Sports writers Chad Leistikow and Dan Lawhon break down Iowa's first and biggest conference match up against Wisconsin. Hawk Central
Long before it was known that Saturday’s Iowa-Wisconsin showdown at Kinnick Stadium would occur under the lights, the University of Iowa announced this would be a Black and Gold Spirit Game — aka a “Stripeout.”
The striped sections always look better at night.
But the concept can pack more meaning this week, as our state mourns the recent killing of Iowa State golfer Celia Barquin Arozamena. In her memory, fans at Saturday’s Iowa State and Northern Iowa home games are asked to wear yellow.
At Iowa, the university confirmed, Saturday remains a “Stripeout.”
Credit Hawkeye fan Cody Hills for tweeting this simple, perfect idea for a tribute: “Wear the color where you sit. The gold can be for Celia Barquin Arozamena. The black can be for Mollie Tibbetts.”
Jake Tibbetts, the older brother of the slain University of Iowa student who was found in an Iowa cornfield in August, followed up by tweeting his approval of the idea.
So, before you put on your shirt for Saturday’s game, check into your assigned attire. And as you wear either black or gold, think of the families and loved ones struggling with the tragic losses of these young women.
In the stands and on TV, it can serve as a symbolic statement of Iowans coming together.
Black for Mollie. Gold for Celia.
Make it happen, fans.
OK, onto the game ... the biggest of the year for Iowa.
The environment should be fantastic. Two Saturdays ago against Iowa State, head coach Kirk Ferentz said he’s never heard Kinnick louder in his 28-plus years in Iowa City — thanks, in part, to the new, towering north end-zone construction.
Given what’s at stake, Kinnick might get even louder Saturday night.
“It’s loud in there,” Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson said. “I’ve been in some loud stadiums. But nothing compares to ours (in a) night game. We’ve got some of the best fans in the world.”
The winner of this Big Ten Conference opener will get to hoist the Heartland Trophy. It’s the only one of Iowa’s four rivalry trophies that isn’t currently taking up residency in Iowa City.
More importantly, the winner becomes the unquestioned West Division front-runner, the favorite to play for a Big Ten title Dec. 1 in Indianapolis.
Wisconsin has won five of the past six meetings. The only loss? When the Badgers committed four turnovers in 2015, a 10-6 Iowa win.
And there lies the key to Hawkeye victory: being the team that avoids the big mistakes.
Iowa has to be clean, and be willing to play the field-position game.
When Brigham Young upset Wisconsin on Saturday, the Cougars didn’t commit a turnover. And they forced the Badgers to start each of their 10 drives from their own territory. In fact, Wisconsin's best starting field position in the second half was its own 24-yard line.
Iowa has been terrific in this department in 2018. From the second half of Week 1 to the second half of Week 3, Iowa went 26 straight possessions without allowing its opponent to start past its own 32-yard line.
That’s a credit to Iowa’s punting game with Colten Rastetter, and to the fact that the Hawkeyes have yet to lose a fumble this season.
If the 3-0 Hawkeyes can continue such clean living and force 16th-ranked Wisconsin to consistently march 75-plus yards to the end zone, I like their chances Saturday (7:30 p.m, Fox) as a 3-point underdog.
But perfection is a tall ask.
The Badgers bring a 2-1 record but plenty of motivation and swagger into Kinnick Stadium.
They’ve got the nation’s second-leading rusher in Jonathan Taylor, at 171.7 yards per game.
They’ve won 15 consecutive regular-season Big Ten games.
They’re 14-1 in true road games under Paul Chryst.
And they’ve won four straight in Iowa City.
Iowa center Keegan Render said it best, that it’s not even debatable: The road to the Big Ten championship game goes through Wisconsin in the West … until proven otherwise.
Prediction: Wisconsin 24, Iowa 19
DEPTH CHART BREAKDOWN: Info on every Hawkeyes starter
Now, for the rest of Saturday’s Big Ten menu …
(Note: Penn State and Illinois were set to open their Big Ten seasons Friday night in Champaign.)
Nebraska (0-2) at No. 21 Michigan (2-1)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., Fox Sports 1
Vegas line: Michigan by 17½
Prediction: The big question for the Cornhuskers is whether quarterback Adrian Martinez will play. His status is a game-time decision, according to coach Scott Frost. Reading some quotes this week, I’d be surprised if the Huskers put him out against a vicious Michigan defense, unless he’s 100 percent. “We’re going to make the best decision with the team in mind and our future in mind,” offensive coordinator Troy Walters said. The large point spread also seems to suggest the expectation that Andrew Bunch, who threw two interceptions in a home loss to Troy in his first career start, will be at the helm. Whoever is at quarterback, though, look for Nebraska to fight to the finish in Frost’s first conference game as a Husker coach. Michigan 31, Nebraska 17
No. 25 Boston College (3-0) at Purdue (0-3)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., ESPN2
Vegas line: Boston College by 6½
Prediction: A fun fact about this matchup: Boston College’s most recent loss was to Iowa; Iowa’s was to Purdue. The Eagles, 27-20 losers to Iowa in the Pinstripe Bowl, have been pounding teams this season. Star running back A.J. Dillon is fifth in the nation in rushing and BC is averaging 52.7 points (sixth in FBS) and 577.3 yards (11th) per game. On the flip side, Purdue’s season start couldn’t be going much worse — three losses, all at home, by a combined eight points. If the Boilermakers weren’t minus-4 in turnovers, they might be 3-0. Maybe this is the week the script gets flipped. Purdue 34, Boston College 31
Buffalo (3-0) at Rutgers (1-2)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., Big Ten Network
Vegas line: Buffalo by 5
Prediction: How bad was Rutgers’ 55-14 loss to Kansas last week? Steve Politi, a columnist who covers the Scarlet Knights for The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, tweeted: “This might be the most demoralizing, humiliating, unacceptable loss in the modern history of Rutgers football, and yes, I know that's a high bar to clear.” Wow. And now they’re a home underdog by almost a touchdown to a MAC team. I’m probably on an island here, but I’m not ready to bury the Chris Ash era just yet. Rutgers 24, Buffalo 20
Minnesota (3-0) at Maryland (2-1)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., Big Ten Network
Vegas line: Maryland by 1½
Prediction: After knocking off Texas then rushing for 444 yards at Bowling Green to start 2-0, the Terrapins … didn’t score an offensive touchdown and were routed at home by Temple. So, it’s anybody’s guess which Maryland team shows up for the Big Ten opener against a P.J. Fleck’s Gophers. Minnesota has been playing excellent defense and will be seeking payback for a home loss to the Terps in this spot last year. Minnesota 21, Maryland 14
Tulane (1-2) at No. 4 Ohio State (3-0)
Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Vegas line: Ohio State by 37
Prediction: Coming off a big win against TCU and with a trip to Penn State on deck, the Buckeyes would be in a classic trap spot — not to lose, of course, but to cover five-plus touchdowns. The return of Urban Meyer, though, to the sidelines surely will add some incentive to display dominance. Look for Ohio State to empty the bench at some point, but the Buckeyes’ third-stringers aren’t like most teams’ third-stringers. Ohio State 55, Tulane 14
No. 23 Michigan State (1-1) at Indiana (3-0)
Time, TV: 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Vegas line: Michigan State by 4½
Prediction: The Hoosiers have been one of the Big Ten’s nice stories, with a trio of solid wins, the discovery of freshman running back Stevie Scott (129.3 yards a game) and the Big Ten’s No. 1 passing defense. Michigan State, meanwhile, has been underwhelming out of the gates. So naturally, the smart pick here is probably to back the Spartans, coming off a bye week, to play with their chip-on-a-shoulder mentality on the road. Michigan State 28, Indiana 17
Last week: 7-6 against the spread (7-6 straight up)
Season: 12-19 ATS (19-12 SU)
2017 record: 53-41-1 ATS (73-23 SU)
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.