The Minnesota Golden Gophers and Iowa Hawkeyes will hook up in Iowa City on Saturday in a game that could have serious bowl implications. The loser of this contest would need to do no worse than split the remaining Big Ten games on the schedule in order to qualify for a postseason bowl trip. Given how the two teams have performed as of late — combined with the teams still left on their schedules — that could be a tall order for both squads.
Minnesota at Iowa
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FS1
Spread: Iowa -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Iowa offensive line
The Hawkeyes continue to rotate guys on the line due to injury. The various combinations and lack of continuity have taken their toll on this unit — normally one of the best in the country. The tackle positions have been hit the hardest, and that could have a detrimental impact on any runs that go off tackle, which is an area where Hawkeye running back Akrum Wadley likes to attack and subsequently creates explosive plays. The Iowa offense has had plenty of issues moving the ball as of late. The last thing they need is to lose the battle in the trenches against the Gophers.
2. Minnesota passing game
Gophers quarterback Demry Croft (above, right) completed just five of his 15 attempts in Minnesota's win over Illinois last weekend. The Gophers leaned on a sound running game to sneak away with a win over the Illini, but they might not have that luxury against an Iowa front seven that is night-and-day better than Illinois' front. Minnesota must have success through the air early on to loosen up that Hawkeyes front and give its talented running backs space to operate. Gophers receiver Tyler Johnson has the ability to get open consistently against an average Iowa secondary. Look for Minnesota to attempt to feed him the ball early.
3. Josey Jewell's health
Iowa's top linebacker did not play against Northwestern last weekend due to a shoulder injury. Though the Wildcats scored only 17 points, the Hawkeyes still missed their best player. Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson worked the middle of the field in the passing game — often putting the ball in areas where Jewell would have been operating. One of those passes was a 23-yarder to running back Justin Jackson to set up what ended up being the game-winning score in overtime. Jewell is a rare playmaker at linebacker against both the run and pass. Iowa's defense is still solid without him, but his presence takes the unit to another level. If he's anywhere near 100 percent, that's bad news for the Minnesota offense.
Even with the injuries Iowa is dealing with, the Hawkeyes are the more talented team to a man in this game. That said, this is a game where Kirk Ferentz's conservative nature could bite his team. Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck is an innovator, so you can expect a trick play or two to keep Iowa on its heels and possibly keep Minnesota hanging around in this game longer than it probably should. As a result, look for the Hawkeyes to force the ball dowfield on more vertical routes to tight end Noah Fant. Aside from the occasions when running back Akrum Wadley lines up in the slot, Fant is Iowa's most dangerous big-play threat as a receiver. The attention he'll require on those vertical routes will eventually make Minnesota more vulnerable on defense and set up the intermediate passing attack for the Hawkeyes. As usual, a big play from Wadley in the running game will likely be the difference, but look for Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley to have one of his best games of the season statistically in this one.
Prediction: Iowa 24, Minnesota 20
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, Bleacher Report and SBNation. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.