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Chad Leistikow and Danny Lawhon look ahead to the Hawkeyes big game this weekend against Penn State and what a win could mean for Iowa. Brian Powers, bpowers@dmreg.com

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The Wisconsin game was "the big one," but this weekend's Penn State game is "the influential one." (Well, until "the next one." But you get the idea.)

With No. 18 Iowa now at 6-1 and with the faintest of College Football Playoff hopes still in play, Saturday's 2:30 p.m. kickoff at Beaver Stadium against the No. 16 Nittany Lions also carries the weight of staying on the crest of the Big Ten West wave. Another conference loss makes a trip to Indianapolis all the more difficult to attain.

Here's a little more about each Hawkeyes starter as we creep closer to that ESPN-televised contest:

OFFENSE

Quarterback: No. 4, Nate Stanley (6-foot-4, 242 pounds, junior) — Let's face it: The wind wreaked havoc on Nate Stanley's mental and physical attributes against Maryland. He said as much, and the numbers (11-for-22, 86 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) showed as much. More bad weather is on tap this Saturday, but rain doesn't hamper a quarterback's abilities as much as people would like to let on. Watch for a possible return-to-greatness game here.

Running back: No. 21, Ivory Kelly-Martin (5-10, 200, sophomore) Shouldering 24 carries (98 yards) after returning from a concussion is as clear a sign as any of a clean bill of health. He took the No. 1 mantle back from Toren Young.  

Fullback: No. 46, Austin Kelly (5-11, 245, senior)  When it's that windy at Kinnick Stadium, everyone is going to run the ball. That includes First-Start Kelly, who got a pair of carries for seven yards.

Tight end: No. 87, Noah Fant (6-5, 241, Jr.) — Look, no one in the receiving game was going to have much success last week. That being said, Fant's mark of six touchdowns as a tight end ties him for the lead in all of FBS with Texas A&M's Jace Sternberger. 

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Iowa tight end Noah Fant speaks for the first time about his brother's tweet that Hawkeye coaches aren't playing him enough. Hear what he had to say: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

Tight end: No. 38, T.J. Hockenson (6-5, 250, Soph.)  The realization of Hockenson's budding greatness (and maybe still some further potential) should be apparent when you realize he's outgaining everyone on the Hawkeyes in receiving yards (424). Yes, even higher than Fant.

Split end: No. 12, Brandon Smith (6-3, 219, Soph.) — I don't really know that one touchdown catch (on a one-catch day, even) changes an entire mindset, but if people think that way, I won't stop them. In reality, I think the Minnesota and Indiana games were larger confidence boosters, but hitting paydirt certainly has cosmetic value.

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Wide receiver: No. 84, Nick Easley (5-11, 205, Sr.)  He gets virtually no recognition, but as usual, Easley quietly has been indispensable on offense (third in catches and yards, tied for second in touchdowns).

Left tackle: No. 77, Alaric Jackson (6-7, 320, Soph.)  If you go back to last season, it's actually three straight Big Ten Conference road games in which Iowa has eclipsed the 40-point mark.

Left guard: No. 59, Ross Reynolds (6-4, 295, Sr.) Penn State has scored first in its past 10 games. Whether that occurs or not Saturday, Reynolds knows there is one goal to quiet Beaver Stadium: “Score,” the senior left guard said. “Put points on the board.”

Center: No. 69, Keegan Render (6-4, 307, Sr.)  One would think that the Iowa offensive line is licking its collective chops against a Penn State defense that has been on the field for 189 snaps the past two games.

Right guard: No. 76, Dalton Ferguson (6-4, 308, Sr.)  As much as Iowa's offense was dictated to use the ground game because of the wind, amassing 224 yards with Maryland knowing what was coming was still an impressive effort.

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Iowa guard Dalton Ferguson says the offensive line made it a point to form a tighter bond this offseason. Yes, food was involved. Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

Right tackle: No. 74, Tristan Wirfs (6-5, 320, Soph.)  Your weekly sacks-allowed update: Iowa is still at six, and still way above the next-lowest total in the Big Ten. Nationally, the Hawkeyes are now ninth.

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Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz answers a question about senior defensive end Parker Hesse, who has made 41 career starts as a Hawkeye. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

DEFENSE

Left end: No. 98, Anthony Nelson (6-7, 271, Jr.)  If you haven't read Mark Emmert's masterpiece on the camaraderie of this Iowa front four, do so. Anthony Nelson is the finance whiz, and nothing about Iowa's gaudy defensive numbers will surprise him.

Left tackle: No. 90, Sam Brincks (6-5, 275, Sr.)  The front four is leading the way in the Hawkeyes' performance as the second-best rush defense in the country (79.6 yards).

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Iowa defensive tackle Sam Brincks on what impresses him about Parker Hesse and the demeanor of the entire Hawkeye defensive line Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

Right tackle: No. 96, Matt Nelson (6-8, 295, Sr.) — Never discount the leadership role when a unit has to "row the boat" in the same direction. The Hawkeyes are tops in the Big Ten in scoring defense (and fifth in the nation) at 14.1 points allowed per game.

Right end: No. 40, Parker Hesse (6-3, 261, Sr.)  Hesse added to his sack total with one against the Terrapins last week. Surprisingly, we've found a statistic this front four doesn't dominate. Iowa is "just" fourth in the Big Ten with 22 sacks.

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Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse says opponents are trying different things to slow Hawkeye pass rush. Listen in: Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

Outside linebacker: No. 49 Nick Niemann (6-4, 232, Soph.)  He's back. That leg injury kept Niemann out two games, as prescribed. Niemann registered a couple of tackles and re-enters the top of the depth chart for this key contest.

Middle linebacker: No. 34, Kristian Welch (6-3, 238, Jr.)  Welch continued his solid tackling effort with five more on Saturday. He's tied with Jake Gervase for the team lead both in total tackles (40) and in solo stops (21).

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Weak-side linebacker: No. 32, Djimon Colbert (6-1, 234, freshman)  It bears repeating that as much as folks almost presume Colbert's production at this spot by now, he was only moved to the spot from defensive back during spring drills.

Left cornerback: No. 20, Julius Brents (6-2, 180, Fr.)  Matt Hankins' status is still questionable, and there's nothing to deter Brents from being supplanted in this spot. But Saturday will provide his stiffest test to date.

Strong safety: No. 27, Amani Hooker (6-0, 210, Jr.)  Expect a return to the start at this position for Hooker after he got the start at outside linebacker in Weeks 5-7 to compensate temporarily for Niemann's absence.

Free safety: No. 30, Jake Gervase (6-1, 212, Sr.)  In addition to his reliability in the tackling department, Gervase has maintained his health in a banged-up secondary. Barring unforseen developments, his starter streak will reach 14.

Right cornerback: No. 33, Riley Moss (6-0, 185, Fr.)  Teams will keep on trying the pick-on-Moss approach. Nothing worked for Maryland last weekend. Penn State has enough weapons to make for more mystery this weekend.

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SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker: No. 91, Miguel Recinos (6-1, 193, Sr.)  Recinos didn't have to make a kick longer than 36 yards last week. But did you see that wind? Keeping focus and technique was extremely difficult; perhaps his best effort to date.

Punter: No. 7, Colten Rastetter (6-1, 213, Jr.)  Given Iowa's time of possession advantage last week (40 minutes, 55 seconds to 19:05), it's not surprising Rastetter only punted twice. But he averaged 46.5 yards a boot in those conditions, and his ability to properly angle kicks has drawn praise this season.

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Iowa junior punter Colten Rastetter says visits with a sports psychologist helped him tune out negativity, focus on the positive. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

Kickoff returns: No. 6, Ihmir Smith-Marsette (6-1, 175, Soph.)  Not all that much to add here. When Maryland doesn't score, Maryland will only kick off once. That didn't hurt the nation-best average we discussed last week, either.

Punt returns: No. 14, Kyle Groeneweg (5-10, 186, Sr.) Maryland punted six times last week during its abysmal offensive performance. But Groeneweg didn't return a single kick.

PENN STATE PROJECTED STARTERS

OFFENSE

Quarterback: No. 9, Trace McSorley (6-0, 201, Sr.)

Running back: No. 24, Miles Sanders (5-11, 215, Jr.)

Wide receiver: No. 84, Juwan Johnson (6-4, 225, Jr.)

Wide receiver: No. 10, Brandon Polk (5-9, 179, Jr.) OR No. 3, DeAndre Thompkins (5-11, 188, Sr.)

Wide receiver: No. 1, K.J. Hamler (5-9, 173, Fr.)

Tight end: No. 87, Pat Freiermuth (6-5, 258, Fr.)

Lion: No. 2, Tommy Stevens (6-5, 240, Jr.)

Left tackle: No. 52, Ryan Bates (6-4, 302, Jr.)

Left guard: No. 74, Steven Gonzalez (6-4, 325, Jr.)

Center: No. 62, Michal Menet (6-4, 298, Soph.)

Right guard: No. 66, Connor McGovern (6-5, 323, Jr.)

Right tackle: No. 71, Will Fries (6-6, 206, Soph.)

DEFENSE

Defensive end: No. 48, Shareef Miller (6-5, 260, Jr.)

Defensive end: No. 99, Yetur Gross-Matos (6-5, 259, Soph.)

Defensive tackle: No. 30, Kevin Givens (6-1, 285, Jr.)

Defensive tackle: No. 54, Robert Windsor (6-4, 295, Jr.)

Outside linebacker: No. 7, Koa Farmer (6-1, 230, Sr.)

Middle linebacker: No. 36, Jan Johnson (6-2, 234, Jr.)

Outside linebacker: No. 6, Cam Brown (6-5, 223, Jr.)

Cornerback: No. 21, Amani Oruwariye (6-1, 203, Sr.)

Cornerback: No. 29, John Reid (5-10, 180, Jr.) OR No. 5, Tariq Castro-Fields (6-0, 186, Soph.)

Safety: No. 17, Garrett Taylor (6-0, 203, Jr.)

Safety: No. 4, Nick Scott (5-11, 200, Sr.)

Star: No. 29, John Reid (5-10, 180, Jr.)

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kickoffs: No. 90, Rafael Checa (6-2, 205, Fr.)

Field goals: No. 92, Jake Pinegar (6-2, 197, Fr.)

Punter: No. 93, Blake Gillikin (6-2, 192, Jr.)

Kickoff returns: No. 1, K.J. Hamler (5-9, 173, Fr.)

Punt returns: No. 3, DeAndre Thompkins (5-11, 188, Sr.)

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