IOWA AT NORTHWESTERN
Kickoff: 12 Noon ET/9 a.m. PT
TV: ABC or ESPN2
Las Vegas Line: Northwestern +2
Iowa seemingly usurped Northwestern’s place as the surprise, Big Ten West championship contender last week after the Hawkeyes extended their perfect start to six games, while the Wildcats belly-flopped spectacularly on the national stage.
Iowa is now being discussed as a Playoff dark horse, and is favored over host Northwestern Saturday. Given this sudden Iowa love-fest, it’s worth nothing the Hawkeyes’ Week 6 win was a narrow escape against Illinois.
Northwestern was blown out by surging Michigan. The Wildcats also have arguably the better win on the season, having beaten Stanford Week 1. Iowa’s marquee victory is a nail-biter claimed at home Week 3 vs. Pitt.
Transitive properties don’t decided head-to-head matchups, of course. The Hawkeyes and Wildcats compare pretty evenly as two teams reliant on stout defense to set the table for their offenses.
Iowa’s shown a more consistent offense this season, namely via running back Jordan Canzeri.
Through six games, Canzeri has rushed for a shade below 700 yards and scored nine touchdowns. He’s really caught fire the last two weeks, going for 125 against Wisconsin, then 256 against Illinois. Canzeri provides a nice power approach to balance dual-threat quarterback C.J. Beathard.
Beathard’s mobility brings a nice dynamic long lacking from the Iowa offense, so long as he’s healthy. If the Hawkeyes are to crack Northwestern’s defense Saturday, Beathard’s legs will be the key.
I’m not completely off the Northwestern bandwagon, but Clayton Thorson’s inability to provide a consistent passing threat dramatically limits the Wildcats — especially against an Iowa defense that ranks among the nation’s best in interceptions gained.