Twelve. and. oh. As fans filed back to their seats on that cold, breezy afternoon in Lincoln, Iowa started off the second half by kicking off, and Nebraska promptly went three-and-out. One big Desmond King return later, Iowa was on the 33-yard-line, and on the second play of that drive Jordan Canzeri scooted 29 yards untouched for a score.
Nobody in the stadium knew it at the time, but the game was effectively over at that point, not even three minutes into the second half. Canzeri's first rushing touchdown of the game made the score 21-10, and Nebraska would never match that score. The Huskers never again had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead, and Iowa handed Nebraska its second-worst defeat of the season, and its worst with a healthy Tommy Armstrong at QB.
With Armstrong at QB, Nebraska led in the fourth quarter of every game it played this season... until Iowa came to town. Against Iowa, in Lincoln, Nebraska spent all but the last 77 seconds of the fourth quarter trailing by double digits. Sure, the Huskers moved the ball in that last stanza, but they turned it over plenty as well, and to quote the philosopher-warrior Dave Bartoo, it's a scoreboard, not a yardsboard.
And as the final seconds ticked harmlessly off the clock and Iowa's constrictor grasp squeezed the life out of yet another foe, the Hawkeye fans tucked in the southwest corner of Memorial Stadium chanted "12! AND! 0!," and once the players got their hands on the Heroes Trophy, they came to celebrate with us. It's an incredible experience, even when you're trying not to slip on the icy aisles and bleachers and you can't really feel your toes. At that moment, nobody really cared about their toes. Cars have heaters, y'know?
There's plenty to be concerned about. Iowa went 0-for-9 on third downs. C.J. Beathard passed for only 97 yards against one of the most porous secondaries in college football. Iowa scored only seven points off four turnovers, and that was only because Parker Hesse tipped and intercepted a pass for this team's easiest defensive touchdown of the season (well, easy once the ball was in his hands, anyway—Hesse made a great play to get there). The people who say this wasn't a great win or Iowa's not a legit Top 10 team are wrong, but you can see how they'd get to those conclusions.
And yet. Annnnnd yet. 12-0 (8-0). Big Ten West Champions by two games. Question Iowa all you'd like; just know that it does not matter.
The schedule criticisms are numerous, but remember, Michigan State lost at Nebraska. Stanford lost at Northwestern. Iowa won those road games. Also, Oklahoma lost to Texas. Last year, the only blemish on Ohio State's record was Virginia Tech. If beating all the middle-of-the-pack teams is so unimpressive, what does it say about the playoff contenders who can't even do that?
Still, even as Northwestern continues to climb in the rankings and Wisconsin pokes its head back in the AP and Coaches polls, Iowa's schedule isn't impressing everybody. Fair. But it's a foregone conclusion that whoever wins this week's Big Ten Championship between Iowa and Michigan State is in the playoff, flat-out in, and if Iowa gets that neutral-field, marquee victory over a Top-5 foe, there won't be any doubt left—not even from the talking heads and other complainers that so easily distract us—whether the Hawkeyes belong among those vying for the title.
That's so awesome. This team is one win away. MSU may be favored, but not by a whole lot, and 3-4 point underdogs usually win about 40% of the time. We've gone from "there's only a mathematically remote chance Iowa goes 12-0" to "there's a 2-in-5 chance Iowa gets into the CFB Playoff" in the span of the 2015 regular season.
It's a great day to be a Hawkeye. It's a great day to be alive. And now the real fun begins.