The Penn State Nittany Lions have ripped off four straight wins since losing to Michigan back on Sept. 24. One of those wins — over Ohio State — catapulted James Franklin's squad into the top 25 of both major polls. After a blowout win over Purdue, the College Football Playoff committee bumped Penn State up to No. 12 in its first rankings of the 2016 season.
Iowa is coming off of a much-needed bye week, having lost its last game at home to Wisconsin. The 5-3 Hawkeyes still have a glimmer of hope to win the Big Ten West. The part of getting that done that they control involves not losing anymore games this season. That quest begins Saturday in Happy Valley.
Iowa at Penn State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: BTN
Spread: Penn State -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. How did the bye week impact Iowa?
Penn State is in a groove, looking like world beaters. The Hawkeyes have struggled with both injuries and an identity crisis this season. How the Hawkeyes respond to a week off will be imperative — at least in the first half. If Iowa can come out fresh, energized and with a renewed outlook on the season, I can see the Hawkeyes punching Penn State in the mouth and taking the home crowd out of it early. Iowa's first stint on defense will be key. If Penn State marches down the field with ease on its first possession, that might be all we need to see. If the Hawkeyes can force an early punt, we got us a ball game.
2. Can Iowa fluster Trace McSorely?
We know the Hawkeye defense will be keyed in on slowing down Saquon Barkley — the Big Ten's best running back. It's Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorely, however, who will likely be the difference in this one. During Penn State's four-game winning streak, the sophomore signal-caller has accounted for 10 touchdowns and no turnovers. His ability to take care of and make good decisions with the ball have allowed the Penn State offense to sustain drives and keep opposing offenses off the field. Iowa needs to get to McSorely early, disrupting his timing and forcing him to throw off his back foot if the Hawkeyes want a chance to win. If he has time in the pocket, this game won't be close.
3. Penn State's defensive line vs Iowa's offensive line
Iowa was projected to have one of the better offensive lines in the nation by many pundits before the season started. If nothing else, it tells you that the potential is there — in just hasn't translated to the field. The Hawkeye line will have its hands full on Saturday with a Penn State defensive front that led the charge and eventually sealed the deal in the upset win over Ohio State. C.J. Beathard is probably getting another valuable receiving target back off injury this weekend in George Kittle. The Iowa quarterback is more than capable of shredding Penn State's secondary, but that won't be a possibility if the guys up front can't execute and protect him.
Truth be told, I'd have a hard time picking anyone to beat Penn State in Happy Valley right now. Everything seems to be clicking for the Nittany Lions. Most importantly, the players are buying what their head coach is selling and are shining brightest in the biggest moments. Iowa has been too inconsistent on offense to expect anything but a struggle against a solid Penn State front seven. I see James Franklin leaning on his star running back to pound the Hawkeye defense for three quarters before his talented quarterback puts Iowa away with a dagger in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Iowa 13
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.