Iowa and Wisconsin are probably the closest thing there is to twins in college football. The two Big Ten programs have success with mostly underrated local players, sound rushing attacks and stout defense.
The similarities end there.
Everything from how their seasons have gone to what is going on at the quarterback position couldn’t be more different. The Badgers climbed into the top 10 of the polls on the back of two impressive wins during September. They then managed to lose back-to-back games to a couple of national title contenders and stay in the top 10 thanks to their effort and ability to pass the eye test of the voters.
Iowa had high hopes coming into the year, but the mood soon changed after losses to North Dakota State and Northwestern. The Hawkeyes have managed to win back-to-back games against Minnesota and Purdue and are starting to look more like the team that went 12-0 during the 2015 regular season.
Wisconsin at Iowa
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 22, 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Wisconsin -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Alex Hornibrook Hold Up?
Wisconsin’s freshman quarterback has had a rough go of it during his last two games against Michigan and Ohio State — but who wouldn’t? The question is whether or not he can handle a third consecutive game against a defense full of NFL talent coming at him from every direction. Iowa is as good as anyone at pressuring quarterbacks from the inside via some stout defensive tackles. Hornibrook will need to make reads and get rid of the ball quickly to have success, which will be easier said than done. And he’ll have to account for Hawkeyes cornerback Desmond King on every passing down. Hornibrook needs to play like a seasoned vet for ensure a Badger victory on the road.
2. Which team controls the clock with the run?
Both Iowa and Wisconsin have the earth-movers up front and the horses carrying the rock to move the ball consistently on the ground. This game will be won and lost on first and second down, and the team that has more success on the ground on those two downs will dominate the clock and probably the scoreboard as well. Keep an eye on the some of the individual battles in the trenches early. Those will tell you how this thing shakes out in the end.
3. Which defense makes “the play”?
The two stingy defenses are full of capable playmakers that normally specialize in forcing turnovers. In 2016, both defenses have struggled to do that. Suffice to say, someone is due. Common sense says the team with the senior quarterback is less likely to shoot itself in the foot, and that’s been the case thus far this season. That’s said, the “cloud of dust” nature of this game is going to lend itself more toward fumbles than interceptions. My guess is that that team that turns the ball over last loses.
After a bumpy start to the season, Iowa has had two weeks to get right and fine-tune some things in the wake of injuries. On the flip side, Wisconsin has spent its last two games in fist fights with two of the top five teams in the country. That has to wear on a team at some point. An early start on the road in a jacked-up Kinnick Stadium is not how Wisconsin wants to rebound after a tough, overtime home loss at night. A sluggish start by the Badgers, a couple of mental mistakes by a freshman quarterback and a conservative, classic Iowa offensive attack will decide this game.
Prediction: Iowa 23, Wisconsin 13
— 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.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)