Leistikow's Week 9 B1G picks: Iowa, Penn State will show strength
IOWA CITY, Ia. — After last week’s overtime loss at Northwestern, I wondered what the four-hour bus ride home was like for the Iowa football team.
Tuesday, I found out.
“It was baaaaad,” James Daniels reported.
The studious starting center often does homework during his travel time. The journey back from Evanston, Illinois, though challenged his focus.
“I was typing this paper,” he said, “and I was thinking about the game.”
The feeling of frustration festered into soul-searching and motivation. Quarterback Nate Stanley and running back Akrum Wadley attested that the offensive line — which pushed for just 2.7 yards a carry in a slugfest — took the 17-10 Northwestern loss personally and looked like its old self in practices this week.
Now it's time to see that manifest into a game.
Saturday night, I predict we will.
Kinnick Stadium will be cold, with temperatures in the high 30s/low 40s, for Iowa’s game against Minnesota (5:30 p.m, Fox Sports 1). Both teams enter with a 4-3 overall record, 1-3 in the Big Ten Conference — their one league win being against lowly Illinois.
This is a game about the trenches. If the Hawkeyes bring some up-front fire (and can protect the football), they’ll easily cover the 7-point spread against the Gophers.
A look at recent history should provide optimism: In 2016, the Hawkeyes came out of their bye week with a disappointing performance at Penn State.
The following week, led by the offensive line, they delivered crisp home performance under the Kinnick lights to upset No. 3 Michigan.
“We know if we’re not able to run the ball, it doesn’t matter what our defense does, what our passing game does,” Daniels said, “… we won’t be very successful.”
“Just (getting) four or five yards, constantly, up and down the field. When we’re doing that, it’s very hard to stop us.”
Book it, as Iowa secures Floyd of Rosedale for the 13th time in 17 meetings.
Prediction: Iowa 28, Minnesota 13.
On to the rest of the Big Ten. No more bye weeks. Every team plays each of the next five weekends. Let's go.
No. 5 Wisconsin (7-0, 4-0) at Illinois (2-5, 0-4)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., ESPN
Vegas line: Wisconsin by 26½
Prediction: The Illini couldn’t have picked a worse matchup for homecoming. They are allowing a Big Ten-worst 4.7 yards per carry, while run-powered Wisconsin is averaging 5.5. The obvious question here is whether the Badgers cover a nearly four-TD spread on their way to 8-0. That probably depends on emotion. Can Lovie Smith get his guys to rally around their closest Big Ten loss to date? They were tied, 10-10, at Minnesota until the final four-plus minutes. But Illinois has been a bad home team (including a loss to Rutgers), and Wisconsin has arguably played its two best games on the road — at BYU, at Nebraska. The alumni boo-birds will be out early. Wisconsin 38, Illinois 7
Rutgers (3-4, 2-2) at No. 25 Michigan (5-2, 2-2)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., Big Ten Network
Vegas line: Michigan by 23½
Prediction: An analysis applies here that you’ll also see in one of my later picks: Penn State is really good. That’s the best explanation for Michigan’s salty defense getting torched for 506 yards last week. Even so, the Wolverines still own the fifth-best defense in FBS, and coming home against a Rutgers team that’s won two in a row should be a soothing elixir. The Scarlet Knights only average 4.7 yards per play, and Michigan should be able to run the ball all day against a defense that allows 4.5 per carry. A year ago, the Wolverines won this matchup, 78-0. They only need one-third of that performance to cover the spread. Michigan 31, Rutgers 0
No. 18 Michigan State (6-1, 4-0) at Northwestern (4-3, 2-2)
Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Vegas line: Michigan State by 2½
Prediction: Is this the week the wheels come off for the Spartans? Or will they continue to stay affixed to the rickety wagon that has continued to navigate a rocky path to four narrow Big Ten victories? Let’s examine. Northwestern is coming off back-to-back wins against Maryland and Iowa, showing signs it is gaining momentum. Michigan State is built to run the ball and stop the run — two fine recipes to achieving an ugly road victory. Despite having Justin Jackson on its roster, Northwestern is averaging just 3.57 yards a carry. The Wildcats will be lucky to get half that against the Spartans on a chilly Chicago afternoon. Wait till next week (vs. Penn State) for Michigan State to finally be exposed. Michigan State 20, Northwestern 14
No. 2 Penn State (7-0, 4-0) at No. 6 Ohio State (6-1, 4-0)
Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., Fox
Vegas line: Ohio State by 6½
Prediction: This might be the regular season game of the year in college football. The Buckeyes have been naming the score since their Week 2 home loss against Oklahoma, racking up point totals of 38, 54, 56, 62 and 56. And they’ve not only got revenge on their mind after last year’s stunning loss in Happy Valley, they’re coming off a bye week behind a stellar coach in Urban Meyer, who is an absurd 43-2 in Big Ten play. Yet the public backing this week has surrounded Penn State, which is coming off its own revenge win against Michigan. Even though Ohio State has J.T. Barrett, Penn State’s Trace McSorley has proven to be a big-game quarterback. The Nittany Lions also have three other things in their favor: Heisman Trophy front-runner Saquon Barkley, the nation’s No. 9-ranked defense and a 14-1-1 record against the spread in their last 16 games. Penn State 27, Ohio State 24
Indiana (3-4, 0-4) at Maryland (3-4, 1-3)
Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Vegas line: Indiana by 4½
Prediction: The Terrapins may have peaked too soon (losing their top two quarterbacks didn't help). In four Big Ten games, Maryland is completing 46.8 percent of its passes while possessing the league’s worst passing defense. That’s a poor recipe in any location, and the weather looks fine for an aerial approach Saturday in College Park. Indiana, meanwhile, got lulled into a slugfest at Michigan State last week, crumbling late to suffer a fourth Big Ten loss to a top-25 team. The key for Indiana is to reverse the Big Ten’s worst turnover margin (minus-8) against a Maryland team with one of the best (plus-5). The Hoosiers have a better defense than people realize … and are due to break into the win column. Indiana 27, Maryland 17
Nebraska (3-4, 2-2) at Purdue (3-4, 1-3)
Time, TV: 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Vegas line: Purdue by 4½
Prediction: Both teams are coming off spectacular-in-their-own-way duds. The Cornhuskers were rolled and downright embarrassed by Ohio State in prime time, 56-14; the Boilermakers — playing for the first time since 2012 as a road favorite — were humbled at lowly Rutgers, 14-12. So who shows up this week? Well, Nebraska is coming off a much-needed bye after allowing (gasp) 1,099 yards of offense at home in back-to-back games. The Huskers have used the extra week of preparation to focus on individual work, not overhauls. Purdue, meanwhile, produced well statistically against the Scarlet Knights and continues to impress with a variety of ways to move the ball between the 20s. But the Boilers have just five offensive touchdowns in four Big Ten games; asking them to cover by nearly a TD seems a bit much. Purdue 23, Nebraska 21
Last week: 4-2 vs spread (5-1 straight-up)
Season: 34-26 vs. spread (47-13 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.