Leistikow's Week 6 Big Ten picks: Hawkeyes' big hogs will hoist a bronze pig in Minnesota

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

The Iowa football season is about to look and feel a lot different.

For four of the next five Saturdays, the Hawkeyes will be wearing their road white uniforms. For the first time in 2018, they’ll be playing outside the friendly confines of Kinnick Stadium — and the road grind starts with Saturday’s matchup at Minnesota (2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network).

“It’s the opposite of Kinnick,” senior wide receiver Nick Easley said. “In Kinnick, you’ve got to feed off the energy of the crowd sometimes. When you go on the road, you’ve got to provide that yourself.”

Kirk Ferentz's team scored just 10, 10 and 14 points in starting 0-3 on the Big Ten road a year ago ... and two of those four touchdowns came from the defense. His 2018 Hawkeyes need to be road warriors to have a successful season.

This matches the latest road opener for Iowa football since 2001, when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks postponed an early-season trip to Iowa State.

How the 2018 Hawkeyes handle life on the road will go a long way in shaping their season as a success or disappointment. After this, trips to Indiana (Oct. 13), Penn State (Oct. 27) and Purdue (Nov. 4) loom, with a tricky Homecoming game against Maryland (Oct. 20) sandwiched in between.

It’s a critical stretch of four road games out of five. Can Iowa go 4-1 or even 5-0 and set the stage for a 10-win season?

Or will it stumble to something like 2-3 on an underachieving path?

A year ago, Iowa lost its first three Big Ten road games. It scored just two offensive touchdowns in games at Michigan State, Northwestern and Wisconsin.

That needs to change.

This year’s road starts at TCF Bank Stadium, where inside you will hear the chants from Gophers fans in this long-running rivalry.

“Who hates Iowa? WE hate Iowa!”

“I haven’t heard that,” Easley, a Newton native, chuckled. “If you want to be a guy that feeds off that and enjoys silencing the crowd, that’s a good thing. Just stay focused on the game plan, stay focused on what you can control.”

What can Iowa control?

Preferably for Kirk Ferentz, the line of scrimmage.

The Hawkeyes’ best matchup is when their defensive line — perhaps the deepest in Ferentz's 20 years — goes against the Gophers’ offensive line. Minnesota is averaging just 3.67 yards per carry despite facing average-at-best defenses.

Minnesota will nonetheless try to move the chains, little by little. The Gophers rank first in the Big Ten and ninth nationally in time of possession. They'll try like heck to shorten the game, and steal a win at the end.

Saturday's biggest key for Iowa is forcing three-and-outs. Do that enough, and the offense (which hasn't scored on its opening drive this season) can take the lead. Build a double-digit lead, and that long, strong D-line can start attacking true freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad.

That’s how I see this one unfolding. The Hawkeyes are 7-point favorites. With disciplined play and a sharp road focus, they will hoist the Floyd of Rosedale trophy for the fourth straight year.

Prediction: Iowa 28, Minnesota 10

Before we get to the rest of the Big Ten, a quick comment: Nebraska and Rutgers are foiling (better yet, fooling) me. No matter which way I've picked their games against the spread, I've lost — 0-9 overall.

Just consistently bad reads on bad teams.

The rest of the Big Ten? I'm 18-16. Much more acceptable.

So, keep that in mind as we get to Saturday's picks (times CT): 

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

Time, TV: 11 a.m., ABC

Vegas line: Michigan by 17½

Prediction: Speaking of hard-to-read teams, which Terrapins team shows up in Ann Arbor? The one that couldn’t score an offensive touchdown against Temple? Or the one that beat an improved Texas and blitzed Minnesota by 29 points? Michigan won’t be burned by Maryland’s impressive team speed. But with Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State in succession on deck, the Wolverines might be content to win this one ugly. Michigan 35, Maryland 21

Northwestern (1-3, 1-1) at No. 19 Michigan State (3-1, 1-0)

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

Vegas line: Michigan State by 10½

Prediction: Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson has thrown for 637 yards and five touchdowns with one interception in 54-40 and 39-31 wins against Michigan State the past two seasons. The Spartans have been unimpressive to date, in part because quarterback Brian Lewerke has been sacked nine times and thrown five interceptions. Michigan State 20, Northwestern 17

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

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

Vegas line: Illinois by 5½

Prediction: This is a battle for mild respectability. Whichever team loses is the clear front-runner for worst team in the Big Ten. The Illini are on a 13-game Big Ten losing streak, can play the revenge card after losing to the Scarlet Knights in 2017 and actually have a credible offense (409 yards per game to Rutgers’ league-worst 281.2). Illinois 31, Rutgers 20

Indiana (4-1, 1-1) at No. 3 Ohio State (5-0, 2-0)

Time, TV: 3 p.m., Fox

Vegas line: Ohio State by 25

Prediction: Last year, a week after escaping by one point against Big Ten East rival Penn State, the Buckeyes … went to Iowa City and got taken to the woodshed, 55-24. This year, a week after escaping by one point against Penn State … I suspect Urban Meyer will be reminding his team to stay laser-focused on the task at hand. Ohio State has won its last five home games by an average of 44.2 points. Ohio State 52, Indiana 21

Nebraska (0-4, 0-2) at No. 12 Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0)

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

Vegas line: Wisconsin by 18

Prediction: In these teams’ most recent meeting in Madison, an evenly matched contest went to overtime, with the Badgers scoring a 23-17 win. What a difference in the programs, two years later. Nebraska entered that game in 2016 with a 7-0 record, but is 6-15 overall since (and currently riding an eight-game, 11¼-month losing streak). Paul Chryst's Badgers entered 5-2, and they’re 22-3 since ... with zero Big Ten regular-season losses. Wisconsin 42, Nebraska 17

Leistikow's ledger

Last week: 2-3 against the spread (3-2 straight up)

Season: 18-25 ATS (27-16 SU)

2017 record: 53-41-1 ATS (73-23 SU)

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.