Brandon Scherff is admittedly more comfortable in camouflage than a suit, but the Iowa offensive tackle will find himself on center stage Thursday night when the winner of the Outland Trophy is announced in Florida. Scherff and Hawkeye offensive line coach Brian Ferentz will be in attendance when the recipient of the award presented to college football's top interior lineman is announced during the Home Depot College Football Awards Show in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The Big Ten's offensive lineman of the year, a 6-foot-5, 320-pound left tackle who once played quarterback in high school at Denison, Iowa, joins Malcolm Brown of Texas and Reese Dismukes of Auburn as finalists for the award. Scherff - per usual - is taking it all in stride. "It's nice, but all those accolades, they wouldn't happen if it wasn't for the team,'' Scherff said Sunday. Three Hawkeyes have won the Outland Trophy, Cal Jones in 1955, Alex Karras in 1957 and Robert Gallery in 2003. Gallery was among the first to call Scherff when he was named a finalist for the award. "He said 'Congratulations,' and told me to keep working,'' Scherff said. That's never been an issue for a player who opted to return to Iowa for his senior season in order to raise the level of the consistency in his game. He feels he has accomplished what he set out to do, improving NFL draft stock to the point where he is regarded as a likely first-round selection. Coach Kirk Ferentz compares him favorably to other Hawkeyes who have developed into consistent and dominant linemen in the NFL. "He's a special player,'' Ferentz said. Special, in part, because his game extends beyond the technical aspects of the position and stretches to an understanding of the cohesion that is truly required to make it all work. "To become one of the best offensive linemen in the nation was one of my goals when I came back,'' Scherff said. "It comes through a lot of hard work and if it wasn't for my teammates pushing me, I wouldn't be up there. They have as much to do with it as I do.''
If Rick Catlett would have agreed to Gary Barta's suggestion a little over three months ago, Sunday's announcement that Iowa was headed to the TaxSlayer Bowl could have been old news. "We've had our eyes on Iowa since around the first of September,'' said Catlett, the president and CEO of the Jan. 2 bowl in Jacksonville which will pair the Hawkeyes and Tennessee. He recalled a conversation with the Iowa director of athletics, telling Barta that his bowl was interested in the Hawkeyes if it selected a Big Ten team this year. Barta remembers the conversation, too. "I jokingly said then, where can I sign up?'' Barta recalled Sunday night after the bowl turned that September conversation into reality. This has been a year of change for both bowl operators and the administrators of collegiate athletic programs. The slotting of teams based solely on conference standings has been replaced by a flexibility designed to create intriguing match-ups and in the future avoid repeat appearances in bowls by the same teams over a short period of time. Catlett was as curious as anyone to see how it would all play out Sunday. He said conference commissioners and staff members in both the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference did a good job of communicating and working with bowls to put the pieces of the puzzle together in an efficient manner. "It made it work a little easier,'' Catlett said. From his perspective, Barta found the experience to be a bit of a throwback. "Going to a bowl used to be about constant conversations all year and then finding the best match up,'' Barta said. "That's sort of what it reverted to this year.'' Barta said he spent time during the past three weeks talking with any bowl he felt Iowa had a chance to be invited to this year. Over the past week, he pared down the list based on the conversations he was having and concentrated on the bowls where he felt were the most likely landing spots for the Hawkeyes. That proved to be the beaches of Jacksonville, where Iowa will play for the first time since 1983 in what was then known as the Gator Bowl. Barta said Catlett proved to be true to his word as well. "About two weeks ago and from that day forward, Rick Catlett was consistent in saying he wanted the University of Iowa. He loves our tradition, our fan base and the track record of Kirk (Ferentz) at bowls,'' Barta said. "From day one he said he wanted Iowa. And fortunately, we got that invitation.'' Barta said he continued to talk with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and senior associate commissioner Mark Rudner in the days leading up to Sunday and by early in the morning he believed he had it narrowed down to two possibilities. "I felt confident if other bowls selected the way they said they were going to select, that we would end up going to the TaxSlayer Bowl,'' Barta said. "It was sort of like days past where there would be all these conversations, the bowls would select and you would accept.''
They aren't the sexiest car in the lot, but Florida State just finds a way to get to where it wants to go. The Seminoles finished off an unbeaten pre-bowl season in typical fashion on Saturday. They wheezed at times. They sputtered at others. Then, they won. Just as they have the last 29 times they stepped onto the field, the Seminoles earned every bit of a two-point win over Georgia Tech in the ACC title game. It was every bit the head scratcher as many of the games that came before it during a 13-0 season, but they haven't been knocked off the pedestal yet. That day may come. That's one of the great byproducts of the new College Football Playoff, given its inherent flaw of having room for only four of the five major-conference champs in its set-up. But for now, the Seminoles will remain in the same place on my weekly ballot for the Associated Press college football poll that they were when the season started. They're at No. 1 and this week, the team right behind them is the same No. 2 team I listed on my preseason ballot, Alabama. I continue to list Oregon - which was fourth on my preseason ballot - in the third spot with the fourth through eighth spots unchanged from a week ago with Baylor, Ohio State, TCU, Michigan State and Mississippi. With most of the conference title games and final regular-season games holding true to form, five teams I had in the eighth through 14th positions a week ago lost. I'm listing Mississippi State at nine followed by Georgia Tech at 10 this week, with Wisconsin dropping from 10th to 18th following the pounding it took in the Big Ten title game against Ohio State. The only newcomer on my ballot this week is Marshall, which moved back in at 25th after winning the Conference USA title game. I gave Northern Illinois consideration for the final spot as well, and the Huskies impressed in a lopsided win over an average Bowling Green team in the MAC final. They'll be on the radar for my final ballot, as will a handful of other teams on the outside looking in, listed in no particular order, Oklahoma, Duke, USC, UCF, LSU, Colorado State, Utah and Memphis. Enjoy the bowl season. Here is a look at my AP top 25 ballot for this week: 1. Florida State 2. Alabama 3. Oregon 4. Baylor 5. Ohio State 6. TCU 7. Michigan State 8. Mississippi 9. Mississippi State 10. Georgia Tech 11. Georgia 12. UCLA 13. Kansas State 14. Arizona 15. Arizona State 16. Louisville 17. Auburn 18. Wisconsin 19. Missouri 20. Clemson 21. Boise State 22. Nebraska 23. Air Force 24. Minnesota 25. Marshall
As decision day approaches for bowl organizers, Iowa director of athletics Gary Barta believes the field of postseason possibilities for the Hawkeyes has realistically been narrowed to three games. He told reporters prior to today's Iowa basketball game that he believes when invitations are issued Sunday that the Hawkeyes will be headed to the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville on Dec. 30, the Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, Calif., on Dec. 30 or the Taxslayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., on Jan. 2. He indicated the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 27 remains a possibility, but only if the Big Ten places three teams in the "New Year's Six,'' the collection of six bowls which will have match-ups determined by the College Football Playoffs committee. That would like require a Wisconsin win over Ohio State tonight in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. Barta said there are things to like about each of the bowls that still includes Iowa as a possibility. The Music City and Taxslayer games include Southeastern Conference teams as an opponent and an assignment to the Foster Farms game would be a match-up against a Pac-12 team. He labeled the options "attractive.'' Iowa has not played in California since playing BYU to a 13-13 tie in the Holiday Bowl in 1991 and the Hawkeyes last played in Jacksonville on a frigid December night in 1983, losing a 14-6 Gator Bowl game against Florida. Iowa has never played a football game in the state of Tennessee. Iowa is already preparing for its bowl game. The Hawkeyes practiced on Friday in Iowa City, resuming workouts prior to what it is expected to be Iowa's 12th bowl berth in 14 years. The additional practices are among the benefits of being a bowl team. "The practices are as important as anything. The rich get richer,'' Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said before his team lost out on a berth for the second straight year with a loss to Illinois in its regular-season finale.
Boxes are being packed at the Hayden Fry Football Complex in Iowa City this week, but the only place Iowa players and coaches are heading is across the parking lot. The Hawkeyes are finally moving into new locker room facilities in Iowa's new football complex and coaches will follow as their recruiting schedules permit in upcoming days and weeks. Once expected before the start of fall camp and then planned for in-season bye weeks, the move has been delayed as crews worked to complete the facility. Coach Kirk Ferentz opted to postpone the planned move in October rather than have construction crews completing the project as the team was using the facility to prepare for games. The move comes as Big Ten teams from Nebraska to New Jersey reflect on the regular season. Nebraska's Bo Pelini and Michigan's Brady Hoke have been shown the door, while Illinois' Tim Beckman and Indiana's Kevin Wilson have been told they will return for more. The decisions are reflective of both the expectations of those programs in the reality of where they are at today. Pelini's seven straight nine-win seasons weren't enough for him remain employed at Nebraska, where a lack of success in "games that mattered'' has AD Shawn Eichorst searching for a new coach. Michigan's season-long struggles led to Hoke's ouster today, leaving two of the most tradition-rich programs in the Big Ten among those shopping for a new head coach. You can argue that the expectations at both institutions are out of whack - and to a degree they are unrealistic in a change-filled era in college football - but change in Lincoln and Ann Arbor if nothing else is designed to give fans hope. They are designed to restore programs to levels of success from a bygone era amidst the changing landscape of college football. As Nebraska fans discovered when Frank Solich was fired following a nine-win season and as Michigan faithful discovered first with Rich Rodriguez and now with Hoke, there are no guarantees when a change is made. It is a high-stakes gamble that administrators at both places are willing take. That isn't the case at Illinois or Indiana, where tradition lives on the hardwood much more so than on the football field. The Illini are bowl-eligible for the first time in four seasons and with an improved win total in each of his first three seasons, Beckman was given the chance to build on that in 2015. Wilson dealt with quarterback health issues that ruined an Indiana season which included a road win over SEC division champ Missouri and he too will be given another opportunity to build on the foundation he has built. It's as much of a gamble for administrators as the ones being taken at Nebraska and Michigan, a show of faith and an understanding of the realities of the where the program is at. Expectations accompany decisions on both levels, just as expectations live in Iowa City. There, Hawkeye players, coaches and fans continue to look in a mirror at what did and what did not take place during a 7-5 regular season. They are digesting the aftermath of difficult losses in the final two weeks of the regular season. From a rally that came up short against Wisconsin to blowing a lead and losing in overtime against Nebraska, the sum of the Hawkeyes work frustrates those inside and outside of the program. Rather than living off of the heat of the moment, Ferentz prefers to step back from the week-to-week highs and lows of what has been a very inconsistent season for the Hawkeyes. It hasn't been the type of year Iowa players or coaches envisioned, a reality somewhere between the tar-and-feather nature of message boards and an equally absurd Pollyannaish notion that all is well. Ferentz said minutes after Friday's overtime loss to Nebraska that Iowa's goals have remained unchanged since 2001. "For the most part, we're going to have an opportunity to compete for the championship. That's our goal. We're not going to back down from that. That would be ridiculous,'' Ferentz said. He's also realistic enough to understand that things play out differently in reality from the notions that are formed before the first snap of fall camp takes place. As he put it Friday, "You never know what's going to happen, you take it a week at a time. Circumstances change, your team changes, injuries, all those things that can take place.'' Ferentz said that makes each year "interesting,'' a term few fans would use to describe what transpired for the Hawkeyes this season. He expects to evaluate his program once Iowa plays its bowl game, formulating his opinion based on the entire body of work rather than on the shortcomings of one game or the successes of another. He also understands the expectations, saying that growth can only occur when players move on from the bad and good of what has transpired. "At some point, you have got to move forward,'' Ferentz said. "We've got another opportunity, one more game to get our eighth win, and that's what we'll focus on when we get back together.'' After that, the time for reflection and dissection will arrive as Iowa positions itself for future seasons.
It wasn't pretty - for a multitude of reasons - but the top three teams on my ballot for this week's Associated Press college football poll remained the same. Florida State and Alabama hung onto the top two spots after hanging on to win against rivals. The Seminoles and Tide both found ways to rally and survive in instate tests and they'll stay where they have been for the past two weeks. Oregon still fills the third spot, despite showing up for the Civil War with Oregon State dressed like highlighter markers. They overcame their hideous attire with another stout effort on the field, taking care of business on the road against the Beavers 47-19. Mississippi State fell out of my top four for the first time in seven weeks after dropping the Egg Bowl battle with Mississippi 31-17. I replaced them with Baylor, which performed its own escape act against Texas Tech and will face a stiff test next weekend at home against Kansas State. Ohio State moves into the fifth spot following its win over Michigan. It will be interesting to see how the injury to quarterback J.T. Barrett is handled by the College Football Playoff committee in its rankings. The Buckeyes, per usual, have no shortage of talent, but Barrett was in the midst of a terrific season and his injury will no doubt impact Urban Meyer's team. I have TCU, which hosts Iowa State next weekend, Michigan State, Mississippi, Kansas State and Wisconsin rounding out my top 10. That gives me Big Ten teams in the fifth, seventh and 10th spots, in what is generally considered a down year for the conference. But those three teams have performed at a level above the rest of the league and have worked their way up the ladder. Six teams I had between the ninth and 19th positions a week ago all lost during the past week, leading to considerable changes. Air Force makes its first appearance on my ballot this week at 24 after its win over Colorado State. Among teams just outside the top 25 that I considered this week, in no particular order, were Duke, Northern Illinois, Marshall,. Memphis, USC, Colorado State, Utah, UCF and LSU. Here is my ballot for this week's Associated Press top 25: 1. Florida State 2. Alabama 3. Oregon 4. Baylor 5. Ohio State 6. TCU 7. Michigan State 8. Mississippi 9. Kansas State 10. Wisconsin 11. Mississippi State 12. Arizona 13. Georgia Tech 14. Missouri 15. Georgia 16. UCLA 17. Arizona State 18. Oklahoma 19. Louisville 20. Auburn 21. Clemson 22. Boise State 23. Nebraska 24. Air Force 25. Minnesota
Iowa's football team completed a regular season filled with unmet expectations this afternoon. As frustrating as it has been for fans, the pain is more piercing for the players who stare a 7-5 reality in the face. "You play this game to win a Big Ten championship,'' Iowa safety John Lowdermilk said. "Before the season, we thought we could do that. We thought we had the talent to get that done. We let games get away from us. We didn't win winnable games.'' The losses added up. The effort was a constant. This Iowa team generally showed up with its game face on. Today, those faces were glum as the reality set in. Running back Mark Weisman said the Hawkeyes' regular-season record doesn't portray what Iowa is about. "We aspire to win Big Ten championships,'' he said. "That's who we are and what we are about. For 12 months a year, we commit to it and work for it. To not get it done, that hurts.'' Weisman saw the 37-34 overtime loss to the Cornhuskers as a game that mirrored many of Iowa's issues this season. That only added to the frustration. "To go 7-5 and to finish not playing your best football. That's tough,'' Weisman said. "It's our record and we have to live with it. It is what it is.'' Weisman struggled to pinpoint why Iowa's offense has endured its share of ups and downs this season. The Hawkeyes have enjoyed one of their most productive seasons from an offensive standpoint in a decade, but those points didn't translate into wins. The lapses on offense in the second half led coach Kirk Ferentz to simply dissect, "That's football. There's ebb and flow.'' Ferentz suggested that the same discussion probably took place in the Nebraska locker room after it mustered just seven points despite four turnovers by Iowa. "That's football,'' Ferentz said. "It goes back and forth and fortunately we were able to get it going again and get back there to get the score to 28.'' But it wasn't enough. And, the Iowa coach joins his players in believing that 7-5 isn't enough. "I've really felt like since 2001, in broad sweeping terms, we have felt we would have an opportunity to compete for the championship. That's our goal and we're not going to back down from that.'' Ferentz said he suspects not many people in August would have projected Minnesota as an eight-win team right now or listed Maryland as a seven-win team. Ferentz said he wasn't surprised by the play of the Gophers or Terrapins, in part because of their experience. "My point there is that there are a lot of teams competing in our conference on both sides,'' Ferentz said. "... You never know what is going to happen. You take it a week at a time. Circumstances change. Your team changes, injuries, all those things that can take place. That's what makes it interesting. That's sports.'' For now, it is what it is. And for Iowa, what it is is a 7-5 regular season filled with unmet expectations. "That's what hurts the most,'' Lowdermilk said. "We know we're better than the record shows, but there is nothing we can do about it now. We know we let the fans down, but even worse, we let ourselves down.''
OFFENSE: D Three turnovers in one half of football is no way to win a football game. The Hawkeyes' offensive performance against Nebraska was sporadic. The run game averaged 2.8 yards per carry on 50 attempts. That helped Iowa own a 15-minute advantage in possession time and a nearly 2-to-1 edge in first downs, but that was overshadowed by the Hawkeyes' red-zone struggles. Three points on three first-half trips inside the Huskers' 20 positioned Iowa for the loss it eventually took. QB Jake Rudock completed 19-of-38 passes, and that 50-percent completion rate is actually above what Nebraska had allowed through its first 11 games. Iowa's inability to continue to attack the Huskers' aggressively on offense after opening a 24-7 lead eventually provided Nebraska with an opening it seized. Iowa did reach 30 points in regulation for the fifth time in eight conference games. Even in this era of football that favors the offense, that ought to lead to better than a 4-4 Big Ten finish. DEFENSE: D Iowa's biggest issues Saturday, and in many respects this season, have been a byproduct of defensive lapses more than anything. Tackling and positioning to make tackles continues to be an issue for the Hawkeyes. Iowa players repeatedly said during the postgame they were well aware of Tommy Armstrong's propensity to throw deep whenever he found himself in scramble mode and that they were well aware of the tendencies of Nebraska receivers in those situations. It didn't show. The ease with which the Huskers moved the ball downfield following both the Damond Powell fumble with 1:07 left in the first half and after Jordan Canzeri's touchdown put the Hawkeyes ahead with 1:49 left in the game illustrates the issues that came back to bite Iowa. SPECIAL TEAMS: D Beyond Drew Ott's 12-yard return of a punt that bounced off the tail end of Nebraska player for a touchdown and Marshall Koehn's 2-of-2 game in field goal attempts, there is a laundry list of issues here. The punt unit provided De'Mornay Pierson-El with ample opportunity to display why he is one of the nation's best. He slipped through tackle attempts on both his 41-yard return which set up a touchdown pass and the next time he touched the ball with an 80-yard return for a score. It was the first un-blocked punt returned against Iowa for a touchdown since 2003, making it a rarity, but also illustrating the season-long struggles Iowa has had in that segment. Pierson-El left Iowa City with 134 yards on three returns today, 13 more than Iowa has managed as a team in the 12 games it has played this season. Even that proved problematic, with Matt VandeBerg fumbling a return during the first half to contribute to Iowa's collection of four turnovers in the game. Nebraska kicker Drew Brown did miss a 49-yard field goal and have a 27-yard attempt blocked, but the Huskers' special teams continued to be a season-long strength long before Brown hit from 20 yards to tie the game with 8 seconds left in regulation. COACHING: D More than one player hinted that the Hawkeyes may have taken the foot off the pedal once it opened a 24-7 lead in the third quarter. Iowa mustered two first downs over its next four drives. A series which preceded Pierson-El's 80-yard punt return started with an incomplete pass, followed by a 13-yard Rudock run and three more incompletions. That brought out the boobirds at Kinnick. The return that followed didn't help matters, and while coach Kirk Ferentz said his team had a plan to keep the ball out of Pierson-El's hands, it failed to execute those plans when it mattered most. Ultimately, that left the Hawkeyes staring a 7-5 record in the face.
Four things the football teams from Iowa and Nebraska can do to help their chances for success in their game Friday at Kinnick Stadium: IOWA (7-4, 4-3) 1. Establish the run. The Hawkeyes beat the average last week, gaining 101 yards against a Wisconsin defense that been allowing 96 and that helped open things up for one of the most productive passing days quarterback Jake Rudock and the Iowa offense has enjoyed this season. The Hawkeyes averaged 3.6 yards per carry against the Badgers. A similar or better number will not only help Iowa on Friday, but also continue to leave passing possibilities and lead to a balanced attack. 2. Win up front. Nebraska presents Iowa with a sizeable challenge, particularly with the defensive front the Cornhuskers present. Sophomores Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine at the tackle spots both weigh in at over 300 pounds from their tackle positions, while Greg McMullen and Randy Gregory create havoc from the ends. Gregory, whose availability for the Iowa game was listed as 50-50 by coach Bo Pelini following a Wednesday practice, ranks among the Big Ten sack leaders with 7 and leads Nebraska with 8.5 tackles for a loss. Collectively, they will test the Hawkeyes' front five. 3. Play the pistol. Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong is the type of quarterback that has given the Hawkeyes some difficulty this season. He will frequently operate out of the pistol formation, a look that has been problematic for Iowa's defense this year. Maryland's C.J. Brown gave the Hawkeyes issues with it a month ago and it was the look that helped lead Wisconsin's Tanner McEvoy on a 45-yard dash to the end zone in the second quarter last weekend. Armstrong is Nebraska's second-leading rusher and he has shown a capable arm as well, although receiver the Huskers' career receiving leader, Kenny Bell, is questionable for Friday's game because of a head injury suffered in last week's loss to Minnesota. Jordan Westerkamp and true freshman De'Mornay Pierson-El will provide Armstrong with additional options. 4. Seize the moment. This will be the final home game for 16 Hawkeye seniors, one last chance to create a memory on the turf at Kinnick Stadium. Of the 16, 13 of those seniors are on the depth chart for Iowa and the steady play of Kevonte Martin-Manley and Mark Weisman at the receiver and running back positions will be an important part of the equation for the Hawkeyes. Iowa will need to be on top of its game if it hopes to reach eight wins. NEBRASKA (8-3, 4-3) 1. Have a blackshirt bounceback. Nebraska's defense hasn't looked like Nebraska's defense in consecutive losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Cornhuskers have given up more than 1,000 yards in their last two games and have been vulnerable on the ground. The season-long big picture does show an effective defense. Nebraska has limited opponents to 47.3 percent passing, the lowest completion rate allowed by a Big Ten defense. From Randy Gregory and a pair of mammoth tackles up front to Nate Gerry on the back at a safety spot, this defense has been a strength at times. 2. Establish the run. A sprained MCL has slowed one of the Big Ten's most gifted running backs in recent weeks, but Ameer Abdullah has continued to compete. He hasn't topped 100 yards since suffering the injury in a Nov. 1 game against Purdue, but continues to be a threat with the ball in his hands. Coach Bo Pelini considers the play of the Huskers' offensive line to be inconsistent, but Nebraska does have the fourth-most productive rushing attack in the Big Ten. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong is a threat to carry the ball, averaging 57.5 yards per game on the ground, and Imani Cross and Terrell Newby have proven to be capable ball carriers from the I-back position. 3. Find a Black Friday special. Nebraska's special teams have been among the most consistent segments of the team, creating a need for Iowa's special teams groups to be on top of their games as well. The Cornhuskers' De'Mornay Pierson-El leads the Big Ten and ranks fourth nationally with an average of 15.2 yards on punt returns. He's returned a pair for touchdowns this season and has piled up 455 yards on returns this year -- 381 yards more than Iowa has managed as a team. Punter Sam Foltz averages 41.9 yards per attempt and among his 51 punts, he has dropped 22 inside the 20-yard line and has had 15 punts carry 50 yards or more. Pierson-El has moved into a kick return role following Ameer Abdullah's injury and has averaged 14.2 yards, about 10 fewer per return than Abdullah averaged. 4. Embrace tradition. This is the 25th straight year Nebraska has taken the field on the day after Thanksgiving, a holiday weekend tradition that dates to lining up on Black Friday to face Oklahoma when both played in the Big Eight Conference. The Cornhuskers own an 18-6 record over the past 24 years on Black Friday, going 5-1 vs. Oklahoma, 11-4 vs. Colorado and now 2-1 against Iowa. The Hawkeyes used a strong defensive effort led by the play of linebackers Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey and James Morris to earn a 38-17 win in Lincoln a year ago, the first time Iowa has won the Heroes Trophy. Nebraska's Black Friday game, which has aired to a national audience on ABC annually since 1990, will continue to be a tradition at least through 2019. Future Big Ten schedules include an Iowa-Nebraska game on the day after Thanksgiving for the next five years following today's game.
Friday's Black Friday game with Nebraska provides Iowa seniors with one last chance to protect home turf. Playing at Kinnick Stadium has been a winning proposition for this year's seniors - Iowa is 21-13 at home over the past five years and 16-11 there over the past four - but there have disappoints along the way including last week's 26-24 loss Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes' last win over a rated opponent at home came during the freshman year for this year's seniors, a 24-16 victory over 13th-rated Michigan on Nov. 5, 2011. Consecutive losses by Nebraska leaves the Cornhuskers on the outside looking in at this week's top 25, but home is still special for the Hawkeyes. "The fans last week, we fed off them and the energy they brought,'' senior safety John Lowdermilk said. "Playing at Kinnick is always special, something we never take for granted.'' Quarterback Jake Rudock said the players share in the responsibility of creating an environment where fans have something to get excited about. "We need to make plays, give them a reason to get into the game,'' Rudock said. "It's up to us as players to help give the crowd a reason to get into the game.'' Senior tackle Brandon Scherff said the crowd played a role in helping Iowa rally last week against the Badgers, although he recalls the volume cranked to an even higher level when the Hawkeyes held off Northwestern 17-10 in overtime a year ago. "It's a great place to play,'' he said. And that is something coach Kirk Ferentz never takes for granted. He said the concentration level of coaches tends to block out the noise, but he said he does feel and sense energy in the environment. "If we're playing good football, we're playing a good football team, we've always had great fans here,'' Ferentz said. "So, I look at it as our job to provide the juice. That's what our job is. If we're playing good on the field, good things will happen.''