Unbeaten Hawkeyes' penchant for winning close games could serve them well in visit to Nebraska

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Michigan State can go to the Big Ten championship game with a win over Penn State on Saturday. Ohio State and Michigan meet in "The Game," with the winner representing the East Division in the title game if the Spartans slip up.

Then there are Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana, all getting their last chances to gain bowl eligibility.

But it's third-ranked Iowa (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten), maybe college football's biggest surprise, that will command the nation's attention this week when it tries to close out a perfect regular season on the road against improving Nebraska (5-6, 3-4).

Iowa already has locked up the West title, and the Hawkeyes moved up to No. 4 in this week's College Football rankings.

They'll go before a national television audience Friday and once again try to convince doubters that they're legitimate, not the beneficiary of a soft schedule.

To get to 12-0, Iowa might have to win another close game. Coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday his team is comfortable in tight contests. The Hawks have won games by 3, 4 and 5 points, and five of their wins have been by 9 or less.

"When we have a good team, typically we find a way to win close games," Ferentz said. "We don't lead the country in five- and four-star recruits. We typically don't blow folks out. That's not our DNA, typically. When you play here, it's more like being in the NFL. You're going to be involved in a lot of close games and you have to find a way to be successful in those games."

The Hawkeyes have made a four-win improvement so far after losing five of its last seven to finish 7-6 in 2014. Ferentz has gone from the hot seat to candidate for national coach of the year.

"I think what's unique to college football — I'm not so sure it's new today — there are always opportunities for stories to emerge," he said on the Big Ten coaches' call.

— Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio wouldn't comment on the status of quarterback Connor Cook for the Penn State game. Cook missed last week's win over Ohio State because of a sore right shoulder. Penn State coach James Franklin said the uncertainty makes it hard for his defense to prepare. If Cook doesn't play, Tyler O'Connor would be in line for his second start.

"How much are we going to plan for one compared to the other?" Franklin said. "That's a definite challenge. You think about (Cook's) win-loss record and the success he's had, and I think that's why it's so impressive they were able to pull off the win last week with quarterbacks that have not played a whole lot for them."

— Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh doesn't discount the possibility of Jabrill Peppers playing offense exclusively next season. Peppers is listed as a strong safety, but he also has played some cornerback, nickel back, running back, quarterback, slot receiver, wideout and kick and punt returner.

"Can somebody be the Willie Mays of football? Can somebody be the five-tool player, the five-position player?" Harbaugh said. "Maybe it'll end up being Jabrill Peppers, or maybe he'll find his absolute best position as he goes along. It's interesting to think about and consider the possibilities."

— Jerry Kill, who retired as Minnesota's coach for health reasons Oct. 28, will participate in senior day festivities before the Gophers' game against Wisconsin.

— Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said QB Joel Stave should play against Minnesota. Stave went through the concussion protocol after getting dinged against Northwestern last week.

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