Could Iowa become a sleeper in theBig Ten and perhaps make an argument for inclusion in the College Football Playoff? In order for that to happen, Kirk Ferentz and his Hawkeyes will have to pick up a key road win at Penn State this weekend, and the Nittany Lions are looking to make a bit of a statement of their own.
At 3-1 in Big Ten play, Iowa is in the middle of a Big Ten West Division race that has heated up immensely with Northwestern and Wisconsin and is seeing Purdue enter the race after a big win. Meanwhile, Penn State must embrace playing the role of spoiler with its division chances all but vanished already. But the stakes are high for both of these teams this week, because the winner can keep hopes alive for playing in a New Year's Six bowl game at the end of the season, while the loser may be reduced to filling a less than prestigious spot in the Big Ten’s bowl lineup.
Iowa at Penn State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 27 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Penn State -6.0
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Penn State clean up its act?
The last three games have shown a few warts for Penn State, which has resulted in the Lions' drop from Big Ten and playoff contender status down to division also-ran. Failure to close out games has been the biggest weakness, with two blown fourth-quarter leads and an inability to deliver a knockout blow against Indiana last week. Throw in the Week 1 fourth-quarter collapse that saw Penn State have to fight its way into overtime with Appalachian State, and even the home field has not been a decisive advantage for the Nittany Lions this season.
2. Iowa QB Nate Stanley riding a good streak
Before winds forced Iowa to abandon its passing game last week, Nate Stanley had posted three 300-yard passing games in his previous four contests, including back-to-back 300-yard games against Minnesota and Indiana with 10 total TD passes in those two games. He has been intercepted once in each of the last five games, though, so Penn State should be ready to pounce on a mistake.
3. Penn State owns four-game winning streak against Hawkeyes
From 2000-10, Iowa gave Penn State plenty of nightmares by winning eight of nine meetings between the two programs, but the Nittany Lions have taken back control of the series with wins in each of the last four Big Ten meetings. That streak includes last year’s last-second 21-19 win in Iowa City and a 41-14 victory the last time Iowa visited Penn State in 2016.
Penn State seems due to have a game that reminds people why the Nittany Lions were being ranked so highly in the preseason polls, but Iowa may not allow that to happen. The Hawkeyes play a style of football that can slow things down for Penn State and lead to the type of game that ended up favoring Michigan State in Happy Valley a couple of weeks ago. But if Trace McSorley can get on track and his receivers stop dropping key passes, Penn State should be able to establish control. Then it just comes down to finding a way for the defense and the offense to make plays in the fourth quarter to wrap up a win. Penn State should win this one, but it could very well be another one that has fans on the edge of their seats, sweating profusely.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Iowa 24
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.