The Iowa Hawkeyes got back into the win column a week ago when they emerged victorious over the Northwestern Wildcats 10-7. It was a game that never really felt like Iowa would lose until the final minutes.
The Hawkeye defense was up to its typical boa constrictor business while the offense squandered opportunity after opportunity and tripped all over itself to avoid scoring points. Same stuff, different day. But when the Hawkeyes got an uncharacteristically bad punt out of Tory Taylor to set up the Wildcats with a very short field for the second straight possession, Northwestern was able to tie the game late in the fourth quarter and immediately it went from feeling like Iowa was in control to having no hope whatsoever. Points were difficult to come by, but for Iowa, yards have been at a premium all season.
At the end of the day, however, Deacon Hill found one truly good throw to an open Kaleb Brown who helped push forward to give Drew Stevens a better look at the game winner. Stevens redeemed any frustrations with the special teams unit by drilling the kick.
And after all the muck, Iowa emerged not only victorious, but with a one game lead over the three teams who entered the day in a tie with the Hawkeye atop the West standings. With Iowa holding the tiebreaker over Wisconsin and Minnesota poised to travel to Ohio State next weekend, they not only sit alone atop the West but the Hawkeyes have the ability to lose a game down the stretch and still win the division.
There is a caveat, however. That loss can’t come to Nebraska unless the Cornhuskers drop another game this season. They face Maryland today and travel to Wisconsin next week before the Black Friday showdown with Iowa. If both teams win out but Nebraska beats Iowa, they win the West.
Despite the strong positioning for the Hawkeyes coming into the week, just over 60% of Hawkeye fans expect Iowa to hold on and actually win the West now.
What’s most interesting about that number is just how much it’s dropped since we last asked that question ahead of the matchup with Minnesota. When we proposed the question at that time, we similarly framed the scenario. Namely, that Iowa could lose to Minnesota and still control their own destiny.
They did and they do. Yet the percentage of fans confident in Iowa’s chances has fallen from 80% to just 61%.
Clearly that’s not rooted in the final outcomes of those games as those have worked out in Iowa’s favor. But the way Iowa has gotten to this point has certainly not stoked optimism. As bad as we all knew the Hawkeye offense was three weeks ago, it has seemingly gotten worse. Winning football games requires scoring points and that seems almost far-fetched at this point.
That’s especially true when facing a high quality defense like Iowa will on Saturday. Rutgers enters the day giving up just under 18 points per game and ranking top-20 nationally in total defense. That seems like a potential disaster for Brian Ferentz and company.
Perhaps, then, it should come as no surprise that more than half of the fanbase is calling for the Hawkeyes to lose on Saturday.
That’s pretty well in line with the thinking in Vegas, where DraftKings Sportsbook has Iowa down to a 1-point favorite despite playing at home. It’s been well-publicized that this matchup boasts the lowest point total in college football betting history at just 28 total points. The Hawkeyes are likely to do little on offense to make that over a real possibility.
But it’s notable just how far we’ve come. During the preseason, 100% of fan respondents picked Iowa to beat Rutgers this year. That’s in line with the BHGP staff, where nobody had the Hawkeyes losing this one. Fast forward to this week and more than half of the staff is taking Rutgers straight up and our average score prediction is on the Knights.
Is that more about how much worse Iowa’s offense has been than we expected? Or is it a nod to the fact this Rutgers team comes into the day at 6-3 overall and hung with Ohio State last week for the better part of three quarters?
We’ll find out if the pessimism is truly warranted or if Phil Parker and crew can just continue to win games on their own. Iowa and Rutgers are set to kick off at 2:30pm CT on BTN.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.