As they are in most years, expectations for the Iowa Hawkeyes and Iowa State Cyclones in 2016 are very different. The results of the opening weekend games played by each squad only further demonstrated that.
Iowa started fast, eventually cruising to a sound win over Miami (Ohio) out of the MAC. Iowa State, on the other hand, played poorly in nearly every facet of its game against Northern Iowa, subsequently suffering an embarrassing loss to the FCS school.
Heading into the battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy on Saturday, the pressure is all on the Hawkeyes. Iowa is the favorite in the Big Ten West division and is considered in some circles as a dark-horse contender for a spot in the College Football Playoff. A loss to the Cyclones would end Iowa's national title hopes in an instant. On the flip side — thanks to the loss last weekend — Matt Campbell's Iowa State squad is already viewed as the third-best team in the state. They'll be playing with nothing to lose, as — like most years — the Iowa matchup is the biggest game of the season for the Cyclones.
Iowa State at Iowa
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 10 at 7:30 p.m. EST
TV Channel: BTN
Spread: Iowa -15
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Iowa State move the ball through the air?
The Cyclones managed a grand total of 51 yards on the ground against Northern Iowa. It's a safe bet that the Iowa State rushing attack doesn't become suddenly formidable in the span of a week. The Cyclones will need to throw the ball to have any chance of winning this game. Quarterback Joel Lanning wasn't terrible last weekend, though he did toss two interceptions. If he can get Allen Lazard matched up in one-on-one coverage with anyone not named Desmond King, Iowa State should be able to move the ball consistently between the 20s. If Iowa's plan — as you would think it should be — is to lock King on Lazard, it'll likely be a long day for the Cyclones.
2. Does Iowa change anything offensively from last week?
It looked like the same script that took the Hawkeyes to an unbeaten regular season in 2015. C.J. Beathard only attempted 20 passes and the running backs did most of the heavy lifting (and scoring). The Hawkeyes have the talent on the edges to do damage in the passing game. It might benefit them in the long term to demonstrate some aerial firepower early in order to keep future opponents honest in their game plans. That said, Iowa needs to win this game first and foremost, and if running the ball all day is how they get it done, that's going to have to be good enough for the time being.
3. Can the Hawkeyes get Nathan Stanley some minutes?
Beathard makes the Hawkeye offense tick, and as long as he's healthy, Iowa is going to be in good shape. He's been banged up throughout his career, and you get the sense that this would be a different team without him under center — thanks largely to the uncertainty and inexperience on the depth chart behind him. Ideally, Iowa would like to have this game put away early in the second half in order to get Stanley, the team's freshman backup quarterback, some live-fire snaps in a big-time atmosphere. It's one thing to go into the game and just hand the ball off to a talented stable of running backs. Iowa needs Stanley to get into the game and get confident in the pocket in case the worst should happen to Beathard later in the year.
Anything can happen in rivalry games, but this Iowa team is just too talented everywhere on the field to be challenged a great deal by one of the worst Power Five teams in the country. Look for a healthy mix of run and pass in the first half from the Hawkeyes — more balanced than what you saw a week ago — in order to build a comfortable lead. The final score will likely not be indicative of what actually transpires on the field. Head coach Kirk Ferentz should be emptying his benches in the fourth, which will likely result in some garbage-time Cyclone points at the cost of improving Hawkeye experience and depth. It would be shocking, however, to see Iowa State sustain a touchdown-scoring drive against Iowa's first-team defense.
Prediction: Iowa 37, Iowa State 17
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.