Let's do something that's ... highly questionable.
Let's pick Nebraska to beat Iowa on Black Friday in Memorial Stadium.
By way of explanation, the best I can do is say it's a gut feeling. Because it otherwise doesn't make much sense.
Oh, Nebraska (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) is good enough to topple its border rival on a given day. It certainly has the quarterback to do it. A raucous stadium would help. Iowa (8-3, 5-3) is a very good team, not a great team. It's obviously strong and smart on defense -- fifth nationally in average points allowed per game (12.2) -- but it's pedestrian on offense.
So, the Huskers winning a close, low-scoring game is a possibility.
Somebody stop me. I'm leaning hard in that direction.
Maybe I ate too many cranberries.
If Scott Frost's crew is going to pull off this win, it'll have to overcome a factor that has played a primary role in Iowa's current four-game winning streak in the series. That is, Iowa is a better program in the broad sense of the term. It's a program with a clear-cut identity. Kirk Ferentz, 64, is in his 21st year as head coach. His program is on solid ground. He knows precisely how he wants to go about winning. His bosses understand and support his blueprint. Never overlook that part.
Steven M. Sipple and Parker Gabriel preview the Black Friday battle and answer questions.
More importantly, his players know the blueprint. Those players were recruited to fit that blueprint. It's a blueprint that gets tweaked now and then. It gets refined. But it doesn't get torn up and tossed away, as has been the case at Nebraska repeatedly since the early 2000s. I mean, my heavens, Husker senior defensive linemen Carlos and Khalil Davis have had four position coaches at NU. No college player signs up for that.
Even Iowa's strength and conditioning coach, Chris Doyle, has been in his role for 21 years.
So, Frost essentially is in the process of trying to pull Nebraska's program from the muck of years of gross mismanagement, particularly by upper-level university administrators -- most notably former UNL chancellor Harvey Perlman, who was a constant as the program careened into the abyss. Former athletic director Shawn Eichorst also should take a bow. But pointing fingers gets old. It's an unpleasant conversation, and I prefer my holidays to be on the happy side.
Suffice it to say Nebraska for much of the past 15-plus years stood as a shining example of how not to run a collegiate football program. To say it lost its way would be an insult to wayward souls everywhere.
To paraphrase the great Gordon Lightfoot, Nebraska can be satisfied in knowing it has nobody but itself to blame.
But, yes, Frost is fighting a good fight. It's a hell of a battle, one that continues at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Memorial Stadium. There's big-picture intrigue in that Frost is an offensive-minded head coach who will try to wrestle down an Iowa program that in recent years has taken on a defensive-oriented personality. Granted, Iowa's offense has some flair. The wideouts are excellent. Tackle Tristan Wirfs is a bear. But the Hawkeyes rank 102nd nationally in scoring offense, averaging only 23.5 points per game.
So they lean hard on defense. Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker, in his eighth year in that role, seemingly gets overlooked in Big Ten discussions. But his unit is hard-nosed and disciplined. It makes you earn everything. It has an identity. After all, Parker has been with Ferentz from the start in Iowa City, Iowa, first off as a defensive backs coach in 1999.
Former Nebraska defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski spent five seasons at Iowa (2007-11) before arriving in Lincoln. He's an avowed "Husker homer." But he acutely understands what makes Iowa's defense tick, and has great admiration for Parker.
"Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals," Kaczenski said. "Every practice in pads at Iowa starts with a tackling circuit. Every practice. Iowa in 20 years has never been a poor tackling team. Never."
You may tire of me constantly expressing admiration for programs such as Wisconsin and Iowa, forever citing their stability and easily discernible personalities. But understand, I grew up at a time when Nebraska had a similar situation -- under Bob Devaney, then Tom Osborne. It seemed to work OK for them.
Under Ferentz, Iowa basically has been an 8-4 program. Nebraska fans used to mock Ferentz. Not now.
"You know who's right in the middle of those tackling circuits? It's Kirk," Kaczenski said. "So their kids understand the importance of it."
As for the 56-year-old Parker, he's a Big Ten guy through and through. A native of Lorain, Ohio, he was a standout defensive back at Michigan State. He has a clear vision of what defense is supposed to look like in the league. His vision is working. The Hawkeyes have been a top-25 defense in five of the past six years. They're 13th in total defense at the moment.
So, Martinez will have to be on his screws in the passing game. He also may have to carry the ball 20 times. His line will have to play its best game of the season. Boy, it would help Nebraska if Wan'Dale Robinson can play. If Erik Chinander's defense can force a couple of turnovers, well, this could get interesting, and loud. The Huskers need a super-charged stadium.
I'm going with a gut feeling: Nebraska 24, Iowa 20.
Maybe it's the cranberries.