After starting the season with a loss at Pac-12 favorite Washington, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights look to have — at least for the moment — righted the ship in 2016. Back-to-back wins over Howard and New Mexico have spirits as high as they possibly could be "on the banks," as new head coach Chris Ash begins his first Big Ten slate with a winning record.
The Iowa Hawkeyes arrive in New Jersey fresh off of a shocking home loss to FCS king North Dakota State. It would be tough to point to a more damaging loss suffered by any would-be College Football Playoff contender to this point. Nonetheless, Kirk Ferentz's bunch will need to dig deep, regroup and focus on the goal of winning the Big Ten West. That all starts Saturday at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey.
Iowa at Rutgers
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 24 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Iowa -13
Three Things to Watch
1. Iowa's Body Language Early
Being a two-touchdown favorite combined with coming off a tough loss, I'll be curious to see Iowa's general interest and intensity level. The Hawkeyes need to establish dominance early with a three-and-out on defense or a sustained touchdown-scoring drive on their opening possession — or both. They can't afford to start slow and fall behind early via a big play that Rutgers is more than capable of making in any facet of the game. A lackadaisical effort early — win or lose — will only raise more questions and create more skeptics for Iowa.
2. How can Rutgers move the ball?
It looks as though the Scarlet Knights may have a special talent in running back Robert Martin. The junior has piled up 252 yards on the ground in his two starts. Iowa's front-seven will be on an entirely different level than the competition he's faced so far this season. If he can move the ball against the Hawkeyes early, it will open things up a bit for quarterback Chris Laviano when he drops back to pass. Laviano has been serviceable this season, but he has an elite weapon who can score anywhere in Janarion Grant as a potential target. If Martin, Laviano and Grant are on their A-games early, things could get interesting.
3. To run or to pass? That is Iowa's question
The Hawkeyes are probably hoping to jump out early in this one and cruise to a sound, easy victory. Doing that may require attacking Rutgers through the air. On the flip side, C.J. Beathard was banged up last weekend. It may be wise to ease him in with a bit of a light workload and let the punishing Iowa rushing attack do the dirty work in this one. The Hawkeyes shouldn't have any issues moving the ball on the ground. Then again, they probably shouldn't have a loss at this point in the season either, but football happens. Don't be shocked to see Rutgers load up the box to stop the run and force a sore Beathard to beat them.
Any way you cut it, Iowa is the better team at pretty much every position on the field. Kirk Ferentz knows this, and he'll likely lean on his teams' strengths to put this one away early. Look for Iowa to make it a point to shut down Robert Martin and Rutgers' rushing attack, daring Chris Laviano to throw the ball at a talented secondary known for making momentum-changing plays. On offense, the Hawkeyes are going to run the ball until the Scarlet Knights prove they can stop it — which likely won't happen. The end result will be a slow, methodical-yet-resounding win for the boys in black and gold. Nothing fancy, just classic Iowa Hawkeye football.
Prediction: Iowa 42, Rutgers 10
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.