local time for both schools) on Friday, so there's your reason not to go Black Friday shopping.
Online streaming: As with all ESPN games, this will be on ESPN3.com, subject to whatever restrictions ESPN uses.