Leistikow's Week 7 Big Ten picks: Turning-point games for Iowa's next 2 opponents

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

It's the Iowa football bye week, which means the head coach will finally get a Saturday to relax and enjoy college games instead of stressing about them.

Or maybe not.

"I have a hard time just sitting there watching a game unless there's something really (intriguing)," Kirk Ferentz told us on our HawkCentral radio show this week, before adding, "I don't even know who's playing."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald leads his team onto the field before a Big Ten-opening loss at Wisconsin on Sept. 30. The Wildcats are 0-2 in conference play but have a chance to get back on track Saturday at Maryland.

Well, we've got you covered, Coach.

While the Hawkeyes (4-2 overall, 1-2 Big Ten Conference) wait for an Oct. 21 trip to Northwestern, here's a look at the six conference games on Saturday's docket as we look to build on another winning week against the spread.

No. 16 Michigan (4-1, 1-1) at Indiana (3-2, 0-2)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., ABC

Vegas line: Michigan by 7½

Prediction: Michigan was my dark-horse pick to win the Big Ten East. After a five-turnover performance in a downpour against Michigan State, there’s no choice for the Wolverines except to win out. They’ve got the defense to do it — still No. 1 in FBS by a wide margin. Indiana’s switch to  sophomore quarterback Peyton Ramsey provides intrigue, because he can do more damage with his legs than Richard Lagow could. Considering the Hoosiers’ Big Ten losses are against Ohio State and Penn State, it really does get easier for first-year coach Tom Allen after this. But the Wolverines, even with next week’s showdown at Penn State, can’t afford to look ahead and will put an emphasis on ball security to shake off the Hoosiers’ scare. Michigan 27, Indiana 17

Rutgers (1-4, 0-2) at Illinois (2-3, 0-2)

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

Vegas line: Illinois by 2½

Prediction: You aren’t going to watch this “somebody has to win” matchup of the Big Ten’s two worst teams, so let’s keep this short. The teams are tied in turnover margin. Advantage? Push. Rutgers is 13th in scoring offense in the Big Ten, Illinois is 14th. Advantage? Push. Rutgers’ defense is 13th in yards per play allowed (5.6), Illinois’ is 14th (5.7). Advantage? Push. The Illini get home-field edge; the Scarlet Knights are coming off a bye. Advantage? Push. To break the tie, I’ll lean on the fact that Illinois looked OK and even two-dimensional with Jeff George Jr. at quarterback against Iowa. Illinois 24, Rutgers 19

More:Hawkeyes add UNI to 2020 nonconference football slate

Purdue (3-2, 1-1) at No. 6 Wisconsin (5-0, 2-0)

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

Vegas line: Wisconsin by 17

Prediction: Anyone who watched the entire second half of Wisconsin’s 38-17 win at Nebraska last week (as I did), had to be impressed. The Badgers’ offensive line is what the Hawkeyes' scuffling front five hopes to become. Totally dominant, with an ability to rack up whatever yardage it needed at any time. Wisconsin ran 30 plays on three straight second-half touchdown drives, and 28 were rushes. Wow. But lost in what ended up as a blowout win was that Nebraska picked up 381 total yards despite barely handling the ball in the second half. That tells me the Badgers’ defense has holes, and a smart coach like Purdue’s Jeff Brohm can find them. Look for a little Bucky letdown and a bit of a Boiler bounce after last week’s win against Minnesota. Wisconsin 31, Purdue 21

Northwestern (2-3, 0-2) at Maryland (3-2, 1-1)

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., ESPN2

Vegas line: Northwestern by 3½

Prediction: Most (including me) thought this would be a really good Northwestern team. Through five games, there’s little evidence of that being true. Yeah, the Wildcats hung with Wisconsin for a while in Madison — but in watching that game, they got a bunch of early breaks and still only led by three at halftime. Meanwhile, Maryland continues to be an injury-ridden enigma. A week after racking up 416 yards at Minnesota, it managed 66 at Ohio State. The only common thread I see: If the Terrapins (down to a fourth-string quarterback) face an iffy run defense, they can win. If not, they struggle. And Northwestern has been decent against the run — even stifling Penn State’s Saquon Barkley for 15 of the Heisman Trophy front-runner’s 16 carries in last week's 31-7 loss. I think Pat Fitzgerald has his guys ready to pull off a road win as basketball season begins in earnest in College Park. Northwestern 28, Maryland 17

No. 8 Ohio State (5-1, 3-0) at Nebraska (3-3, 2-1)

Time, TV: 6:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1

Vegas line: Ohio State by 24

Prediction: Think about this line for a second. The Cornhuskers are playing a home night game, and they’re expected to get blown out. Nebraska fans seem to be bracing for an embarrassment. As of Thursday, tickets were available on StubHub for $25 — more than an 80 percent discount from the face value of $135. The past few weeks, I’ve been taking Ohio State minus huge numbers and winning. The oddsmakers can’t make the Buckeyes’ lines high enough, and now they’re pushing the limits even further. The Ohio State numbers are staggering — 568 yards per game and 7.4 per play. But the Buckeyes, aside from a home loss to Oklahoma, haven’t played anybody. Nebraska, meanwhile, isn’t a terrible team. The rush offense is gaining traction with Devine Ozigbo; Tanner Lee (despite another pick-six) is looking more comfortable; and the defense is welcoming back stud cornerback Chris Jones from injury. Much like Iowa against Michigan last year — home night game, same spread — I think Nebraska plays with enough pride to cover the big number. Ohio State 42, Nebraska 27

No. 22 Michigan State (4-1, 2-0) at Minnesota (3-2, 0-2)

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

Vegas line: Michigan State by 4

Prediction: Welcome to a classic letdown spot for Michigan State, and a must-win spot for Minnesota. The Spartans are a surprising 4-1, grinding out wins against Iowa and rival Michigan the past two weeks. Now, after winning in the Big House, can Michigan State really muster up enough fire to deliver a third straight solid performance against P.J. Fleck’s Gophers? Well, you’d think Minnesota has ample motivation after a humbling home loss to Maryland then letting one slip away at Purdue. But I’m looking at the numbers. And I see a one-dimensional Minnesota team. And that one dimension (literally) runs right into the Spartans’ strength — a rush defense that allows just 3.0 yards a carry. I’ll side with Michigan State being a good team that still plays with a chip on its shoulder — wanting to prove it belongs again in the Big Ten East. It also has a quarterback in Brian Lewerke who can make winning plays with his legs. Michigan State 20, Minnesota 14

Leistikow’s ledger

Last week: 4-2 vs. spread (5-1 straight-up)

Season: 28-20 vs. spread (37-11 straight-up)

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.