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Huskers split on significance of spoiler role against No. 5 Iowa

LINCOLN, Neb. -- In 80 years of the AP Poll era in college football, Nebraska has played 18 games in November or the first week of December against undefeated teams. The Cornhuskers have won three times.

There’s the 1971 victory in the Game of the Century over Oklahoma and a 1978 win over the Sooners, long remembered as Tom Osborne’s first victory over nemesis Barry Switzer.

And the 39-38 Nebraska victory over Michigan State two weeks ago. That’s it -- with a chance for a fourth win on Nov. 27 at Memorial Stadium, if fifth-ranked Iowa beats Purdue on Saturday to reach 11-0.

Nebraska has never played an 11-0 team in Lincoln. In fact, just one 10-win team, 1987 Oklahoma, has visited Memorial Stadium.

And the Huskers, until Nov. 7, had never beaten an undefeated team after Halloween while unranked. They might have a chance to do it twice this month.

The role of spoiler on Black Friday is one in which Nebraska players and coaches prefer not to get comfortable. But in this difficult first season under coach Mike Riley, they’ll take it and use the Hawkeyes’ success as motivation.

Nebraska receiver Alonzo Moore said he’s intensely interested in Iowa’s home finale on Saturday against the Boilermakers (noon ET, ESPN2).

“Oh, I’m going to watch,” Moore said Tuesday. “I’m going to watch the entire game. I’m even going to watch the commercials, because there might be something in the commercials that I could use.”

And if Iowa wins?

“That’s huge, 11-0,” Moore said. “We’ve got a chance to knock them out of the top five. Their chance to make the playoffs, we can ruin that. That’s our goal.”

Nebraska damaged Michigan State’s College Football Playoff bid with two late touchdowns two weeks ago. The Spartans have climbed back to ninth in the rankings and face No. 3 Ohio State on Saturday. With games left against Penn State and potentially unbeaten Iowa for the Big Ten championship, MSU remains a contender for the top four.

No such wiggle room likely exists for the Hawkeyes.

For Nebraska at 5-6, a victory on Senior Day would also secure bowl eligibility. Some Huskers say that is incentive enough.

“We don’t need any extra motivation,” I-back Imani Cross said.

Of Iowa’s historic season, Cross said, “That’s not really the focus.”

Defensive coordinator Mark Banker also minimized the spoiler role.

“We don’t necessarily talk in those terms,” Banker said, “but the biggest motivation is the fact that you’ve got one more game with a quality opponent, at home in an electric atmosphere.”

A victory next week would ease some of the pain, Banker said, of Nebraska's five losses in the first eight games by a total of 13 points.

“They won’t disappear,” he said, “but they’ll go in the back of your mind a little bit. You’ll feel good that you dug yourself out of a hole. You can do it and you did it. You can look yourself in the mirror and feel good going into the offseason.”

Regardless of their perspective on Iowa, the Huskers agree that the Hawkeyes pose a formidable challenge.

“They’re always in good position,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. “They really play hard. You just don’t see them giving up big plays.”

Nebraska has won three of four games in the series since it joined the Big Ten in 2011. The Huskers’ victory last year in Iowa City, 37-34 in overtime, helped to fuel a strong offseason for the Hawkeyes that laid a foundation for this fall.

Despite that history, most of the attention figures to focus on Iowa next week.

“We like it,” Moore said. “Coming in as underdogs, trying to ruin someone’s season, I like it a lot.”