Big Ten West-leading Wildcats come to Kinnick Stadium to take on the Hawkeyes
Northwestern looks to take another step towards winning the Big Ten West when it takes on Iowa in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. The Wildcats (5-4, 5-1 Big Ten) currently have a one game lead over Wisconsin and Purdue and can move closer to claiming its first-ever Big Ten Championship Game berth by defeating the Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3).
It's somewhat ironic that Iowa is already bowl eligible while Northwestern still needs one more win to get there, but the Hawkeyes would love to do nothing more than play spoiler at home. Iowa's not mathematically eliminated from the division race just yet, but would need a lot of help to climb to the top spot.
Meanwhile the Wildcats saw their four-game winning streak come to an end last Saturday at home as Notre Dame stayed undefeated with a 31-21 victory. The loss also meant the Wildcats finished 0-3 against non-conference opponents, losing to Duke and Akron as well, but it's their sparkling conference record that matters the most right now. Iowa is coming off of back-to-back road losses to Penn State and Purdue by a combined eight points.
Northwestern has won the last two meetings with Iowa, with both games decided by a touchdown.
Northwestern at Iowa
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Iowa -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Home sweet home
Kinnick Stadium has been an intimidating place to play for most visiting teams this season. The Hawkeyes are 4-1 on their home field and have outscored opponents 124-52. Northwestern has gone 2-2 in its last four visits to Iowa City and when you factor in the sellout crowds (Kinnick Stadium holds more than 70,000), the noise, and possible weather conditions (chance of snow on Saturday), the Wildcats will have a lot of elements to deal with. It should be pointed out, however, that Northwestern is 3-0 away from home so far, including victories at Purdue and then-No. 20 Michigan State.
2. Nate Stanley's efficiency
Iowa's quarterback continues to move the ball seamlessly for his team. In six of his last seven games, the junior has thrown for at least 200 yards and a touchdown. For the season, he's has 2,309 passing yards with 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has a passer rating of 133.8 and he's only been sacked nine times. Northwestern has been a middle of the pack defense against the pass thus far and gave up a season-high 343 yards and two touchdowns to Notre Dame's Ian Book last week. Stanley's not going to throw it a ton, but if he takes what the defense gives him, then he should have opportunities to make some plays through the air. He also should have plenty of time to find an open receiver, as the Wildcats have totaled 12 sacks in nine games.
3. Isaiah Bowser gaining ground for Northwestern
The freshman has stepped up in recent weeks and appears to be filling the role of feature back for the Wildcats, something that has been missing since Jeremy Larkin was forced to retire earlier this season for medical reasons. Over the last three games, Bowser has 318 rushing yards and three touchdowns while averaging four yards per carry. That's not staggering production but he's been a workhorse (27 carries per game during this span) and Northwestern will need to find a way to churn out some tough yards against an Iowa defense that's second in the Big Ten against the run. The Hawkeyes are allowing fewer than three yards per carry and have surrendered a total of six rushing touchdowns this season with just one of those happening at home.
As good as Iowa is, Northwestern has been something special over these last few weeks. The Wildcats have won their last four Big Ten games, including victories over ranked Michigan State and Wisconsin. They also are 3-0 on the road as they have continued to surprise critics, analysts and journalists (including me) alike. Northwestern has won two in a row against the Hawkeyes and the Wildcats don't need any extra motivation for this one with a Big Ten West title in reach. Iowa is always tough at home, but Northwestern finds a way to keep its improbable run going.
Prediction: Northwestern 27, Iowa 26
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.