While these certainly aren’t the stakes that Nebraska expected in the preseason (or what longtime Cornhusker fans are used to), Friday’s game against Iowa is huge for the program’s future.

Aside from it being rivalry week across college football, Nebraska (5-6) can become bowl-eligible with a victory. The preseason Big Ten West Division favorites probably had their sights set on something a bit more glamorous than, say, the Quick Lane Bowl. But at the very least, this would indicate a tangible sign of progress. From four wins in Scott Frost’s first season, to six victories in Year No. 2. And this would qualify as the signature win in the Frost era. It’s hard to fathom, but Nebraska has lost 10 straight games against ranked opponents.

As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Well, neither were college football programs. But after two years, it’s important to be able to show recruits that you’re building something. And it’s important to minimize the way rival programs can negatively recruit against you. It’d be pretty easy, if Nebraska loses, because one of the league’s storied programs would have three straight losing seasons and four in the last five years. That’s basically why Frost got his extension – which had some admittedly scratching their heads – so he could continue to recruit at a high level.

Anyways, what game in the last two years is bigger than this? Maybe the Colorado game earlier this season, because it was a rivalry game and Nebraska hadn’t yet fallen apart. Maybe the Ohio State game, because College GameDay was in town. But I’d argue this one is much bigger, considering it’s a winnable game against a ranked opponent at home, with the chance to galvanize a fan base and earn a bowl bid. And avoid another dreaded losing season.

When was the last time Nebraska had three losing seasons? Oh, just 1959-61. The youngest fans who can really remember that stretch under William Jennings are about 70 years old now. We may scoff at some of these bowl games and write them off as meaningless, but we still watch them, so Nebraska may as well have a presence – especially when you consider the importance of engaging a younger generation that hasn’t seen a ton of winning. Kids aren’t going to be splitting hairs when it comes to bowl games, they just want to watch. Plus, when it’s holiday season and you’re hanging out with your family watching football, you may as well be watching your team on the TV.

A win would go a long way in giving Nebraska some momentum as a program. For one, it would give this freshman class – which was fourth in the Big Ten in the 2019 rankings – an extra few weeks of practice time. And another chance to see the versatile Luke McCaffrey! Plus, it would help during the homestretch of the recruiting cycle, with the Early Signing Day coming up next month. Nebraska is currently sixth in the Big Ten in 2020, according to 247Sports, though that can change quickly with a few more commits.

The tough part for Nebraska is that Iowa is one of the best teams in the Big Ten this season – and, well, pretty much every season, considering it has just one losing season since 2006. The Hawkeyes gave Minnesota its lone loss, and they’ve lost their three games by a total of 14 points – and each was to a team ranked 13th or better in the College Football Playoff standings. Heck, if the Hawkeyes didn’t lose four underclassmen to the NFL Draft (including two first rounders), they would probably be 10-1 or 11-0 right now and playing for a spot in the CFP.

Nebraska’s issues have been everywhere at various points in the season, and most recently, it has gotten whipped on defense (save for the Maryland game). Even after holding the Terrapins to seven points, the Cornhuskers are 12th in the Big Ten in points allowed per game (30.4) during league play.

Iowa has actually moved the ball well this season, despite ranking 11th in the Big Ten in points per game (23.5). Whether the Hawkeyes can actually get into the end zone will probably decide this one. Iowa settles for field goals on 40.5 percent of its red-zone trips – the second-highest rate in the country. Nebraska allows offenses to score touchdowns on 69.8 percent of red-zone trips, which is 117th in the country.

In a rocky season, Nebraska can set itself up well for next season by beating Iowa and playing in a bowl game. And we’ll probably overhype Nebraska again, because that’s what we do with traditionally strong programs. But if you’re Nebraska, it’s much better than the alternative of missing a bowl game for the third straight season and stalling momentum on the recruiting trail.