One for the thumb (er, the other thumb).
As Iowa eyes its sixth victory in a row against the artists formerly known as the Nebraska Cornhuskers, I continue to revel in the Huskers’ comeuppance. After ten years of C+ football, you might think the ‘Ers would acknowledge their Big Ten also-ran status. Instead, the Huskers have spent the better part of the pandemic being a B1G-sized pain in the ass. And when they aren’t lambasting B1G commish Kevin Warren over some perceived slight, their fan base continues to dismiss the Hawkeyes as a non-rival (which, I guess, makes sense considering our right-hand winning streak against Nebraska).
Part of why I like being a Hawkeye fan is that we, generally speaking, accept our fate in the football universe. Over the past 40 years, we have been a continually above-average program, one as predictable as a KF Tuesday presser. We churn out eight or nine wins per year, flirt with a top 25 ranking, and then normally exit stage right out of the West race come early November (in a year where everything else has been upended, the Hawkeyes’ West exit was right on cue). And, look, I would love the Hawkeyes to rule the West with an iron fist and gaggle of QB waggle plays. But if four decades of Hawkeye fandom has taught me anything, it is to celebrate those magical seasons where talent and serendipity collide (and, of course, to never, ever underestimate jNW).
For any self respecting Hawkeye fan, there is a level of humility—for every improbable blueblood takedown, our sphincter inexplicably tightens against jNW or Purdue. Contrast our painful self-awareness with Nebraska’s self-anointed “greatest college football fans” gloating about the 1990s ad nauseum. Husker fans remain stuck in a perpetual time capsule, popping their 1997 national championship t-shirts and shrieking “Git-R-Done” at Tom Rathman highlights. When you add in the constant B1G victimhood (don’t you know there's a deep state conspiracy against Big Red?), winning the Heroes Trophy Groundhog Day-style only does so much to temper my Husker loathing.
Nebraska fans would be well served to chase their Husker Punch with a little truth serum. After pledging to take the Big Ten by storm, the ‘Ers have been a B1G afterthought since joining the conference. And paraphrasing Rick Pitino, “Tom Osborne, Tommie Frazier, and Scotty Frost (more on him in a bit) aren’t walking through that door.” Surveying the college football landscape, Nebraska’s once unassailable advantages (an incredible walk-on program, a weight room the size of some small countries, a yearly churn of highly touted running backs hightailing it to Lincoln, a three hour infomercial every Saturday) have been replicated—and then some—by most college football programs worth a damn today. Does Husker Chad, when he isn’t trolling those non-rival Hawkeyes on a Husker Illustrated message board, recognize this reality?
Of course, Scotty Frost, the prodigal son, was going to resurrect Nebraska football to its former glory quicker than you can say “Frank Solich, Bill Callahan, Bo Pelini, and Mike Riley.” The Huskers were going to barnstorm through the West and assume their rightful place next to the Big Ten elite (all while smirking at those Hawkeye fans content with nine-win seasons). But as Frost and company sputter to another forgettable campaign, the Huskers are probably the BIG’s tenth best program (for the record, I would take UW, jNW, Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue, OSU, PSU, UM, and IU over Nebraska right now).
While reveling in Nebraska’s schadenfreude warms my black (and gold) heart, I wonder whether NU administrators have the self-awareness to address the Huskers’ steady descent into irrelevance. For Moos and other NU powerbrokers, Nebraska isn’t one coach (or shiny new facility) away from recreating Osborne’s magic. Factoring in a decade plus of coaching churn (not to mention a changing recruiting footprint and a roster ill-prepared for Big Ten West physicality), this is a full-scale reclamation project requiring a level of consistency, stability, and patience resembling, you guessed it, the Iowa Hawkeyes. But as Husker fans and administrators clamor for the 1990s, I too will toast that decade for the unrealistic expectations that have doomed the Huskers ever since.