Photo Credit: Eric Francis

3-8 Huskers Open as a 4-Point Favorite over 9-2 Iowa in Finale

November 21, 2021

The start of the final week of Nebraska’s highly improbable, extremely frustrating 2021 football season probably had to go this way. On the opening line Sunday the 3-8 Huskers were listed as a 4-point favorite for Friday’s game in Lincoln against 9-2 Iowa.

There’s a lot in that evaluation of both teams. A tale of two seasons, if you will.

The Hawkeyes climbed as high as No. 2 in the Associated Press poll in October after a 6-0 start that included top-10 wins over Iowa State and Penn State. Iowa has outscored its 11 opponents this season by a total of 94 points, a point differential that models to 7.97 wins over 11 games.

Iowa beat Illinois 33-23 on Saturday to move to 6-2 in Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes are tied for first in the West Division with Wisconsin.

On Saturday Nebraska lost to the Badgers 35-28, its seventh loss this season by eight or fewer points. Its other loss, to Ohio State, was by nine.

“There’s been a little too much hoping we win, I think, and not enough knowing we’re going to win and believing we’re going to win,” Scott Frost said after the latest loss. He is now 5-19 in one-score games through 43 total games at Nebraska.

On the season the Huskers have a 70-point scoring differential through 11 games, which models to 7.09 wins. Throw in a couple of points for home-field advantage and that’s how Nebraska and Iowa are viewed as nearly the same by oddsmakers.

ESPN’s Football Power Index ranks Iowa 26th this week with a rating of 9.1 points better than the average college football team. Nebraska is 28th with a rating of 8.9. Figuring 2.5 points for home-field advantage, and FPI would favor the Huskers by 2.3 points. FPI currently gives Nebraska a 57.7% chance to win outright.

On the field, however, this series has tilted firmly in favor of the Hawkeyes. Nebraska hasn’t won since 2014, the year former Husker AD Shawn Eichorst said he “had to evaluate where Iowa was at” as way to explain the firing of Bo Pelini after a 9-3 season.

Iowa has won the last six in the series, including four one-score wins. The Hawkeyes enter Friday’s game allowing 4.47 yards per play, fifth nationally and second in the Big Ten to Wisconsin. Iowa leads the country with 21 interceptions and ranks fourth with 26 total takeaways. The Hawkeyes’ offense ranks 124th at 4.50 yards per play.

Nebraska offers a bit more balance between both sides of the ball, ranking 19th on offense (6.56 ypp) and 43rd on defense (5.27).

An Iowa win on Friday and a Wisconsin loss at Minnesota on Saturday would give the Hawkeyes the division title. The Badgers have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Iowa and can claim the West crown with a win.

The Heroes Game is one of 16 games on Black Friday. The Huskers and Hawkeyes kick off at 12:30 pm Central on the Big Ten Network.

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