Leistikow's Week 2 Big Ten picks: A Cy-Hawk threshold for Ferentz; Buckeyes on upset alert

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

If his team can deliver a crisp road performance, Kirk Ferentz will by Saturday afternoon have arrived at two new checkpoints in his coaching tenure.

A 137th career win at Iowa would put him alone in sixth in Big Ten Conference coaching victories — with one Hayden Fry (143) the next to catch in fifth.

Kirk Ferentz, left, and the Iowa football team figure to have a tougher challenge than a year ago (a 42-3 Hawkeye win) Saturday in Ames against Matt Campbell's Cyclones. Ferentz is 9-9 in the series.

And if the Hawkeyes can win for a third straight time against Iowa State, Ferentz would finally — for the first time — be above .500 in the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series football game.

After an 0-4 start in the series from 1999 to 2002, Ferentz has clawed back to .500 twice — at 6-6 after the dominating wins of 2009 and 2010, and now again at 9-9 after last year’s 42-3 rout in Iowa City.

This 19th venture against the Cyclones won’t be easy. They’re significantly improved entering Game 14 of the Matt Campbell era (vs. Game 2 last fall), with senior playmakers at quarterback, wide receiver and in the secondary.

How can Iowa, a 2½-point favorite in Saturday’s 11 a.m. game on ESPN2, get the job done?

As much talk as there is about Iowa’s advantage in the trenches and Iowa State’s advantage on the perimeter, a Hawkeye victory boils down to two keys.

No. 1: Contain David Montgomery. He’s a hard runner, and the 5-foot-11, 219-pound sophomore has the Hawkeyes concerned.

“Their running back, we’ve been really impressed with him,” outside linebacker Ben Niemann said.

Look for Iowa to stick in its base 4-3 defense with the goal to limit Montgomery to 3.0 yards a carry or less. The Hawkeyes like their chances, and anticipate mistakes, if Jacob Park has to throw 40-plus passes.

No. 2: Zero turnovers. (One, tops.) Nate Stanley and the offense can’t afford to gift-wrap field position in a hostile environment.

Iowa’s best teams are excellent in turnover margin. Starting now, the Hawkeyes must put a premium on the football — three lost fumbles and an interception last week vs. Wyoming served as a wake-up call that has been answered.

That's it. Control the clock and the ball, and let the defense finish it off. Do that, and Stanley becomes the third straight first-year Iowa quarterback (joining Jake Rudock in 2013 and C.J. Beathard in 2015) to win in Ames.

Prediction: Iowa 28, Iowa State 20.

Now, onto the rest of Saturday’s games in the Big Ten. After going 6-3 against the spread last week, beware of a regression.

Northwestern (1-0) at Duke (1-0)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., ESPNU

Vegas line: Northwestern by 3.

Prediction: The nation saw a lackluster Northwestern in Week 1. The Wildcats had to rally at home to survive Nevada. Meanwhile, Duke throttled its opening opponent by 53 points and is playing at home. So, of course, the Wildcats will bounce back and remind us why they’re among the top contenders in the Big Ten West. Northwestern 31, Duke 21

Florida Atlantic (0-1) at No. 11 Wisconsin (1-0)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., Big Ten Network

Vegas line: Wisconsin by 31.5.

Prediction: Wisconsin’s defense sustained another blow this week, when it lost 31-game starting defensive end Chikwe Obasih indefinitely to a knee injury. Lane Kiffin-led FAU gave up 416 rushing yards last week to Navy, and now faces the ground-and-pound Badgers. However, Wisconsin — with a tough trip to BYU on deck — will deliver a flat performance and fall short of covering a big number. Wisconsin 38, Florida Atlantic 14

More Hawkeyes:


Cincinnati (1-0) at No. 8 Michigan (1-0)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., ABC

Vegas line: Michigan by 34.5.

Prediction: What motivates Michigan more than about anything? How about a team from Ohio coming into the Big House led by former Buckeye coach Luke Fickell. Motivation will be plentiful for a young, talented Wolverines team that just held Florida to 11 rushing yards and zero offensive touchdowns. Of note: Freshman receiver Oliver Martin, an Iowa City native, did not play Michigan’s opener. Michigan 42, Cincinnati 3

Western Michigan (0-1) at Michigan State (1-0)

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Vegas line: Michigan State by 7

Prediction: Just because P.J. Fleck is gone doesn’t mean the Broncos aren’t going to be a pest. They were tied at USC in the fourth quarter last week before losing by 18. After that spirited effort — and Michigan State having no look-ahead worries, with its bye next week — look for a letdown as the Spartans to build off their strong opening statement against Bowling Green. Michigan State 27, Western Michigan 17

Eastern Michigan (1-0) at Rutgers (0-1)

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Vegas line: Rutgers by 5.5

Prediction: Let’s look at the blanket narratives entering this game. Rutgers looked surprisingly decent in hanging tough with top-10 Washington. And Eastern Michigan is still Eastern Michigan. That’s why you look deeper. The Eagles have 16 starters back, including a senior quarterback, from a bowl team. Former Drake coach Chris Creighton is ready to take the next step at Eastern Michigan, and that's beat a Power Five foe. Eastern Michigan 23, Rutgers 20

Indiana (0-1) at Virginia (1-0)

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., ESPNU

Vegas line: Indiana by 3

Prediction: If you watched Indiana’s opening 49-21 loss to Ohio State, you saw enough playmakers on offense to be impressed before the Hoosiers folded to superior athletic talent. Virginia went 2-10 last year and didn’t exactly impress in beating William and Mary. Look for Tom Allen's club to bring energy and avoid an 0-2 start. Indiana 28, Virginia 24

Pittsburgh (1-0) at No. 4 Penn State (1-0)

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., ABC

Vegas line: Penn State by 21

Prediction: James Franklin’s Nittany Lions keep on rolling. The reigning Big Ten champions crushed Akron, 52-0, and are in a revenge spot against a Pittsburgh team that last week survived overtime against Bo Pelini’s FCS Youngstown State outfit. Still, this is a rivalry game — and Pat Narduzzi hasn’t totally forgotten how to coach defense. The Panthers keep it close and cover. Penn State 35, Pittsburgh 24

Nebraska (1-0) at Oregon (1-0)

Time, TV: 3:30 p.m., Fox

Vegas line: Oregon by 13

Prediction: The Cornhuskers a two-touchdown underdog against a team that went 4-8 a year ago? That doesn’t make any sense. And when you see a line like this, a big red flag goes up — and you go the other way. Nebraska had trouble defending Arkansas State a week ago, and now it faces an Oregon team that put up 77 points in Week 1. This could turn into an afternoon shootout. Look for Tanner Lee to top 300 yards but come up short. Oregon 49, Nebraska 33

No. 6 Oklahoma (1-0) at No. 2 Ohio State (1-0)

Time, TV: 6:30 p.m., ABC

Vegas line: Ohio State by 7.5

Prediction: Baker Mayfield is a better quarterback than J.T. Barrett. And in this showdown filled with plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, it’ll be decided by clutch throws. The Buckeyes got the best of Oklahoma in Norman a year ago, but this time the tables turn as the Big 12 Conference bounces back from a rough opening week in which Texas (to Maryland) and Baylor (to Liberty) suffered surprising losses. Oklahoma 34, Ohio State 31

Western Kentucky (1-0) at Illinois (1-0)

Time, TV: 7 p.m., Big Ten Network

Vegas line: Western Kentucky by 7.5

Prediction: The Illini had to block a late kick to survive Ball State, 24-21, and now welcome one of the nation’s highest-octane Group of Five programs. The Hilltoppers aren't the same without coach Jeff Brohm, now at Purdue. Illinois isn’t a very good team, but it’s still got Big Ten talent and playing at home. That’s enough to keep this game within a touchdown. Western Kentucky 27, Illinois 24

Minnesota (1-0) at Oregon State (1-1)

Time, TV: 9 p.m., Fox Sports 1

Vegas line: Oregon State by 2.5

Prediction: This is a tough game to get a handle on. Oregon State has looked pretty awful (losing by 31 to Colorado State and eeking past FCS Portland State), while Minnesota’s Thursday-night debut with Fleck wasn’t inspiring (a 17-7 win over Buffalo). But with extra time to prepare and the Gophers’ perceived strength in the running game, it seems like a better spot for Iowa's northern neighbors. Minnesota 26, Oregon State 17

Last week’s record: 6-3 vs. spread (8-1 straight-up)

Season: 6-3 (8-1)

Note: This weekly column focuses only on Saturday Big Ten games. This week, we did not include 1-0 Maryland vs. FCS opponent Towson (11 a.m., Big Ten Network), which didn’t have a Vegas line as of Thursday.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.