Wisconsin Badgers vs. Iowa Hawkeyes Pick
Wisconsin Badgers (2-1 SU, 0-3 ATS) vs. Iowa Hawkeyes (3-0 SU, 3-0 ATS)
College Football Week 4
When: September 22 at 8:30pm ET
Where: Kinnick Stadium
By:Ted Walker, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Spread: WISC -3/IOWA +3
There have been a few division games through the early going, including some in the Big Ten but Week 4 is true start of divisional play and we get a good matchup as Wisconsin heads to Iowa. These teams have been mirror-images of each other for decades now and it has led to some fierce matchups on the field. Six of the last ten games in this series have been decided by ten points are fewer and five have had margins of no more than four. Ohio State and Michigan hold the title of the “biggest” rivalry in the Big Ten but Wisconsin v. Iowa should not be ignored in terms of fan base hatred. I have been in Madison and Iowa City for this game and the typical Midwest hospitality is not on display when these teams tangle. Night games only fuel the atmosphere and this one is scheduled to be a slobber-knocker.
Wisconsin was shocked by BYU in Madison last week, marking the first non-conference loss at home for the Badgers in 15 years. The Cougars went head-to-head with Wisconsin’s strengths - something I suggested would doom BYU - and won. BYU exposed the Wisconsin defense in a way that no one has been able to since Jim Leonhard took over as coordinator and Iowa is going to bring many of the same strengths and approaches to this game. A non-conference loss may sink Wisconsin’s chances to appear in the College Football Playoff but their division goals remain and Paul Chryst will work to refocus the Badgers on nothing more than Saturday Night. Wisconsin has only lost back-to-back games once under Chryst, falling to Michigan and Ohio State consecutively in 2016 with both games decided by seven points.
Taking a Step Up
Iowa has mostly cruised to a 3-0 start with their defense being the star. The Hawkeyes have allowed just 42 rushing yards per game and eight points per contest in wins against Northern Illinois, Iowa State and Northern Iowa. They have held those opponents to an absurd 209 total yards per game and racked up 12 sacks. Wisconsin brings the best offense Iowa has seen, especially the run game, and the Hawkeyes will again need a stellar effort. Teams have managed just 1.5 yards per carry against Iowa but Wisconsin’s offensive line is among the best in the NCAA and Jonathan Taylor has averaged 6.7 yards per carry behind them. Wisconsin’s ground game is 10th best in the country and averages 285 yards per game behind Taylor and the emerging Taiwan Deal, a thumper back that is averaging 5.4 yards per carry and scored twice last week. How Iowa defends the run will have a lot to say about how this game unfolds.
If Wisconsin is able to use last week’s loss as fuel, Iowa may be in trouble. The pundits may have overhyped the Badgers championship chances but this team is not likely too far off from what was expected from them. Wisconsin was uneven and turned the ball over in a 34-3 win against Western Kentucky and had a slow start before winning 45-14 against New Mexico. BYU legit punched them in the mouth but Wisconsin squandered several drives with penalties during the game before missing the game tying field goal attempt with less than a minute remaining. Would we feel totally different about Wisconsin if they were able to have pulled out a tough win against BYU?
If we assume Iowa can put its defense to use to some success, they will still need to get some production on offense. Wisconsin held the Hawkeyes to zero offensive points in Madison last year and limited Nathan Stanley to just 41 yards passing. In 2016, Iowa managed just 236 total yards and nine points in a 17-9 loss at Kinnick. Iowa simply cannot win with a similarly poor offensive output this Saturday. They have been steady on offense and well-balanced in averaging 215 passing yards alongside 173 rushing yards per game but none of their offensive ranks are inside the top-70 in college football. Wisconsin’s defense may not be the record-setting unit of the last few years but they are still top-10 in the country in terms of total yards allowed and have surrendered just 13.5 points per game. Nathan Stanley is completing a solid 64% of his passes but has thrown for just three touchdowns. Most of the passes have gone to tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson with the duo tied for the team lead with 12 receptions each. Nick Easley is the top wideout but he is averaging just ten yards per catch. The running game behind Toren Young and Mekhi Sargent is able to protect a lead but neither is a homerun hitter and Iowa will struggle if they face a large deficit.
Wisconsin has the edge in playmakers and it is not limited to Jonathan Taylor. The receiving corps got a boost from the return of Danny Davis and A.J. Taylor has broken out to lead the team with 250 receiving yards on a 20.8 yards per catch average. Alex Hornibrook has posted similar stats to Stanley, throwing for 595 yards on 63% completions with three touchdowns. He does not appear to have progressed much from his 2017 season but he has the weapons, including freshman TE Jake Ferguson, to hurt the opposition in the play-action game. Wisconsin may be without one its most dynamic defensive playmakers as LB Andrew Van Ginkel may miss Saturday with a leg injury. The Badgers pass rush has struggled to get home with just three sack so far and the loss of Van Ginkel will hurt their ability to get in Stanley’s face.
Even at 0-3 against the spread and coming off a stunning loss, do not overlook Wisconsin. In fact, that BYU loss may have pushed this line to a reasonable -3 instead of more problematic -5 or -6 had the Badgers emerged with a win. Wisconsin has cruised to ATS wins in each of the last two against Iowa, including the last game at Kinnick and nearly all of the primary elements are in place this weekend for a bit of a rinse-and-repeat kind of feel. I do not think Iowa has improved enough on offense to put up a ton of points on what remains a good Wisconsin defense. The Badgers still have a good line and Heisman-level back and they have proven the ability to play well on the road with an 11-1 ATS record in their last twelve as the visitor. The road team is 8-3 against the spread in the last eleven in this series overall and I think that continues as Wisconsin pulls out a 23-17 win.
Ted’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Wisconsin