Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz likes to break his seasons into segments. And with the first of three in the books, the 18th-ranked Hawkeyes get a chance to sit back and watch other Big Ten Conference rivals go at each other.
The first of two idle weekends on Iowa’s schedule couldn’t have come at a better time.
Injuries, sure, are one big reason why. It’s possible that the Hawkeyes will have left tackle Alaric Jackson and several other starters back in time for their next game, Sept. 28 against Middle Tennessee State. That 11 a.m. matchup will kick off Iowa's second segment of the season, a five-game stretch that includes October games against Michigan, Penn State, Purdue and Northwestern before another idle weekend and a four-game, 21-day sprint to the finish.
But another reason to like the off-weekend timing is that the Hawkeyes could use an emotional recharge, especially given what's ahead.
Iowa has already endured much more than most of its Big Ten brothers (Purdue might be the exception) through three Saturdays. Iowa played the earliest conference game in its history (against Rutgers), then turned around seven days later to face a heavily-hyped atmosphere at Iowa State — and survived a heated rivalry game that lasted six hours due to multiple weather delays.
The Hawkeyes emerged from it all with a 3-0 record. They’re still the only 1-0 team in the Big Ten West.
But now, the rest of the league is about to catch up — and beat each other up.
Saturday’s menu starts with a biggie: Michigan at Wisconsin. If you’re a Hawkeye fan, you want Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines to prevail. Iowa and Wisconsin look like the class of the West so far, so any conference ding against the Badgers helps the Hawkeye cause.
Let's take a closer look at Saturday's games.
No. 10 Michigan (2-0) at No. 14 Wisconsin (2-0)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., Fox
Vegas line: Wisconsin by 3½
Prediction: A fascinating East vs. West showdown. Michigan was receiving all the preseason love, but there's no doubt Wisconsin has been the most impressive of the two teams. Quarterback Jack Coan has been a magnificent complement to Heisman Trophy contender Jonathan Taylor, as the Badgers have outscored opponents 110-0. Meanwhile, Shea Patterson and the Wolverines can't protect the football (having fumbled eight times already, losing five). Both teams should be well-prepared after an off week. Whatever happens will be revealing in terms of shaping the Big Ten Championship Game race. My 2 cents: The Wolverines won this matchup by 25 a year ago; they're still loaded with talent; and Coan hasn't faced a defense like this yet. Michigan 23, Wisconsin 20
Connecticut (1-1) at Indiana (2-1)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., BTN
Vegas line: Indiana by 28
Prediction: Thankfully there are much better games on other networks in this time slot. But I did dig up this stat: Indiana has beaten an FBS opponent by more than 28 points only once since the middle of the 2013 season. Indiana 31, UConn 13
Boston College (2-1) at Rutgers (1-1)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., BTN
Vegas line: Boston College by 8½
Prediction: Rutgers is back in action for the first time since getting pummeled by Iowa, 30-0, two weeks ago. Boston College, meanwhile, would have been better off with a bye week — as it was surprisingly destroyed at home by Kansas, of all teams. A little BC sidenote: Before the season, Jim Reid (the former Iowa linebackers coach) was demoted from defensive coordinator to defensive ends coach. Boston College 28, Rutgers 13
Michigan State (2-1) at Northwestern (1-1)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., ABC
Vegas line: Michigan State by 9
Prediction: Doubt Pat Fitzgerald at your peril. The Northwestern coach has made a nice living winning outright games as an underdog. The Wildcats have incredibly won 15 of their last 16 regular-season Big Ten games, and they have won four of the last five against Michigan State (including a triple-overtime thriller in Evanston two years ago). That said, the Spartans are going to be highly motivated after last weekend's deflating home loss as a two-touchdown favorite against Arizona State. It's hard to imagine Northwestern's awful offense doing anything of substance against Michigan State's stingy defense. But I've seen this too many times before; Fitzgerald will find a way to keep it close. Michigan State 20, Northwestern 17
Miami of Ohio (1-2) at No. 6 Ohio State (3-0)
Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., BTN
Vegas line: Ohio State by 39
Prediction: Oddsmakers have finally caught up with the Buckeyes, who have trucked their last two opponents while being two-touchdown favorites (beat Cincinnati, 42-0; beat Indiana, 51-10). What’s impressive about Ohio State is its defense, which is allowing just 3.8 yards per play. With a monster road test next week at Nebraska, look for Ryan Day to get quarterback Justin Fields out of the game as early as possible. Miami won’t be able to stop the Buckeyes’ running game, but as Iowa fans saw in Week 1, freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert has some grit. Ohio State 45, Miami 10
Nebraska (2-1) at Illinois (2-1)
Time, TV: 7 p.m., BTN
Vegas line: Nebraska by 13½
Prediction: My amazing streak of incorrectly picking Nebraska games against the spread continued last week. I thought Northern Illinois would keep it close; instead, it was a Husker blowout and one of the most complete performances of the Scott Frost era. Now comes a road Big Ten opener at night, the week before a showcase home game against Ohio State. Illinois is equally unpredictable but I've got to think Lovie Smith will have his players ready after last week’s stinging home loss to Eastern Michigan. Nebraska 35, Illinois 31
Last week: 5-5 against the spread (5-5 straight-up)
Season: 15-18-1 ATS (25-9 SU)
All-time: 117-106-2 ATS (162-63 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.