As the 7-0 Iowa football team enjoys its lone bye of the regular season, it can kick back this weekend and know that it’ll be 7-0 on Monday, too, in advance of the Oct. 31 home game against Maryland.
So what to do while the Hawkeyes heal up? Watch college football, of course, with plenty of vested interest in 12th-ranked Iowa’s Big Ten West Division title hopes.
As Boone Myers (stinger) and LeShun Daniels Jr. (ankle) get closer to full strength – and hopefully quarterback C.J. Beathard, who played at “50 percent” against Northwestern, isn’t doing anything to slow the healing process of his bothersome groin injury – here are three games Hawkeye fans should keep tabs on Saturday:
NORTHWESTERN (5-2, 1-2) at NEBRASKA (3-4, 1-2)
TV: 11 a.m. CT, ESPN2
The line: Nebraska by 7
Iowa fans should root for: Northwestern
Here’s why: A hard-luck Year 1 for new coach Mike Riley at Nebraska seemed to take a positive turn with last week’s 48-25 pasting at Minnesota. The worst thing for the Hawkeyes would be to face a surging, explosive Nebraska team – coming off its bye week and 13 days between games – in the Black Friday regular-season finale in Lincoln. Also, seeing the Wildcats return to the form that helped them beat Stanford and Duke would make last week’s Iowa 40-10 domination in Evanston, Ill., more impressive.
WISCONSIN (5-2, 2-1) at ILLINOIS (4-2, 1-1)
TV: 2:30 p.m. CT, Big Ten Network
The line: Wisconsin by 6
Iowa fans should root for: Illinois
Here’s why: These are the only one-loss teams behind zero-loss Iowa in the Big Ten West. And, of course, the Hawkeyes beat both – a key head-to-head advantage if tiebreakers come into play. The Badgers' schedule is so manageable the rest of the way that they are the primary threat to overtaking Iowa as division champs. A second Wisconsin loss of any kind in conference play – this one and the finale vs. Minnesota (4-3, 1-2) are its toughest remaining games – would probably allow the Hawkeyes to win the West even with a 3-2 finish. Illinois (at Penn State next week, home vs. Ohio State on Nov. 14) will almost certainly lose again anyway. Unfortunately for the Illini, top running back Josh Ferguson remains out with a right shoulder injury.
PENN STATE (5-2, 2-1) vs. MARYLAND (2-4, 0-2) in Baltimore, Md.
TV: 2:30 p.m. CT, ESPN
The line: Penn State by 6.5
Iowa fans should root for: Penn State
Here’s why: Maryland interim coach Mike Locksley has said he wants to create a fun team atmosphere and “lighten the mood” – which hit rock bottom with the in-season firing of coach Randy Edsall. This will be Locksley’s first game at the helm (at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens) against a beatable Penn State team that has struggled to block people. Even though a Terrapins’ win would help Iowa’s strength of schedule, an energized Maryland team coming into Kinnick Stadium off a fun win would be a little more dangerous. Iowa needs victories, and keeping the Terps in disarray is probably best. The Hawkeyes won't take Maryland lightly after losing in College Park last year.
ALSO ON THE RADAR
The Iowa-at-Indiana matchup is two weeks away, but it's probably worth an occasional remote-control flip to the Hoosiers' 2:30 game at Michigan State (ABC regional, ESPN2 outer-market). Indiana (4-3, 0-3) has a dangerous offense, especially if running back Jordan Howard is able to return and if quarterback Nate Sudfeld remains healthy. The Spartans (7-0, 3-0) are a 16.5-point favorite.