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Iowa vs. Nebraska, 11.27.15

The Hawkeyes celebrate with the Heroes Trophy after defeating Nebraska 28-20 at Memorial Stadium on Friday, Nov. 27, 2015.

Please allow me to indulge in something other than turkey bathed in cranberries, with mashed potatoes flowing like ocean waves over the side of my plate, and so much whipped cream on my pumpkin pie that I can't even see the burnt-orange part.

No more food, thank you.

Let's indulge in a sports fantasy.

The fantasy is Nebraska-Iowa someday becoming a genuine college football rivalry, as opposed to merely an annual Big Ten divisional contest that's perhaps trending toward heated-rivalry status.

Yes, there's potential here. Call it a simmering rivalry. Give it time.

Also, a few defining moments would help matters. 

In that regard, let's continue with our fantasy:

It's another gray day in Iowa City. Nebraska's hopes are alive for winning the Big Ten West Division. The Huskers appear to be marching toward a game-winning touchdown. But suddenly, Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, big No. 67, storms the backfield and throws running back Terrell Newby to the cold ground. Throws him down hard, and steps on his leg. Accidentally?

No yellow flags appear — that is, until the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Newby shoves Johnson. Newby's uncharacteristic outburst draws a flag. Players on Nebraska's sideline surge toward the middle of the field at sold-out Kinnick Stadium. Iowa players respond in kind. Wait, is that Mike Riley pointing angrily toward Kirk Ferentz? Are the head coaches jawing at one another? Why, yes they are. Hardly anybody has ever seen Riley this demonstrative.

Oh, this is rich. This is rivalry material.

Nebraska's drive stalls, and Iowa prevails. Afterward, an Iowa veteran player — fill in the blank, this is your fantasy, too — tells media, "I know we didn't have a shot of winning the division. But at least we shut down Nebraska's hopes. They didn't deserve to go to Indy, anyway."

OK, snap out of it. Fantasy over. Nebraska and Iowa will play for real Friday at Kinnick Stadium. The Huskers will shoot for their 10th win, and winning the division in fact remains a possibility, although they would need a victory coupled with Minnesota upsetting Wisconsin on Saturday.

The Hawkeyes (7-4, 5-3 Big Ten) are playing for pride and probably a trip to the Holiday Bowl. Although it's Senior Day, the stadium probably won't be full. It wasn't full for this game in 2012 or 2014. In 2014, it wasn't even close to full. If the stadium does fill up Friday, it'll be because fervent Husker fans buy up tickets. Ask yourself: Does that feel like a heated rivalry?

Heated is Minnesota players surrounding a goal post three years ago so Wisconsin players couldn't pretend to chop it down with Paul Bunyan's Axe, the trophy that goes to the game's winner. A minor fracas ensued, with security involved.

Imagine that scene, Nebraska fans. If you feel a tad envious, it's completely understandable. When NU made the prudent decision to enter the Big Ten six years ago, it joined a conference rich in traditional rivalries. For the Huskers, however, it's a rivalry wasteland. That was one of the few drawbacks.

Some folks will try to convince you that Nebraska-Iowa is a heated rivalry. But when you ask them to explain why, they typically begin to mumble about playing on Black Friday, the border-war element, and the West Division. The older crowd sometimes mentions the Hawkeyes' 10-7 victory in 1981. Whatever. It's mostly mumble-jumble.

Again, give it time, amigos. Minnesota-Wisconsin dates to 1890, the most-played rivalry in the FBS.

In time, perhaps there will be Nebraska-Iowa games with mega-stakes for both teams on a routine basis, a la Michigan-Ohio State. "The Game" has decided the Big Ten champion or division winner 22 times and had a bearing on the national championship 13 times since 1942.

Yes, Nebraska fans miss those colossal showdowns with Oklahoma, a friendly rival.

I bet Husker faithful even miss Colorado, a not-so-friendly rival.

Rivalries feed on memorable occurrences, moments, big games. Rivalries need characters. Former Colorado coach Bill McCartney circled Nebraska in red on CU's schedule. That was an occurrence. McCartney was a character.

There are so many defining moments and characters in the Notre Dame-USC rivalry that former Irish coach Lou Holtz used to hand out quizzes to players to drive home the game's significance.

I'm guessing neither Riley nor Ferentz handed out quizzes this week  there's not nearly enough history in this "rivalry" to fill up a quiz.

Perhaps there will be a spark in this year's game. Maybe the action will overheat and create a quiz question, something like, "What happened in the fourth quarter in 2016 that caused Mike Riley to lose his cool?"

Nothing wrong with a little fantasizing while in a delightful food coma.

Any pumpkin pie left?

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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