After years of anticipation and agony against their bitter rivals, Michigan and Jim Harbaugh are heading to the Big Ten Championship Game. And their chances of bringing home Michigan's first outright Big Ten title since 2003 are looking pretty good after overpowering the Ohio State Buckeyes, thus snapping the Buckeyes' streak of four consecutive conference crowns.
All that stands between Harbaugh and his chance to coach the Wolverines (11-1, 8-1 Big Ten) to a shot at a national championship are the Iowa Hawkeyes, champions of the Big Ten West. And like Michigan, Iowa (10-2, 7-2) also is looking for its first victory in the Big Ten Championship Game — and the first outright conference title for the Hawkeyes since 1985. Kirk Ferentz has been in the championship game once before, however, and it did not go well in 2015 with a spot in the College Football Playoff on the line. He's waited a few years to get back to this stage, and Iowa is never a team to take lightly in these types of situations.
Will Michigan punch its ticket to the playoff? Or will Iowa pull the upset and give the selection committee something to think hard about over the weekend?
Big Ten Championship Game: No. 13 Iowa vs. No. 2 Michigan
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 4 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)
Spread: Michigan -11
When Iowa Has the Ball
If Iowa's offense is going to lead the Hawkeyes to their first Big Ten Championship Game victory, it will not be by getting into a back-and-forth type game with the Wolverines. Iowa simply isn't built for a high-scoring affair, and the offense would much rather keep this game no higher than 24 points for the winning team. Of course, Iowa's offense may want to keep this one even lower scoring given the struggles they may face on offense in this matchup.
Iowa's offense is built on clock management and running the football while not putting too much pressure on their quarterback. Having Tyler Goodson running the ball is essential. Goodson has rushed for 1,101 yards this season, including back-to-back games with at least 130 rushing yards in Iowa's last two regular-season games. But he is anything but a touchdown machine. Goodson has just six rushing touchdowns this year, and he's gone three games without one.
Whether it is Spencer Petras or Alex Padilla, Iowa's offensive line is in for a battle to protect their quarterback. Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo have been wreaking havoc in the backfields of their opponents all season long, and that's not about to change this weekend.
When Michigan Has the Ball
Iowa may be known for its tradition of running the football, but you would be hard-pressed to find a running back coming into the Big Ten Championship Game any hotter than Michigan's Hassan Haskins. Haskins is averaging 102.7 rushing yards per game, second only to Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III, and Haskins singlehandedly torched Ohio State last weekend to get Michigan to Indianapolis. Haskins rushed for a season-high 169 yards and five touchdowns in Michigan's long-awaited win over the Buckeyes, and he will be a key player against Iowa.
Iowa brings the Big Ten's third-best rushing defense to Saturday's game, allowing just 105.8 rushing yards per game. That is the lowest average per-game average Iowa has allowed since 2010, when Iowa allowed 101.5. So this is a remarkable run defense for the program.
Iowa will hope to make some game-changing plays against the Michigan passing game, led by quarterback Cade McNamara. Iowa's defense intercepted 22 passes this season, including three against Iowa State and four against Penn State earlier in the season (and SIX against Maryland). McNamara isn't going to rack up monster yardage through the air, but he won't make a bad decision either, and that will help Michigan move one giant step closer to the College Football Playoff.
The defenses should be the story of this game, as both Iowa and Michigan have what it takes to make this a low-scoring Big Ten battle in Indianapolis. Michigan's defense will attack up front while Iowa will hope to make big plays in the secondary. But if Michigan can overwhelm Iowa on the line of scrimmage, handing the ball off to Haskins is a great way to prevent the Hawkeyes from swiping passes through the air. And that's a recipe for victory for the Wolverines.
Prediction: Michigan 24, Iowa 18
Podcast: Championship Weekend Preview and Predictions