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Michigan Wolverines vs. Iowa Hawkeyes Preview and Prediction

Author:
Jim Harbaugh

Jim Harbaugh

It's been a dream season so far for Jim Harbaugh and his Michigan Wolverines. Less than two seasons into the Harbaugh era, Michigan looks to be living up to all of the hype — well on its way back to the top of the college football mountain.

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In Iowa City, however, things are a bit different. One season removed from an unbeaten regular season campaign, the Iowa Hawkeyes and their faithful have experienced a nightmare of a season. They need to win two of their last three games to avoid a .500 or worse record in a year where they were originally the consensus favorites to win the Big Ten West.

Given all of that, you'd think predicting the outcome of this game would be a no-brainer, but that — as they say — is why they play the game.

Michigan at Iowa

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ABC

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Spread: Michigan -21.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Can Iowa protect C.J. Beathard?
Michigan is among the best teams in the country at getting to and sacking the quarterback. The good news for Hawkeyes fans is that the Wolverines have not played a line as talented as Iowa's or faced a quarterback as good as Beathard. The Iowa signal-caller has no problems finding tight ends and running backs on passing downs. If the Hawkeyes can give him enough time to make reads and get the ball to those playmakers early, it could change the way the Wolverines attack defensively — especially on third down.

2. Can Michigan stop Iowa's rushing attack?
In one of only two other road games Michigan has played this season, the Wolverines had trouble slowing down the stable of Michigan State running backs. Iowa has a handful of quality backs of its own. You can bet that Kirk Ferentz is going to challenge Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown's undersized group of linebackers early with a downhill rushing attack. Iowa's offensive attack will be about ball control and catching the Wolverines out of position on play action. The Hawkeyes want to shorten the game and let their defense win a fist fight.

3. The matchups when Michigan has the ball
Throw the records out the window. When you just look at the personnel, Iowa has the individual talent to match up and cause problems for Michigan's offense. The Hawkeyes have little to lose to begin with. Combine that with corners confident enough to play on islands and you'll have a variety of blitz packages coming at Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight on every obvious passing down. The Wolverine signal-caller will need to be on point during his pre-snap reads, as he'll be looking to get the ball out quickly while avoiding mental mistakes that land multiple passes in the hands of Hawkeye defenders. Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson and any penetration he can get will be key to speeding up Speight's decision-making process.

Final Analysis

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As mentioned, this will only be Michigan's third road game of the season — and its second outside its own state. The Hawkeye faithful will have had all day to get — let's call it "fired up" — for this one. Look for Iowa's defense to feed off of the energy of the home crowd under the lights. I like Josey Jewell to play the role of enforcer early on against Michigan's tight ends. His physicality and nose for the football are going to be the difference for Iowa on defense. When Iowa has the ball, the Hawkeyes' best chance is to play keep-away with a straight-ahead, methodical rushing attack that opens things up for Beathard on play-action. This is one of those games where if Michigan can't jump out early, the Wolverines may be in for an old-school Big Ten slugfest in front of the loudest crowd they've faced in quite some time. Look for a couple of Wilton Speight interceptions to be the deciding factor in the biggest upset of the 2016 college football season.

Prediction: Iowa 23, Michigan 20

— 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.