There is a ton of history in the Big Ten Conference. Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Rutgers, Iowa, Nebraska, Penn State, and so on have centuries of college football experience to their name. Some of those names are among the founding fathers of the sport itself.
So, it only stands to reason that Iowa and Nebraska, two of the most storied programs in the history of the conference, have a rivalry worth noting.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the history of the two programs, their history of meetings, and what the future holds.
How it Began
The Iowa-Nebraska rivalry is one of the oldest in the history of college football. The two Big Ten stalwarts first squared off against one another all the way back on November 26, 1891. It would be the first of 53 meetings (and counting) between the two.
Despite 131 years of history between the two programs, they have not been a year-in, year-out competitor. There have been several gaps in the series throughout the year to illustrate that.
The first gap, a four-year gap from 1899-1903, wasn’t much and there would be another four-year gap to follow beginning in 1909. After the 1919 matchup, an 18-0 shutout by the Hawkeyes, they would not play again until 1930.
Other major gaps would follow, the longest being a hiatus in the series starting after the Iowa win on October 10, 1946, and ending when the Huskers, then 7th in the nation, won a close one in Iowa City on September 22, 1979.
There would be a 17-year gap from 1982-999 and the final gap from 2000-2011. The two have played every year since 2011 with no end to the streak in sight as the two are now division mates within the Big Ten.
Where it Stands Now
Things have been lopsided in the rivalry of late. Since 2013, the teams have met 10 times. The Hawkeyes have walked away as victors in 8 of those matchups, with Nebraska winning in overtime back in 2014 before finally getting off the schnide in their 2022 matchup.
The direction of each program is an interesting one to note. For Iowa, it has always been about consistency. Under the direction of head coach Kirk Ferentz, who called Iowa home for the 23rd season in 2022, the Hawkeyes have been the model of consistency.
In that time, the Hawkeyes have had their ups and downs but have largely been competitive in the Big Ten. They have even had a pair of co-Big Ten Championships during Ferentz’s tenure.
On the other side of the coin is Nebraska. The once powerful program has been on a steady decline since the 1990s when they were once a perennial national championship contender. With a carousel of coaches and trouble recruiting, times have been hard for Husker nation.
Though they have flirted with relevancy again – from 2009-2012, they had 10 wins 3 times – the program moved on from coach Bo Pelini. They are now onto their third coach – Matt Rhule – and hope to have a winning season for the first time since 2016.
The Biggest Matchups in the Series
September 12, 1981
Nebraska was one of the powerhouse programs of the 1980s. Though they had not won a national championship at that point under coach Tom Osbourne, they were one of the most feared teams in the nation.
Heading into Kinnick Stadium for the 1981 matchup, it was supposed to be business as usual for the high-powered Husker rushing attack. Instead, what ensued was one of the biggest upsets of the 1981 season.
Considering the previous year Iowa lost a whopping 57-0, there weren’t many who thought the Hawkeyes would be much of a threat. But the black and gold defense came to play on the day, holding Nebraska to just 231 yards and forcing a whopping 5 turnovers.
Iowa grabbed all the points they would need by early in the second quarter, going up 10-0. Despite a late push from Nebraska, Iowa would hold on and claim a stunner of a victory, arguably the biggest in the history of the Nebraska-Iowa rivalry.
November 28, 2014
The “Heroes Game” has had its share of heroes throughout the series and the 2014 rendition may have found its hero in Tommy Armstrong Jr.
For three quarters, it looked as though Iowa would walk through the game and come out with a victory. Iowa led 24-7 in the third, controlling possession in a quiet but efficient game.
Armstrong would put the Huskers on his back starting with a late third-quarter touchdown pass, his second of four on the day.
Things got crazy to begin the fourth quarter. Armstrong would throw his third touchdown pass almost immediately before De’Mornay Pierson-El electrified the crowd with an 80-yard punt return touchdown to give Nebraska the lead.
It looked as though Iowa would steal the win after a Jake Ruddock touchdown pass with just 1:49 to go but it didn’t stop there. Drew Brown made a chip shot field goal to tie things with 0:08 left before Armstrong would connect on his final touchdown pass in overtime to seal the exciting win.
November 27, 2020
For a bit, it looked as though Nebraska would finally end its losing streak against the Hawkeyes. The streak was up to five games entering the 2020 matchup and remained tight throughout, heading into the half with both sides putting up 13 points apiece.
Iowa would need a late push from its defense and the leg of kicker Keith Duncan to get the job done.
After tying the game at 20-20 near the end of the third quarter, the Hawkeye defense shut down Nebraska and allowed Duncan to kick a pair of field goals, including one from 48 yards, to give Iowa the 26-20 victory.
The win would be Iowa’s sixth-consecutive win in the series and a particular point of frustration for Nebraska. After higher hopes to begin the season, the 1-4 Cornhuskers were left with more questions than answers.
Insider the Numbers of the Series
You can’t have a rivalry that stretches over a century without a few noteworthy moments. Blowout wins, come-from-behind victories, and more close games than you can shake a stick at, the Iowa-Nebraska rivalry has had it all.
Longest Iowa Win Streak
Until Nebraska walked away with a 24-17 win in 2022, it looked like Iowa would overtake the longest streak in the rivalry. From 2015-2021, Iowa won each of the matchups, some of them quite convincingly.
Longest Nebraska Win Streak
From 1931 to 1941, Nebraska dominated the series. Their 8 wins in a row would be the high point for either program over the course of the rivalry.
During that span, nearly all of the games were nailbiters (except for the 1937 matchup, which saw Nebraska trounce Iowa 28-0.) In that time, 6 of the games would be decided by a touchdown or less, including a trio of 14-13 Nebraska victories.
Biggest Iowa Win
The biggest win for the Hawkeyes came in one of the more recent matchups. On November 24, 2017, tilt, Iowa steamrolled the Cornhuskers with their ground game. Quarterback Nate Stanley had a solid day, going 13/20 for 192 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
But the rushing game was where the damage was done. Akrum Wadley led the way with 159 yards and 3 touchdowns, seeing Iowa total 313 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground, routing Nebraska to the tune of 56-14.
Biggest Nebraska Win
Though the Iowa win was a statement, it isn’t quite the biggest differential in the series. That came all the way back on September 20, 1980, when the 6th-ranked Cornhuskers hosted the Hawkeyes. It started ugly for Iowa and never stopped. The Huskers totaled 456 yards on the ground that day, taking Iowa to the woodshed 57-0 for the biggest win in the history of the rivalry.
What Does the Future Hold?
Though Nebraska finally broke Iowa’s streak in the rivalry, there are still questions that abound. On the Iowa side of things, they have perhaps never been more consistent.
The Hawkeyes have made a couple of Big Ten Championship Game appearances since the league created the title game in 2011. Solid, if not spectacular, Iowa shows no signs of being anything less than competitive.
It is on the Nebraska side of things where the questions remain. Yes, they are on a positive by winning the 2022 matchup. And, sure, the hiring of Rhule is largely seen to be a great move as he has a history of success anywhere he’s been on the collegiate scene. But can he bring the Huskers back to the national prominence they had in the 1980s and early 1990s?
The rivalry will bear watching going forward. If Rhule can get Nebraska back on track, it will not only be good for the rivalry but the Big Ten at large. If for nothing else, a few more great games will make the rivalry a bit more exciting.