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Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Northwestern Wildcats Preview and Prediction

Akrum Wadley

Akrum Wadley

After a week off, the Iowa Hawkeyes (4-2) will hit the road to take on a Northwestern (3-3) team that perhaps had its best performance of the season last time out, beating Maryland on the road 37-21. For the Wildcats, the offense finally found its groove against the Terrapins with more than 500 total yards, including 238 on the ground.

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Both Iowa and Northwestern currently sit at 1-2 in the conference with a chance still to contend in the Big Ten West, but a loss this week likely ends any hope of that, making this a crucial game for each school.  

Iowa at Northwestern

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct, 21 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Iowa -1.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Building momentum
It was not looking pretty there for a moment for the Hawkeyes. After back-to-back narrow defeats to both Penn State and Michigan State, Iowa was looking for a bounce-back performance at home against a bad Illinois on Homecoming weekend. After one half of play at Kinnick Stadium, that wasn’t the case as the Illini were trailing by just four points. Coming out of the break, Iowa blew the doors off, outscoring Illinois 28-3 in the second half to sail to a comfortable victory. With two winnable games ahead before crucial matchups with both Ohio State and Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes will look to build some momentum after the bye week starting with Northwestern.

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2. Key to victory

It has been a roller-coaster of a season thus far for Northwestern running back Justin Jackson (above, right), but the senior easily had his best outing of the year this past week against Maryland, rushing for 171 yards on 28 carries with two touchdowns. With that performance, Jackson moved ahead of Damien Anderson as the school’s all-time leading rusher and No. 1 in all-purpose yards too. Jackson now has topped the 100-yard mark three times this season, each of which resulted in a Wildcats victory. The other three games Jackson did not top the century mark? All losses. Utilizing Jackson heavily in the offensive game plan seems like a good idea for Northwestern.

3. Fourth-quarter magic

Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley has been a pleasant surprise for the Hawkeyes in his first season as the full-time starter. Through just six games, Stanley already has 15 touchdown passes to just two interceptions, and is just two touchdowns away from matching last year’s season total of 17 by now San Francisco 49ers starter C.J. Beathard. Stanley has been especially good in the second half of games with seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. Comparatively, Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson has thrown just three touchdowns with five interceptions in the second half of games in 2017. If this one is close in the second half the advantage seems to go to Iowa.

Final Analysis

Take the running games out of the equation as those are a wash with two star running backs in Iowa's Akrum Wadley and Northwestern's Justin Jackson. Both defenses are middle of the road in terms of total yards allowed so throw that out as well. This game likely comes down to which quarterback can make the winning plays in crunch time as this is certain to be a close contest heading into the fourth quarter. As stated above, Iowa has been the far better team in crunch time and will squeak out the narrow victory on the road to keep their Big Ten West Division title hopes alive.

College Football Rankings: Iowa Football

Prediction: Iowa 24, Northwestern 20

— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.