After a disaster of a weekend up and down the Big Ten,Iowa was one of the few teams left unblemished when the dust cleared. Wisconsin was not so lucky, as the Badgers' playoff hopes received a mid-September punch to the gut from BYU. This week, Wisconsin looks to bounce back in a road game at Iowa.
The matchup between Wisconsin and Iowa will once again set the tone for the entire Big Ten West, and it comes early this year to give one of these teams a jump on the division race. The stakes are incredibly high in the Big Ten opener for each team, as the winner will secure a head-to-head tiebreaker and hold a one-game lead on the other before September comes to a close. And with Wisconsin already taking a loss, this has turned into a must-win game for the Badgers if they have any hope of clawing their way back onto the playoff radar. Iowa will simply be happy remaining undefeated and flying under that radar for now if the Hawkeyes can grab a win at home under the lights.
Wisconsin at Iowa
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 22 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Wisconsin -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Shaking off what went wrong against BYU
Before Wisconsin even has to deal with playing its Big Ten opener on the road against one of its top threats in the Big Ten West, the Badgers have to figure out what went wrong last week against BYU at home. Jonathan Taylor rushed for 117 yards but did not score a touchdown. The Badgers converted just 4-of-13 third-down attempts. Wisconsin also lost the turnover battle. All things considered, Wisconsin doesn’t have a ton it needs to clean up to beat Iowa, but it cannot afford to have stalled drives like it had last week against the Cougars.
2. A night game in Kinnick Stadium
Wisconsin players will no doubt have to deal with hearing about the nightmares that can come with playing a night game in Kinnick Stadium. Michigan’s Big Ten plans took a hit under the lights in Kinnick Stadium late in the 2016 season, and Ohio State saw its undefeated season go up in smoke last fall. Penn State needed a game-winning touchdown pass on fourth down to avoid joining the list of Big Ten contenders that succumbed to the Hawkeyes in prime time last season. Can Wisconsin overcome the environment?
3. In a potential defensive battle, don’t leave points on the field
Anytime Iowa and Wisconsin get together, there is a good chance defense will dictate the outcome of the game. That is why red zone trips may be limited in number and why cashing in on those opportunities inside the opponent’s 20-yard line is essential. So far, Wisconsin and Iowa have fared well in red zone touchdown percentage, with both in the top five in the Big Ten. Both teams have scored 12 times in the red zone, with Wisconsin taking 13 trips and Iowa taking 14 trips. And both have scored 10 touchdowns, which means Wisconsin has been slightly more effective with its red zone offense, but these stats are essentially dead even.
It is the red zone defensive numbers that favor Wisconsin just a bit more early on this season. The Badgers have allowed four touchdowns on eight red zone trips by the opponent. Iowa has surrendered three red zone touchdowns on five trips. There is something to be said about not allowing many offensive possessions to reach the red zone, but Wisconsin has a slight edge in this part of the game after three weeks.
This was always going to be one of the tough hurdles for Wisconsin to clear this season if the Badgers were going to make a playoff push. After losing last week, Wisconsin cannot afford to lose again now that conference play is opening, but winning on the road in Kinnick Stadium is not easy for anybody. Iowa has the tools in place to go head to head with Wisconsin but will need quarterback Nate Stanley to shrug off a disaster of a game against Wisconsin last season. Odds are, Stanley is not going to complete just 8-of-24 pass attempts for 41 yards this time around. He doesn’t have to throw five touchdowns as he did against Ohio State last year, but Stanley should be able to lead enough effective drives at home to give Iowa a chance to jump on top of the Big Ten West standings and secure a win against Wisconsin.
Prediction: Iowa 26, Wisconsin 23
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.