The last time the Iowa Hawkeyes and Michigan State Spartans met, the Big Ten championship was on the line. Almost two years later, two of the Big Ten's blue-collar like programs meet up for a very important early-season tilt in East Lansing.
The Hawkeyes are coming off of a heartbreaking loss at home to Penn State, where they seemingly played the role of Rocky Balboa to Penn State's Apollo Creed. They left it all on the field, but it just wasn't enough to take down the Nittany Lions. Michigan State is coming off a 20-point home loss to Notre Dame, despite gaining more yards and winning the time of possession battle.
Iowa desperately needs the win to avoid starting Big Ten play 0-2, while the Spartans need to secure this victory at home if they hope to keep pace with Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State in their own division.
Iowa at Michigan State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 30 at 4 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Michigan State -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Michigan State's ability to move the ball
The Spartans were able to put up nearly 500 yards of offense against Notre Dame, but much of that was playing catch-up — including Michigan State's final scoring drive of 71 yards in what was essentially garbage time. They are going up against a battle tested Hawkeye defense that includes some of the very best playmakers in the country. The Spartans have no Saquon Barkley to bail them out of tough spots, so it will be critical that the offensive line give quarterback Brian Lewerke time to get the ball to his playmakers. Every point will count in what should be a low-scoring defensive scrum.
2. Iowa running back Akrum Wadley
Speaking of bailing their teams out in tough spots, few players play that role as well for their teams as Wadley. He provides the biggest spark for the Hawkeyes on offense, and he is the sort of back that Michigan State had trouble defending last week against Notre Dame. The Spartans don't have the linebackers to match up with him in space or to clog the giant running lanes his line opens for him. If he gets rolling early, it could be all she wrote.
3. Can the Spartans win the turnover battle?
It was turnovers that doomed Michigan State — especially early on — against Notre Dame. The Spartans must not only protect the football on offense, but also force more turnovers on the defensive side of the ball. That's going to be easier said than done against the Hawkeyes. Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley is about as efficient as they come, tossing 12 touchdowns to just one interception on the year. In what should be a close, low-scoring battle, the Michigan State defense is going to need to steal a possession or two away from Stanley and Co. to win this game.
From the outside looking in, Iowa notched a moral victory in its loss to Penn State. That said, it was the sort of loss that can define a season — for better or worse. I believe Kirk Ferentz and his veteran staff have what it takes to keep the Hawkeyes motivated after a loss like that and avoid a letdown. East Lansing will be loud and hostile, but the Hawkeyes have a running game, solid defense and an emerging leader at quarterback to offset the hostile setting. I like the Hawkeye defense to focus on shutting down the Spartan rushing attack and put all the pressure Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke. That's not the game the Spartans want to play, especially when Iowa will be moving the ball up and down the field methodically on offense. Two big plays by Akrum Wadley will be the difference in a big, must-win game for the Hawkeyes.
Prediction: Iowa 28, Michigan State 13
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, Bleacher Report and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.