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The Pants Predicts: Iowa Hawkeyes vs Michigan Wolverines

Can the offense figure things out in a critical Big Ten Championship Game rematch?

NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Championship-Iowa vs Michigan
Will the Wolverines sack the Hawkeyes yet again?
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes are set to take on their biggest task of the 2022 season to-date as they play host to the #4 Michigan Wolverines on Saturday. Michigan enters the game undefeated after taking down Maryland in their Big Ten opener. The Hawkeyes are 3-1 after another incredible defensive performance gave them a road win over Rutgers in their conference opener.

But the lack of offense from the Hawkeyes and lack of any cracks in the armor for the Wolverines has this one as a 10.5 game in favor of Michigan according to DraftKings Sportsbook. The over/under is set at 42 total points.

At The Pants, we’re collectively taking Iowa with the points, but we’re still having a hard time getting to the over. On average, our staff is expecting a final score of Michigan 21, Iowa 14. Notably, more than a third of our staff (four participants) is taking Iowa straight up in this one. Regardless of the winner, we’re pretty comfortably under the 42 total points.

Here’s a look at our individual outlooks for this weekend’s matchup.


This is one of the games that has shifted significantly in my mind from the beginning of the season to now. When we made our season long predictions in the preseason, I called for a win here. My thinking was twofold: 1. the Iowa offense will be mediocre enough to let the defense really shine and come through with turnovers to turn the tide and 2. because Iowa was going to be solid, this was going to be a night game where top-5 teams go to die.

As it stands, Iowa’s miserable offense means not only is this really hard for the Hawkeyes to win, but the national perception is low enough this isn’t a night game. I suspect the defense does what it does here and creates 1-2 turnovers where they either get points themselves or give the offense a short field, but the offense is still just such a question mark that I don’t see the offense getting much above 10 total points. The defense is great but I can’t see them holding this Wolverine offense under 10.

Prediction: Michigan 24, Iowa 10


Like JP, this game has shifted from my (now ridiculous) preseason prediction to now. I thought Iowa would win this game going into the season. Now this feels like the inverse of the Rutgers game. I had no reason to pick Iowa last week, though there was the pesky detail that Iowa had better personnel than Rutgers and it would carry them to a win. Unfortunately, Iowa is in the Rutgers spot this week. Michigan has better personnel than Iowa and it will get them over the line.

That’s not to say Iowa doesn’t have a couple of scenarios that could get them to a shock win. Of course, if the defense forces turnovers and converts it straight into points themselves because Iowa’s mostly dead offense can’t do that, Iowa could absolutely win. The other is Michigan elects to out-Iowa Iowa in their own building and goes the ground and pound route, but Iowa holds up (plus the offense buys them time to rest with at least a couple of drives) and has a chance for a late steal. This series has had some dirty rock fight games that have gone either way - 2019, 2016, 2013, 2011, 2006, and that’s just the Ferentz years - so why not put this one in that mix too? If Iowa can get it to that spot, they’ll have a shot.

Michigan is a little banged up going into this - if quarterback J.J. McCarthy were to get injured at any point, Michigan was unsure who would man the second-string quarterback spot as of mid-week - but I still think they win by a score that might look more lopsided than the game actually was and they cover.

Prediction: Michigan 24, Iowa 7

Bartt Pierce

We’ve seen this movie before. Highly ranked teams come into Kinnick Stadium to die. I’d love to think that the Hawks could pull off the impossible, but I think we’ve gone to the well too many times. Our lack of offense is going to be the difference. In the B1G championship the Hawks stuck around a little bit but the dam eventually broke. If the game is close after the first quarter we have a chance. Unfortunately it could get ugly early. My hope is that the Hawks think back on Michigan running a trick play in Indy even though they were up big. Maybe, just maybe, the Hawks can catching lightning in a bottle and pull off the upset.

Prediction: Captain Khaki Pants 27, Iowa 3


Absent a completely unexpected 55-24 type outing, it is difficult to see a realistic scenario where Iowa wins this game, other than a 2016-type defensive slugfest. The Wolverine defense gives up 15.16 OA PPG (meaning that’s what their defense surrenders to an average offense). Which Iowa doesn’t have. Iowa’s offense scores 15.62 OA PPG, meaning that’s what Iowa scores on an average defense. Which Michigan doesn’t have. And then consider that Iowa’s PPG include 14 points worth of defensive scores. If you back those out, Iowa’s expected points in this game are just under 11.

So it would seem there is no secret to this formula. Iowa is going to have to either score on defense or special teams to keep up with Michigan, or the defense is going to have to keep the Wolverine offense in check. That offense has averaged OA 43.94 PPG. So, if we can only expect 11 points out of Iowa’s offense, the defense must hold Michigan to 10 points - less than 25% their usual total. That won’t be easy. A Jim Harbaugh-coached Michigan offense has never been held to less than 10 points, and they’ve been held to exactly 10 points only twice (Michigan State, 2017; Wisconsin, 2017).

But, as a great man once said, “Never tell me the odds.” Iowa football is a mild-mannered account manager from the suburbs who is perfectly content to live out his unexciting middle class life mowing his yard in his loafers, listening to country music in his Sonata, and looking forward to a romantic date night with his wife at the Olive Garden.

But every once in a great while, he goes on a sales trip to Chicago, and out of nowhere, he has too much to drink at a random bar and, out of nowhere, stands up and knocks the snot out of some local bully, while lookers-on mutter things like, “Jesus, where the hell did that come from?”

This is that game. Uncork the genie, Brian.

Prediction: Iowa 28, Michigan 24.


I want to feel better about this game. I really do. I honestly think it’s hard to evaluate much about Michigan’s offense because they have played a few of the worst teams in FBS. We do know that they have a few game breakers at skill positions and defeated Iowa in the portal for one of the best centers in the nation. Their defense hasn’t faced much opposition either, but they did show some growing pains last week against Maryland.

My concern is their defense has a lot of moving parts and shifting fronts. I worry about Iowa’s inexperienced OL being able to communicate and mentally handle those looks. I’m more concerned with that than the physical battles against an athletic defense. On the edge, Michigan also does something that will give Iowa a lot of troubles with their extremely physical and handsy play at corner. There is the physical challenge of being strong and fast enough to play through that contact, but it also takes a conditioning toll on an already depleted receiving corps. I worry too many things go against Iowa this week (as I silently hope it turns out like 2016 where I thought the same and ALLEGEDLY lost a mortgage payment or two)

Prediction: Michigan 23, Iowa 6


In a matchup between Pro Football Focus’ two highest-rated defenses, whichever team can muster the occasional point or two should have the advantage. Unfortunately, only one of the teams taking the field on Saturday boasts a consistently competent offense, let alone one capable of matching the level of an elite opposing defense. Michigan is an analytical darling partly because of their talent level, but also due to the low level of competition they have faced so far this season. Iowa will easily be the Wolverines’ toughest challenge of 2022 so far, so don’t expect Michigan’s offense to look quite as unstoppable as it has in recent weeks. However, Iowa’s offense has similarly benefited from playing poor competition in recent weeks, and Michigan will remind fans of how much improvement is still required for this unit. Another strong defensive performance and a raucous Kinnick crowd keeps this one close, but Michigan does enough on offense to win the game.

Prediction: Michigan 17, Iowa 13

John Kuster

I’d feel a lot less confident about the Hawks if Cade McNamara was starting for the Wolverines. But instead, the Maize and Blue will be trotting out a sophomore who’s never experienced the noise that fills the walls of Kinnick Stadium.

J.J. McCarthy has a bright future ahead, but he doesn’t come with the experience or game management that McNamara carries. When you’re playing one of the worst offenses in the country, and boast a strong rushing attack, an experienced game-manager behind center is usually more than enough.

So, why do I predict the Hawkeyes will perform better against what’s perceived to be a more electric and dangerous QB? It’s simple, really; McCarthy will force passes that McNamara would sit-on, he’ll also try to do too much with his legs - leading to at least one turnover (he had two fumbles last week against Maryland).

This feels like a classic Kirk-recircling-the-wagons game, and I know you feel it too.

Prediction: Iowa 20, Michigan 10


I picked the Hawkeyes to win this one before the season and I’m going to cautiously stick to that prediction. A few things about this matchup that make nervous now that we are at it’s precipice.
First, this matchup is not going to spend anytime being played in the dark. Night games are worth at least a 3 points to the Hawkeyes at home and Michigan really got lucky this game avoided the Kinnick lights.

Second, I’m actually not all that confident in Iowa’s run defense. We talk about this defense being elite so often (because it is) but from the matchups we’ve Seen thus far this year, only the Iowa State game rushing statistics really mean anything. Jirehl Brock surpassed 100 yards in the form of steady 3-7 yard gains. If Michigan finds that type of success, a win will be difficult to come by for the Hawks.
I think Harbaugh tries to air it out some though and that is Iowa’s chance to win. Two picks by the defense and a fumble recovery help the offense just enough and Iowa beats another top 5 team at home.

Prediction: Iowa 20, Michigan 17


As long as this isn’t a repeat of last year’s Big Ten championship game, I’ll be pleased. What I’m really looking for in this game is how well our defense and special teams can play against elite competition. I don’t think this will be particularly close, or fun. Don’t be expecting a 2017 OSU trounce here. It’s not in the cards with this offense.

Prediction: Michigan 24, Iowa 7

Kendall Phipps (kjphipps)

I have no idea what to expect in this game. Typically, this type of game is at night and there's some magic in the air for a night game at Kinnick, but no, this time FOX had to stick us at 11. I have no idea what to expect inside Kinnick. I’ll be there. There hasn’t been an 11 AM game against a top opponent since Michigan State back in 2010. Guess what happened in that game? Iowa won 37-6 against the #5 Spartans. That’s our only recent data for a game like this so guess what? I’m picking Iowa off of that alone.

Prediction: Iowa 24, Michigan 20


I so badly want to pick Iowa in this one, and history would support such a choice. We’ve seen unassuming Iowa teams sucker punch undefeated or highly ranked opponents time and again. We saw it in 2008 against Penn State, in 2016 against Michigan, in 2017 against Ohio State, and agonizingly close against Penn State again that same year. Kirk’s teams have showed they can go toe to toe against anyone at the most surprising of times.

But no matter how much I want to, I can’t bring myself to pick the Hawks. Those other Iowa teams had offenses that look like the the 2019 LSU Tigers compared to this year’s output. The defenses in this game are evenly matched, but if I were a Wolverine fan I’d be a lot more confident about our offense scoring against the Iowa defense than vice versa.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Iowa could win, stranger things have happened with KF at the helm. I obviously hope they pull another rabbit out of their hat in Kinnick, but my head just won’t let me believe.

Prediction: Michigan 20, Iowa 10

So there you have it: the perfect mix of optimism and pessimism. What say you, Hawkeye fans? Will Iowa pull out some of its Kinnick magic one more time? Or will Michigan once again emerge victorious?