Interesting phenomenon this week. Five of the AP’s top ten teams are in the Big Ten. What’s even more interesting is that (a) no other Big Ten teams got so much as a single vote in the poll, and (b) Iowa is the only West team among them. As a Hawkeye fan of long standing, I’m always deeply uncomfortable when Iowa rises to the top. I’ve seen this movie too many times; something always happens.
But apparently I’m less uncomfortable with the phrase “No. 2-ranked Iowa” than a lot of people outside the fanbase are. Hoo boy. It’s one thing for the college football world when Iowa can be thought of as a slow, plodding 8-4 team coached by an amiable punt-happy lunatic. This season has revealed just how many people are unwilling and unable to accept the reality that Iowa might be a team that needs to be taken seriously. You know the truth of this based on the fact that more than eighty percent of the national discussion about the Hawks centers on how bad the offense is (and let’s face it, it’s not good) as opposed to an all-time defense. We were already well into “they haven’t played anybody” territory, and that will only get worse as the back half of the season unfolds. Never mind that Iowa has played lots of ranked teams already, and beaten them all. Several seem to have fallen victim to the GUTPI (Good Until They Played Iowa) phenomenon.
Nah, No. 2 Iowa has to be a fluke, there’s some furtive explanation for it all, you can’t win with defense and special teams in EA Sports America.
Before we review the games, I’d like to take a moment to note the passing last week of former Hawkeye quarterback Tom Poholsky who played for Iowa in the late 1980s. Chuck Long left some large shoes to fill, and Poholsky was one of many quarterbacks who gave it his best shot. Like every Hawkeye on the current team roster, he never lost to Iowa State. We extend our condolences to his family and friends.
- Wisconsin at Illinois: I said Illinois 23, Wisconsin 21; actual score, Wisconsin 24, Illinois 0. As usual, what’s the point of only being a little bit wrong?
- Penn State at Iowa: I said Iowa 17, PSU 13; actual score, Iowa 23, Penn State 20, But If Sean Clifford Hadn’t Gotten Hurt We Would Have Won By 35, And Why Did You Just Tell Me My Table Is Ready At Hickory Park?
- Michigan at Nebraska: I said UM 34, Nebby 31; actual score, UM 32, Nebby 29. I continue to be impressed at how Nebraska has improved at the big stuff but keeps getting killed by the little stuff.
- Maryland at Ohio State: I said aOSU 44, Maryland 17; actual score, aOSU 66, Maryland 17. Everyone has fallen asleep on the Buckeyes since they lost to Oregon, so if you thought Penn State fans were salty about losing to Iowa …
- Michigan State at Rutgers: I said Sparty 34, DORKS 21; actual score, Sparty 31, DORKS 13. Mel Tucker, Big Ten Coach of the Year. Book it.
#10 MICHIGAN STATE AT INDIANA (11 am CDT, FS1)
The 2021 Michigan State Spartans are a very fun team to watch. There, I said it. A little love for Sparty and proof that there’s life after Mark Dantonio, about whom I had already mostly forgotten. This is beginning to look like a lost season for Indiana, though (GUTPI!), but I doubt the Spartans are sleeping on a team that is still capable of being dangerous on offense and has one of the better defenses Sparty will have faced. I still think Michigan State is an entertaining buzzsaw. I’ll probably watch this game for my appetizer, and I expect to see Sparty flounce the Hoosiers.
Sparty Yes! 38, Living Here In Allen-Town 20
NEBRASKA AT MINNESOTA (11 am CDT, ESPN2)
Here, now, is a game that is utterly must-win for both teams. (Then again, this isn’t baseball, so in what game is winning optional?) The Huskers are playing the best they have under Scott Frost but still coming up short in the big games, largely through fault of their own. I am starting to believe that Frosty will get another season regardless just because the team has been so much more competitive. Still, if a bowl game is going to be a possibility, the ‘Skers have only two more losses to give, with their last three games against Ohio State, Wisconsin (okay, maybe that’s not so threatening this season), and Iowa. A loss here stands a good chance of skeezixing the whole season for them.
Minnesota, on the other hand, stands a better-than-good chance of making a bowl game, with the schedule being mostly a downhill slide. Yet since playing aOSU tough in Week 1, the Gophers have been something less than impressive, with a pedestrian offense and a defense stingy on yards but a bit generous on points.
Nebraska’s well-balanced attack should be able to flummox that Gopher defense into giving up yards and points, but one never knows how many times the Huskers will shoot themselves in the foot. So I’m leery of this pick, but I will take a desperate Scott Frost over a less-desperate P.J. Fleck.
Two-Martinez Lunch 31, The Least Disappointing Football Team in Minneapolis 13
RUTGERS AT NORTHWESTERN (11 am CDT, BTN)
New Jersey Placeholder 28, Suburban Chicago Placeholder 17
ARMY AT WISCONSIN (7 pm CDT, BTN)
Speaking of teams that can’t afford any more gonks, here comes the 2-3 Wisconsin Badgers, preseason favorites to win the West, now a team in danger of being left at home during bowl season. Entering stage left is Army, triple-option stalwarts capable of making almost any defense look dumb.
Maybe not Wisconsin’s, though. The Badger D under Jim Leonhard is legit, it’s the offense that has held the team back. In the Big Ten, only Illinois has scored fewer points. (Hmm …) So this should be a big confidence-booster for Bucky.
State Street Brats 24, Going Pro In Something Other Than Sports 12
And, of course …
PURDUE AT #2 IOWA (2:30 pm CDT, ABC)
Purdue scares me.
Purdue always scares me.
Let me count the reasons why.
- Purdue is fast.
- Purdue has a passing system that isn’t dependent on an otherworldly quarterback, so if Iowa forces a QB replacement, it will make less difference than it has in other games.
- Purdue’s pass defense is pretty good.
- David Bell.
If any team stands a decent shot of disrupting Iowa’s 2021 modus operandi, it’s this one. The Boilermakers aren’t even going to try to establish the run, they’re just going to chuck it to David Bell all afternoon, looking for a mismatch or blown assignment, and daring Iowa to run the ball against them. That … is actually not a bad gameplan against this team.
In the end I think Iowa’s depth and ball-hawking defense will be enough to win this game, but it may take until well into the second half for there to be any separation.
If that bothers you, remember that’s basically what I said about Maryland. I call ‘em like I see ‘em, folks.
No. 2 With A Target 20, In Soviet Russia Bell Rings You! 17
Last week: 4-1 (.800)
Season: 39-12 (.765)