The Cornhuskers can still win the Big Ten West with help, while the Hawkeyes look as though they have righted the ship
As we enter the final full weekend of the 2016 college football season, the Big Ten West division is still up for grabs. Sure, Wisconsin can clinch the division title with a win over Minnesota on Saturday, but given what we've seen go down over the past couple of weekends that's not exactly a lock. As a result, the Nebraska Cornhuskers are still alive in the race for the division and a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. The Huskers can get there with a win over Iowa on Friday and a Minnesota victory over Wisconsin the next day.
The Hawkeyes, however, are playing as well as anyone in the country right now. They've allowed only 13 points in their last two games and look like they've re-discovered that elite rushing attack that made them so dangerous a season ago.
Black Friday in Iowa City will be a high-stakes, entertaining affair.
Nebraska at Iowa
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 25 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Iowa -3
Three Things to Watch
1. The Health of Tommy Armstrong
There's literally no bigger factor in the outcome of this game. The Cornhuskers beat Maryland last weekend without Armstrong, but you could tell that the Nebraska offense was missing some of his playmaking ability. There were a couple scrambles by backup quarterback Ryker Fyfe that may have resulted in much longer runs — if not touchdowns — had it been Armstrong carrying the ball. Armstrong is the type of player whose presence dictates how opposing defenses attack. If he plays, regardless of how healthy he is, Iowa must account for him. If he doesn't, I'm not sure Fyfe can have the same success against the Hawkeyes as he did against the Terrapins.
2. Iowa's Rushing Attack
When they are playing to their full potential like they have been over the last two games, there may not be a better running back duo in the country than Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels. Each has more than 850 rushing yards on the year and have combined for 17 scores on the ground. They'll be running behind the best offensive line outside of Ohio State that Nebraska has seen all year. Iowa wants to keep Nebraska's skill position-heavy offense off the field. The Hawkeyes can do just that and shorten the game if they can get their running back tandem rolling.
3. Nate Gerry vs. C.J. Beathard
If Iowa is going to win, it wont be able to do so with the run alone. Beathard, Iowa's senior quarterback, is going to need to find his tight ends and slot receivers over the middle for some tough throws during key parts of the game. Roaming that part of the field for Nebraska will be Gerry — one of the best safeties in college football. Beathard's ability to read Gerry and find those open receivers will be the difference between a one-dimensional Iowa offensive attack and one that keeps Nebraska's Blackshirt defense on its heels.
If Tommy Armstrong plays, we're in for a terrific matchup featuring two of the most seasoned quarterbacks in college football. If he does not, Nebraska is in for an uphill battle on the road against a very physical football team. Regardless of whether or not the Cornhuskers' signal-caller goes under center, Nebraska's defense is going to have its hands full with Iowa's running game and quarterback C.J. Beathard's playmaking ability. As a result, expect Iowa to win the time of possession battle. When Nebraska has the ball, the Husker offensive line is going to be facing a defensive front that is quite simply more violent and physical. That's going to make rushing lanes tough to come by and throw off the timing in Nebraska's passing game. Iowa wins a low-scoring game that really isn't as close as the score would indicate.
Prediction: Iowa 23, Nebraska 17
— 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.