Northwestern fell from the unbeaten ranks at Michigan last week, and the Wildcats could now be in danger of losing a second straight game hosting unbeaten Iowa on Saturday.
The undefeated road team could have the edge vs. the home team that just suffered its first loss last week in a battle of ranked Big Ten teams on Saturday when the 17th ranked and still unbeaten Iowa Hawkeyes (6-0, 4-2 ATS) pay a visit to the 20th ranked and now once beaten Northwestern Wildcats (5-1, 4-2 ATS) at Ryan Field in Evanston, IL at 12:00 Noon ET in a game televised nationally on either ABC or ESPN2.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Iowa as a small road favorite for this contest with the current line at -2 with odds of -106.
Northwestern was a great story this season starting the season 5-0 keyed by one of the best defenses in the country statistically. However, the Wildcats may have failed their reality check in a 38-0 blowout loss at Michigan last week while getting outgained by 212 total yards. Yes, that was vs. a Michigan defense that has now pitched three straight shutouts and ranks second in the country in total defense behind Boston College, but the Iowa defense is no picnic either.
Speaking of the Hawkeyes, they remained undefeated as the winning college football picks in all six games this year with a 29-20 win back home in Iowa City over Illinois, limiting the Illini to 46 rushing yards on 1.9 yards per rush in the game. Yes, Iowa allowed 317 passing yards to Wes Lunt, but Northwestern does not have that type of passing attack.
Already Have a Statement Win
Iowa often gets lost in the shuffle when talking about the top Big Ten team, which is understandable in a conference that boasts Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan, but this looks like the best team the Hawkeyes have had in quite some time. But do not take our word for it, as you can just ask the Wisconsin Badgers after Iowa went on the road to Camp Randall Stadium a few weeks ago and prevailed while holding the Badgers to 2.5 yards per rush!
You should probably get the gist by now that Iowa is an extremely tough team to run on, ranking fifth in the country in rushing defense allowing just 78.0 yards per game on the ground on a mere 2.5 yards per carry. That could be the biggest key to this game vs. a Northwestern offense that relies so heavily on the running game.
The bigger issue here is whether or not Iowa can score vs. the Northwestern defense, which itself ranks ninth nationally in total defense at 269.5 yards per game and eighth in scoring defense still yielding only 12.2 points per contest even after the Michigan debacle.
However, outside of a Stanford team known more for defense than offense, the Wildcats did not really face great offenses out of conference, so the 38 points put up by Michigan has to be disconcerting. And that takes us back to Iowa having a better offense this season than in recent years under usually conservative coach Kirk Ferentz, as the 2015 Hawkeyes are averaging 409.3 total yards per game with nice balance, averaging 201.2 rushing yards and 208.2 passing yards.
Can Northwestern Win Without the Run?
The kneejerk reaction by many people here is that Northwestern should bounce back after that ugly loss to the Wolverines, but we do not agree because we do not think the Wildcats can win without running the ball effectively. The Wildcats are ranked 23rd in the country in rushing offense at 213.7 yards per game, but their offense was basically doomed from the outset last week when they managed just 38 rushing yards on 1.5 yards per carry.
The reason Northwestern needs to run to be successful is because quite frankly, the quarterback position leavess a lot to be desired. Young freshman Clayton Thorson is completing just 55.0 percent of his passes and averaging a low 5.8 yards per pass attempt while throwing for only 817 yards in six games with as many interception as he has touchdown passes at four apiece. Thus, that 118th ranked passing attack makes the Wildcats very one dimensional.
And since no team has been able to run the ball yet on Iowa this season, that does not appear to bode well for the Wildcat chances in this game.
Iowa Road Warriors
Finally, Iowa has been quite comfortable while not minding travelling one bit, as the Hawkeyes are 11-3 ATS in their last 14 road games. Iowa is also 9-2 ATS in its last 11 road games vs. teams with winning home records, while Northwestern is 1-5 ATS in its last six games after rushing for less than 100 yards in its previous game.
Northwestern should have trouble running the ball again vs. the great Iowa run defense, so look for the Hawkeyes to continue their fine road run by emerging victorious on their visit to Evanston on Saturday.
College Football Pick: Iowa -2 (-106)