Iowa (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) has spent every week of the season ranked in the Top 25 of the major polls and is sitting at No. 19 in the latest College Football Playoff poll. The Illini (6-4, 4-3) have had a successful campaign as well, qualifying for a bowl appearance for the first time since 2014.
On Saturday, these two well-coached clubs will get together for what should be a classic and entertaining Big Ten slugfest.
Illinois at Iowa
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 23 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Iowa -15.5
When Illinois Has the Ball
For the first time in as long as anyone can remember, Illinois has a savvy, capable veteran playing quarterback. That has made all the difference for this team in 2019. Brandon Peters' confidence and leadership under center have rubbed off on the rest of the team, and the Illini offense has been successful as a result. Illinois is fairly balanced; Peters has the ability to throw it all over the field and make most throws while also having the luxury of a capable stable of running backs behind him. Both Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown are averaging over five yards per carry and have combined for 1,067 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Iowa must be able to penetrate the backfield and disrupt plays before they develop if they want to avoid the upset. A key battle to watch with be how quickly Iowa's A.J. Epenesa can get to the pocket on obvious passing downs vs. how quickly Peters can get the ball out of his hand. The junior defensive lineman was named Athlon's Defensive Player of the Week last week after registering 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble in a big win over previously undefeated Minnesota.
When Iowa Has the Ball
The Hawkeye offense has struggled this season, but it is starting to see signs of life from the rushing attack. Tyler Goodson led all Hawkeyes with 94 rushing yards and a touchdown in the win over Minnesota last weekend. Iowa is going to want to control the tempo with Goodson and the rushing attack in order to shorten the game and keep Peters and the Illini offense off the field. Run defense continues to be the Illini's weak spot too, as they rank 103 in the nation by giving up 196.3 rushing yards per game.
Despite their superior record, the Hawkeyes may have to keep up with Illinois' high-powered offense, which is seventh in the Big 10 at 30.7 points per game. Iowa only averages 24.0 points per outing but can control the trenches and sustain long drives on offense, this will be the type of game we've seen them win all season.
Illinois is the hottest team in the Big Ten not named Ohio State. Its four-game winning streak has bolstered the team's confidence and injected a bit of swagger into the program. That said, cold Saturdays in November are even colder in the confines of Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeye faithful are among the most raucous in the nation, and they are right on top of you. Between the slow, methodical drives Iowa should be able to put together and the pressure the Iowa front seven is going to put on Brandon Peters, it's tough imagining Illinois coming away with the win in that environment this weekend.
Prediction: Iowa 27, Illinois 16
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation, USA Today and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
(Top photo courtesy of @IlliniFootball)