Leistikow's Week 3 Big Ten picks: Hawkeyes get down to basics vs. North Texas

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Welcome to Week 3, the calm before the Big Ten Conference storm.

There are a lot of mismatches Saturday, according to the guys in the desert. With most marquee nonconference games in the books (Michigan-Florida, Ohio State-Oklahoma among them), now’s the time for teams to get healthy, confident and calibrated before the league grind.

That’s certainly the storyline in Iowa City.

Iowa sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley hands the ball off against Iowa State on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa.

After an emphatic defensive performance against Wyoming’s Josh Allen in Week 1, then an emotional win at Iowa State in Week 2, what do the 2-0 Hawkeyes have for 1-1 North Texas in a classic letdown spot?

Week 3 certainly jumped up and bit the Hawkeyes badly a year ago, with FCS side North Dakota State pulling a 23-21 stunner as a 16½-point underdog.

Now, North Texas comes to Kinnick Stadium as a 21½-point dog (2:30 p.m., ESPN2) with an Air Raid attack and nothing to lose.

Twelve times since 2006, Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes have lost outright as a double-digit favorite.

The best way to avoid any scare against a wide-open North Texas offense that’s averaging 580.5 yards per game? Learn from past mistakes.

And run the dang football.

The best part of the Hawkeyes’ 2-0 start is that they’ve overcome normally costly errors to pick up nice wins.

In Week 1, it was four turnovers in 56 offensive plays. Nate Stanley and the Hawkeyes trimmed that to zero on 82 snaps at Iowa State.

In Week 2, it was 10 penalties — not to mention a defensive performance that has Iowa players motivated. Look for both areas to get ample attention and improvement Saturday.

The Hawkeyes’ ground game has yet to break out, but that should change Saturday against a Mean Green defensive line that averages 262 pounds a man. Don't be surprised to see the year's first Iowa defensive TD as well. 

Prediction: Iowa 44, North Texas 14

There are eight other games on this week’s pick list, none within a touchdown spread. After going 9-3 against the number in Week 2, I’ll warn against a regression for the second straight Saturday. (P.S.: Look out, P.J. Fleck.)

Air Force (1-0) at No. 7 Michigan (2-0)

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

Vegas line: Michigan by 23½

Prediction: As the lone media member out of 38 in the preseason poll to pick Michigan as Big Ten East champ, I’ve been pretty high on the Wolverines’ talent level. But Air Force’s intricate run-blocking schemes might be the perfect foil to confuse a young, still-learning defense. Coming off a bye after a 62-0 season-opening win, the Falcons could put a scare in the Big House. Michigan 24, Air Force 16

Northern Illinois (1-1) at Nebraska (1-1)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., Fox Sports 1

Vegas line: Nebraska by 14

Prediction: As many Power Five programs can attest, Northern Illinois will always bring the fight. Even after their magical Orange Bowl season of 2012, the Huskies have won at Iowa (2013), Northwestern (2014) and then hung within a touchdown at Ohio State (2015). Until Nebraska’s defense — last in the Big Ten and 122nd in FBS at 531.5 yards allowed per game — proves otherwise, two touchdowns is too steep to cover against a pesky Group of Five opponent. Nebraska 31, Northern Illinois 20

No. 12 Wisconsin (2-0) at BYU (1-2)

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

Vegas line: Wisconsin by 16½

Prediction: Anytime a Big Ten team travels West, it can be a difficult proposition. But it’s hard to imagine a Brigham Young team that’s rushed 38 times for 58 yards the past two weeks (losses to LSU and Utah) faring well against Wisconsin’s vaunted defense. The Badgers have a bye after this, so look for a focused, workmanlike, ground-and-pound performance. Wisconsin 28, BYU 10

Middle Tennessee (1-1) at Minnesota (2-0)

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

Vegas line: Minnesota by 10

Prediction: Fresh off an extremely impressive 48-14 win at Oregon State, Minnesota faces a sneaky-tough test before Big Ten play begins. Middle Tennessee just won at Syracuse, despite committing 113 yards in penalties and losing the battle of turnovers and time of possession. The coach-quarterback combo of Rick and Brent Stockstill could even lead the Blue Raiders to a Big Ten upset. Middle Tennessee 27, Minnesota 24

Purdue (1-1) at Missouri (1-1)

Time, TV: 3 p.m., SEC Network

Vegas line: Missouri by 7½

Prediction: Missouri continues to look like a program in disarray, with coach Barry Odom firing his defensive coordinator after last week’s 31-13 loss to South Carolina. Purdue, meanwhile, seems to be on the rise with two strong performances for first-year coach Jeff Brohm. It seems blatantly obvious to take the building program plus a touchdown against the fledgling one, but that’s probably the exact reason to go the other way. Missouri 35, Purdue 21

Army (2-0) at No. 9 Ohio State (1-1)

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

Vegas line: Ohio State by 30

Prediction: Army’s wishbone attack has proven successful in recent years against a variety of styles. Against Ohio State's skill, though, it’s a rotten matchup. The Buckeyes have NFL-level talent in their defensive front seven, and certainly there’s a little team-wide frustration that needs to be released after Oklahoma planted its flag at midfield of Ohio Stadium on Saturday night. Urban Meyer’s boys should dominate both lines of scrimmage in a game that could last only 2½ hours. Ohio State 42, Army 3

Georgia State (0-1) at No. 5 Penn State (2-0)

Time, TV: 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Vegas line: Penn State by 37

Prediction: Penn State recorded a revenge win by 19 points against pseudo-rival Pittsburgh last week, and the overall sentiment was “unsatisfying.” Georgia State is a bottom-half Sun Belt team. But it has a decent defense and good athletes, and it gave Wisconsin trouble in Madison a year ago — losing by only six to the eventual Big Ten West champs in a similar Week 3 spot. Combine that with Penn State likely being on cruise control with an Iowa trip on deck, and 37 points might be a few too many. Penn State 41, Georgia State 10

Bowling Green (0-2) at Northwestern (1-1)

Time, TV: 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Vegas line: Northwestern by 21½

Prediction: It’s too early to make blanket statements about any program, BUT … maybe picking the Wildcats to finish second in the Big Ten West was too optimistic. Northwestern was dominated by Duke on Saturday, the total yardage of 538-191 telling the tale. The Wildcats should rebound against a MAC team that just lost at home to FCS South Dakota. But until proven otherwise, they’re mediocre. To ask a mediocre team that needs to locate confidence and cover three-plus TDs is a stretch. Northwestern 34, Bowling Green 17

Leistikow’s ledger

Last week’s record: 9-3 vs. spread (10-2 straight up)

Season: 15-6 vs. spread (18-3 straight up)

Note: This weekly column focuses on Saturday Big Ten games. This week, we did not include Rutgers vs. FCS Morgan State (no Vegas line); Indiana vs. Florida International was cancelled because of Hurricane Irma. Maryland and Michigan State are idle.

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.