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April 13, 2011

Nebraska finally has a true rivalry game

Ever since Oklahoma was taken off Nebraska's annual schedule with the Huskers move to the Big 12 in 1996, NU has lacked that "true rivalry game."

Sure at times both Kansas State and Colorado filled that void, but as of late both the Buffs and Wildcats have gone through transitions and they aren't the same programs they were in the 90's and early 2000's.

Now with Nebraska's move to the Big Ten, NU finally has that true rivalry game in Iowa. This was a match-up Husker and Hawkeye fans have always wanted, but since Iowa already played one Big 12 team in Iowa State it rarely happened.

What you have to like about Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney is he gets what this game means to the two states. Delaney put the Nebraska-Iowa game on the final weekend of the regular season and he later announced it would take the place of the Colorado-Nebraska game and be played on Thanksgiving Friday.

On Tuesday, both Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini and Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz talked about what this game will mean to the two states.

"On a bigger picture front, I think everyone is enthused by what Nebraska is going to bring to the Big Ten," Ferentz said. "It is a high caliber institution with a tremendous football program. That part is exciting.

"More locally, our most requested opponent has been Nebraska, at least the last 12 years as I have traveled across the state. When you go to events, people are always asking if you are going to be picking them up in a non-conference game. Outside of playing Iowa State, which is a traditional in-state rival, that has been the most asked question. I think locally there will be a lot of enthusiasm in Iowa. Towards western Iowa they are obviously closer to Nebraska's campus than ours."

Pelini is also excited about the future match-up with the Hawks and has a tremendous amount of respect for the job Ferentz and his coaching staff has done in Iowa City over the last 12 seasons.

"I think to a certain extent because of our sheer geography the Colorado rivalry was one people talked about as far as the traditional game everybody talked about," Pelini said. "We played them every year and we played them around Thanksgiving. Now that will be Iowa and I think that is a natural rivalry for us and one that is not only a rivalry, but they're a good football team and a very well coached football team and a good program that's won a lot of games. It should be a lot of fun for our kids."

Senior Iowa linebacker Tyler Nielsen grew up in Humbolt, Iowa and he knows firsthand what this game will mean to the people in both states.

Nielsen said that when you travel the western part of Iowa, Husker fans definitely make their presence felt.

"It is a big deal on the Western side of the state," Nielsen said. "I think any time you get past the central side of the state to the west, you are going to start to see some Nebraska flags flying. The rivalry really picks up over there.

"There are almost as many Nebraska fans on the western side of the state as there is Iowa State fans. It's going to be one of those games that are going to be a tough fought game each year and it's a game we look forward to it."

And if there weren't enough storylines in the Nebraska-Iowa match-up already, maybe one of the better ones involves NU linebacker Sean Fisher.

Fisher's younger brother Cole Fisher signed with the Hawkeyes this past February, while both he and his father Todd Fisher are Huskers.

"My parents make jokes about it pretty frequently," Fisher said. "I'm obviously really happy for (Cole). He's really excited about it and he's going to be there this summer. He's just looking forward to starting his career and figuring out what it's all about.

"Unfortunately we both play defense, so I don't think I'll get the opportunity to tackle little brother, which would be fun. It will be fun and it's all in good fun within the family. There are no bad remarks or anything like that. We just have fun with each other."

So who will Fisher's mother Kathy cheer for at the game? Sean Fisher joked that she may have a half Iowa, half Nebraska jersey made by that point.

"I don't' think she does yet and I'm honestly hoping she doesn't," Fisher joked about the Iowa-Nebraska jersey. "It wouldn't surprise me one bit if she ends up with one of those."


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