We did an informal poll of players at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago: what’s the toughest Big Ten stadium you’ve played in?
The response was a lot like cleveland.com's preseason media poll of the conference — Nebraska had the slight edge over Iowa. Memorial Stadium got one more vote than Kinnick Stadium. There were a couple Ohio States and a Michigan, but those who have traveled to the heartlands say it’s just different.
Memorial Stadium boasts the incredible fanbase. One Minnesota player told me the atmosphere surrounding their game against the Huskers on Oct. 20 was unlike anything he’d ever seen for a team with anywhere close to the record the Huskers had at the time. NU was winless in its first six games, yet the stadium was full and the crowd was rocking.
Kinnick Stadium was mentioned for other reasons. The Hawkeyes’ home puts fans right on the opposing team’s back. The lack of space on the sideline is something everyone talks about. The fans talk junk and the players absolutely hear it. One player said Iowa fans were trash-talking one of their assistant coach’s short-lived NFL career. They find the smallest things you wouldn’t think would matter, I was told.
Nebraska has experience with that. The Black Friday game last year erupted after the fact when Iowa fans claimed the Huskers didn’t take part in the Kinnick Wave (they did) and disrespected the tradition (they didn’t).
Just keep pouring lighter fluid on the fire that is this budding rivalry. It’s contentious. The two fanbases don’t like each other. Oklahomans talk about Nebraska’s football program with reverence. Neither side liked each other, but both sides respected each other. The two teams played high-stakes games all the time and it was back-and-forth. The closest counterpart to that dynamic is Wisconsin, not Iowa.
This is a different kind of rivalry.
“I would say that before people didn’t see it as a rivalry, from our past success compared to their past success and then just the current results,” linebacker Mohamed Barry said. “Last year showed potentially what this rivalry could become each year.”
Iowa has won four straight, but the latest was in dramatic fashion thanks to a field goal at the buzzer. Barry liked the competitiveness of last year’s game. “In terms of last year, I felt hyped playing them and in the game we played with raw emotion, both sides,” Barry said. “We’re ready to play them this year. When that game comes, I know both sides are going to bring it.” And that’s exactly what you want from a college football game.
It’s a trophy game. It’s on Black Friday. The Big Ten Network is broadcasting the game for the first time this season and BTN President Francois McGillicuddy (greatest name of all-time) said the network is going to roll out “extensive” coverage for the game. It’s a big deal.
To some, at least. Frost downplayed the emotional aspect of it, as he tends to do with talk about rivalry games. But, even he thinks the game could be potentially significant year after year from a football standpoint.
“Rivalries are mostly for fans,” he said. “In our building we have a ton of respect for Coach (Kirk) Ferentz and what he’s built at Iowa. I lived in Iowa for two years, really have some good friends from there and like the people. But it’s going to be one of the key games on our schedule every year. I know there’s going to be a lot of bad blood with the respective fanbases on both sides but at the end of the day I hope it continues to be two good teams that do things the right way and have some good competition.”
Husker Athletic Director Bill Moos likes that the conference is giving the game the attention it deserves, and said the powers that be have worked with him to keep it in the Black Friday slot, something he appreciates. There will be a blip where Nebraska doesn’t play Iowa the day after Thanksgiving, but in a few years things will get back to normal.
Perhaps that gives Nebraska enough time to get up and running the way everyone inside the program wants it to.
“Hopefully that game becomes the game that determines who’s in Indianapolis for the West division,” Barry said.
Imagine the last game of the season, say, three out of every four years, determining the division representative in the championship game. There are already bragging rights when one team is playing its bowl game in Yankee Stadium and the other is at home watching. Imagine how hot the blood would run if the season’s goals were on the line.
“I’m not going to say I hate them or anything,” Barry said, “but that’s a team I really desperately want to beat and can’t wait to give it to them.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.