Although first place isn’t on the line, the matchup between the No. 18 Iowa Hawkeyes and the No. 13 Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday will still have a lot on the line for both teams. Both teams come into the game with 6-2 overall records and 3-2 conference marks, so another slipup could prove costly.
Also, with the leader of the Big Ten West, Minnesota, taking on the No. 4 team in the College Football Playoff rankings this week in undefeated Penn State, the winner of this game very likely could pull to within a game of the Golden Gophers in the division standings. Both of these teams still have Minnesota on their schedules — Iowa next week and Wisconsin at the end of November — so the race for a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game is definitely not over yet.
The moneyline for this contest has the Iowa Hawkeyes +290 and the Wisconsin Badgers -360. Wisconsin is favored by nine points at home, with the over/under for the game being set at 38.5.
Strong Up Front
The Hawkeyes don’t have the most explosive offense in the country, but their defense helps them win games by limiting opponents. Iowa allows just 10.1 points per game, good for third in the Big Ten — and the country — and has given up just nine touchdowns through seven games. The Iowa front line is stout, led by defensive linemen A.J. Epenesa (team-high 3.5 sacks) and Chauncey Golston (team-high 7.5 tackles for loss). The Hawkeyes rank eighth in the country in rushing defense, allowing 87.8 yards per game, though that will be put to the test against Wisconsin.
Quarterback Nate Stanley leads the Big Ten in passing yards (1,950) and passing yards per game (243.8), though he’s only thrown 10 touchdowns this season. One of the more explosive receivers for the Hawkeyes is Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who leads the team in receiving yards with 463 on 30 receptions. When the Hawkeyes stay on the ground, they turn to Mekhi Sargent, who leads the team with 98 carries for 443 yards.
Wanting To Run
Wisconsin has dropped two straight heading into this contest, including a 38-7 shellacking at the hands of Ohio State two weeks ago. The Badgers are back playing at home for the first time in a month, and they should look like a different team in front of the Madison faithful. Obviously, getting Jonathan Taylor going will be goal No. 1, as he was held to just 52 yards on 2.6 yards per carry in the loss to the Buckeyes. As Taylor goes, so go the Badgers, so look for a vast majority of Wisconsin’s early plays to go to him.
Through the first 25 quarters of this season, Wisconsin had allowed a total of 29 points. Over the last seven quarters of play, the Badgers have allowed 62 points. The Badgers still lead the nation in total defense, giving up 223.5 yards per game, and rank just below Iowa nationally in scoring defense, allowing only 11.4 points per game. Wisconsin can get after the quarterback, tying for sixth in the country in sacks with 32, led by senior linebackers Chris Orr (nine sacks) and Zack Baun (7.5).
Neither of these teams is going to run away with this one, though Iowa will need to withstand an early surge from the Badgers as the home crowd will be fired up for the game. Wisconsin will try to ride Taylor early and often, though Jack Coan is capable of making plays through the air, completing 74.5 percent of his pass attempts. If Iowa can withstand the early surge, it will gain some confidence. I think the Hawkeyes keep it close, so I’m taking Iowa +9 to at least cover the spread.