Scott Frost and the Nebraska Cornhuskers still have a chance to play in a bowl game, but to do so, they’ll have to knock off the no. 17 Iowa Hawkeyes in a rivalry game. Game time is at 2:30 EST on Friday, November 29 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. Fans can catch all of the action on the Big Ten Network.
Current odds list the Hawkeyes as 6-point favorites on the road. There is also an over/under set at 44 points. Click here to check out a full list of the Week 14 college football odds.
In a way, the pressure is off Frost, who already received a contract extension despite having a losing record in his first two seasons at his alma mater. Of course, he’d love nothing more than to take the Cornhuskers to their first bowl game since 2016. Nebraska kept their bowl hopes alive last week with a convincing 54-7 win over Maryland to snap a four-game losing streak. Of course, the win was only enough to get the Cornhuskers to 3-5 in Big Ten play and 5-6 overall. They still need one more win to avoid back-to-back 5-7 seasons.
As for Iowa, the pressure is definitely off heading into the regular-season finale. The Hawkeyes have already done enough to reach a bowl game for the seventh consecutive season and the 17th time this century. Of course, Iowa still has a chance to win 10 games if they beat Nebraska and then win their bowl game. Iowa enters the final week of the regular season with four wins in their last five games, including a win over previously unbeaten Minnesota, so the Hawkeyes are playing some of their best football late in the year.
In addition to making a push for 10 wins, the Hawkeyes will also be motivated by a rivalry game and the chance to win the Heroes Trophy for the fifth straight year. These two border rivals barely played between 1946 and the time Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011. But the rivalry has been given new life with the Cornhuskers and Hawkeyes meeting every year. Iowa has won five of the eight meetings as Big Ten foes, including the last four. In fact, the Hawkeyes have won in each of their last three visits to Lincoln.
It’s tempting to take Nebraska against the spread knowing how much they need to win this game. Having the home crowd behind them doesn’t hurt either. However, I’m not going to overreact too much to their blowout of a bad Maryland team last week. The Cornhuskers have a dreadful track record this year against the top teams in the Big Ten. With the spread less than a touchdown, I feel good out laying down the points and taking Iowa to cover.
As usual, the X-factor in this game is Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez. He missed most of October due to injury but has returned in November. Unfortunately, the results just haven’t been there until last week when he faced a weak Maryland defense. Martinez is undoubtedly a threat with his legs, but the consistency as a passer hasn’t been there. He’s completed less than 60% of his passes this year with eight interceptions. That matches the number of picks Martinez threw last year with over 100 fewer pass attempts this year. I have no doubt that he’ll create a few big plays, but I worry about consistency against a high-level defense.
Meanwhile, I have no doubt that Iowa possesses a high-level defense. The Hawkeyes are giving up an average of 12 points per game this season, and that’s against a schedule that includes five teams that are currently ranked. Iowa has elite talent on the defensive line that should be able to keep Martinez contained on the ground. The Hawkeyes have managed to shut down the run against most teams, forcing them to become one-dimensional. Nebraska is likely to struggle if Martinez has to win the game with his arm.
The caveat, of course, is that the Iowa offense is far from explosive. The Hawkeyes have only managed to crack 30 points on three times this season, and all three of those games were early in the season against subpar opponents. The Iowa running game has never taken off this year while quarterback Nathan Stanley still hasn’t done enough to shake the game manager label and is rarely able to push the ball down the field.
That being said, the Nebraska defense leaves a lot to be desired. Prior to last week’s game against Maryland, the Cornhuskers had given up at least 31 points in four straight games. Among Big Ten teams, only Maryland and Northwestern have failed to crack the 30-point barrier against Nebraska this season. That makes me think the Hawkeyes could at least come close to reaching 30 points against the Cornhuskers.
In the end, as long as the line of this game is under a touchdown, I feel good about leaning toward Iowa. Defensively, the Hawkeyes are good enough to keep this game from becoming a shootout. Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers aren’t good enough to win a defensive slugfest. This figures to be a competitive game, but I think the Hawkeyes will get the separation they need in the fourth quarter to win and cover.