Upon first glance, it seemed easy to question the Las Vegas oddsmakers.
They originally installed Nebraska as a 3½-point favorite to beat Iowa on Friday in Lincoln. Then, when Cornhuskers quarterback Adrian Martinez was ruled out because of injury, they switched the favorite to the Hawkeyes but by only 1½ points. Nebraska was back to being a 1-point favorite this morning.
Were they underestimating Iowa? After all, the Hawkeyes have defeated Nebraska six consecutive years. Iowa is 9-2 and tied for first place in the Big Ten's West Division, while Nebraska is 3-8 with five consecutive losses.
Reality hits, though, and one remembers that the people setting the odds work for massive, opulent casinos built with money voluntarily handed to them.
People in Minnesota would sure like the Huskers to deliver. Friday's game (12:30 p.m., BTN) carries Big Ten West Division title implications for three teams. The Hawkeyes are tied with Wisconsin for the division lead at 6-2, but the Badgers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker, meaning Iowa needs a win and a Wisconsin loss to claim the West.
The Gophers first need Iowa to lose, then must beat Wisconsin on Saturday and have Purdue beat Indiana to forge a four-way tie at 5-3. In that scenario, Minnesota would win the West and a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 4 against Saturday's Ohio State-Michigan winner.
You can count Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz as someone who agrees with the oddsmakers in their respect for Nebraska.
"When you look at Nebraska, we're looking at a real big challenge. You put the film on, we're not surprised,'' Ferentz said. "They're a very talented football team. The talent matches their stats. They do an awful lot of good things offensively, defensively, special teams.''
In a season that went south from the start, Nebraska has found ways to play teams tough yet still falter at the end. The Huskers' eight losses all are by nine points or fewer and included in that are a six-point loss to Oklahoma, three-point losses to Michigan State (in overtime) and Michigan, a nine-point setback to Ohio State, and the latest, a seven-point loss at Wisconsin last week.
The Huskers have been beaten, but coach Scott Frost doesn't see a team that's been beaten down.
"One thing I can say about this team is that we aren't going to stop fighting,'' said Frost, who took a pay cut and fired four offensive assistants in order to return for a fifth season in 2022. "This team won't stop fighting Friday. I can guarantee that. We are playing a really good team. They have a lot better record than we do, but we are going to give ourselves every opportunity we can to try and win the game."
With Martinez out, the Huskers likely will turn to redshirt freshman Logan Smothers, who's completed seven of 11 passes this season for 119 yards and has rushed 13 times for 69 yards.
"He's really sharp,'' Frost said. "He's not the fresh-faced kid that's going to get surprised by a bunch of things or pressures or different looks. He is really smart and knows our offense and can operate it.''
The Hawkeyes have won three consecutive games after losing to Purdue and Wisconsin in back-to-back weeks. One more win against a rival puts them a step closer to the West title.
"If there is a good thing here, at least we're off Saturday, so we'll watch how things unfold,'' Ferentz said, "but if we don't take care of our end of things, it won't matter anyway.''