Leistikow's Week 7 Big Ten picks: Iowa win, Wisconsin loss would reopen West Division
The question, at least for now, can be credibly debated on both sides: Can Iowa still rule the Big Ten West in 2018?
Saturday’s results will provide an answer with much more context.
The Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) must keep winning if they want a chance to represent the West in the Dec. 1 conference championship in Indianapolis. Saturday’s 11 a.m., ESPN2-televised game at Indiana (4-2, 1-2) marks a critical step toward that program goal.
Take care of business at Memorial Stadium, then flip on the TV Saturday night — and maybe quietly hum the notes to “Hail to the Victors."
Even if Iowa wins out, it still needs help to track down Wisconsin, thanks to the 10th-ranked Badgers' Sept. 22 final-minute touchdown inside Kinnick Stadium. Wisconsin (4-1, 2-0) must lose at least twice, and a prime chance comes in a 6:30 p.m. showdown at 13th-ranked Michigan. More on that later.
First, what about Iowa’s chances in Bloomington, Indiana?
Like most of you, I’ve seen enough Hawkeye football to know that this program typically slips up at least once per season as a reasonable favorite. That’s part of the reason why, in August, I settled on this game at sleepy Memorial Stadium — on the heels of Iowa playing three trophy games out of four — as the “oops” spot in the 2018 schedule.
Flash forward two months. Indiana is actually better than most expected. Plus, Peyton Ramsey is the type of dual-threat quarterback that historically gives Iowa fits. Hawkeye safety Amani Hooker even compared the sophomore to the threat posed by Trace McSorley. (Yes, the guy who has led Penn State to 1,178 yards of offense vs. Iowa over the past two years.)
On top of that, the Hawkeyes are dealing with serious injury concerns in their back seven — where correctly reading run vs. pass means the difference between a play gaining three yards or 30.
So, all that said ...
Give me the Hawkeyes to win and to cover the 5½ -point spread.
The Hawkeyes’ offensive and defensive lines. And quarterback Nate Stanley.
As easy as it would be to stick with my original pick, what’s developed in those three vital position groups is too hard to ignore.
Stanley is zipping big-time throws behind a sturdy offensive line that is allowing just one sack per game, fewest in the Big Ten Conference, to an ascending wide receivers group. Now we're talking about an offense capable of starting fast and, if need be, rallying from behind — combined with one of the best pass rushes in the Big Ten.
The injuries? This sort of reminds me of the Iowa-Northwestern game in 2015, when a thin, hobbled offense went into Evanston and rolled up 40 points in a surprisingly dominant win. Sometimes injuries can galvanize a team, especially on the road, into delivering a focused, purposeful performance.
Indiana might race to an early lead, but — much like in that magical 2015 season, when Iowa last played in Bloomington and survived, 35-27 — the Hawkeyes have the right makeup to finish strong.
Prediction: Iowa 31, Indiana 24
Every Big Ten team plays this week. Let's get to the games.
Minnesota (3-2, 0-2) at No. 3 Ohio State (6-0, 3-0)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., Fox Sports 1
Vegas line: Ohio State by 29½
Prediction: There seems to be no slowing the passing proficiency of Dwayne Haskins. The Ohio State quarterback this season has more passing yards (1,919) than four Big Ten teams have TOTAL yards (Northwestern, 1,856; Maryland, 1,819; Rutgers, 1,792; and … these Gophers, 1,707). After giving up 48 points to Iowa last week, P.J. Fleck's boat could take on water quickly in the Horseshoe. Ohio State 52, Minnesota 10
Rutgers (1-5, 0-3) at Maryland (3-2, 1-1)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., Big Ten Network
Vegas line: Maryland by 24½
Prediction: There’s clearly still some angst in College Park. Last week, upset players had a controversial booster kicked off the team plane. The investigation into D.J. Durkin’s bullying still isn’t complete; results could finally be announced for the on-leave head coach Oct. 19 — the day before the Terrapins’ game in Iowa City. Rutgers gave up 330 yards rushing in Saturday's 21-point home loss to Illinois. Maryland 41, Rutgers 21
Nebraska (0-5, 0-3) at Northwestern (2-3, 2-1)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., ABC
Vegas line: Northwestern by 4
Prediction: Northwestern won by double digits at Michigan State last week despite rushing for 8 yards. The difference? Quarterback Clayton Thorson is looking like the pro prospect many think he is. Great news for Huskers fans, though: I’m 0-5 this year picking Nebraska games against the spread. And this week, I’ve got the 'Cats, who are the least penalized team in the Big Ten — going against the most-penalized. Northwestern 34, Nebraska 28
Michigan State (3-2, 1-1) at No. 8 Penn State (4-1, 1-1)
Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Vegas line: Penn State by 13½
Prediction: Penn State averages a Big Ten-best 7.1 yards per play and will be seeking revenge after last year’s loss in East Lansing. Meanwhile, the world’s doubting the Spartans after a 29-19 home loss to Northwestern. Their offensive line can’t block anybody. And now a banged-up roster hits two of its biggest games of the season — at Beaver Stadium, then home against Michigan. This seems like a classic chip-on-the-shoulder rallying cry that Mark Dantonio loves. Penn State 31, Michigan State 26
Purdue (2-3, 1-1) at Illinois (3-2, 1-1)
Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1
Vegas line: Purdue by 10½
Prediction: Two programs typically mired at the bottom of the Big Ten West enter with momentum. The Boilermakers, fresh off a bye week, are cooking after back-to-back convincing wins against Boston College and Nebraska. Their 490.0 yards per game trail only Ohio State and Penn State in the Big Ten. Illinois, meanwhile, just snapped a 13-game league losing streak and has found a spark with quarterback A.J. Bush. Purdue 37, Illinois 24
No. 10 Wisconsin (4-1, 2-0) at No. 13 Michigan (5-1, 3-0)
Time, TV: 6:30 p.m., ABC
Vegas line: Michigan by 9
Prediction: This outcome is important for any team, not just Iowa, hoping to reach the top of the Big Ten West. The Badgers’ best chances for losses come Nov. 10 at Penn State — and in this one. Wisconsin’s defense is allowing 6.0 yards per play, compared to Michigan’s 3.7. That — plus a mountain of sharp betting money that moved the line from its opening 6½ — would seem to tip the scales heavily in the Wolverines’ favor. But one trend tells us this should be a tight one. Since Paul Chryst took over in 2015, Wisconsin has never been beaten by a Big Ten opponent by more than seven points. And he’s 15-1, straight up, in road games. Michigan 20, Wisconsin 17
Last week: 3-3 against the spread (5-1 straight up)
Season: 21-28 ATS (32-17 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.