The Iowa Hawkeyes have a lot to play for on Saturday. Not only is it senior day, marking the last time Iowa fans will see several key Hawkeyes in Kinnick, but a win would clinch the Big Ten West division title. A loss? Well, that would make the Black Friday matchup with Nebraska a must-win and open the door for the visiting Illinois Fighting Illini to win the division themselves.
Vegas, however, isn’t predicting that. Our friends over at DraftKings Sportsbook have the Hawkeyes favored by 3 points in this one. Perhaps even more surprising, the over/under has climbed up to 32 total points! That marks the highest total for the Hawkeyes in the last four games.
Here at The Pants, we’re still not sold on more points, but we are relatively confident Iowa wins the West on Saturday. Collectively, we’re calling for a final score of Iowa 20, Illinois 12. That puts us right on the line for total points. However, that’s with some rounding. The raw math comes out to 31.8 total points so smash that under, baby!
Interestingly, every one of the staffers is taking Iowa with the points this week, though some of us are cutting it a bit closer than others. Here’s a look at our individual predictions for this week.
I’m returning to Kinnick for the first time since the Hawks blew a halftime lead to the freaking Cyclones in 2002. Seriously. And then the CDJ news comes out. I swear if the Hawks lose, and it’s a distinct possibility, I will never return. Promise. I think Bret Bielema is a very good B1G football coach. The Hawks are without their four to five best football players. DeJean approached Tim Dwight-like levels of electricity - I hate to admit I have a barbed wire tattoo because of #6. Excuse me while I channel my inner Eeyore. Sad. Sad. Sad. Go Hawks? (sniffle) - wipes snotty nose on lucky Hawk sweatshirt.
Prediction: Illinois 27 - Iowa 13
Losing Cooper DeJean to an injury in practice with two weeks left is awful. Losing our 4 best players over the course of this season is equally awful. And yet, this Iowa team has found a way to win week in and week out when no one thinks they can, or should. Illinois has shown flashes of a great offense this year (primarily against bad defenses), but their defense is terrible and ours is not (even without Coop). Bert got lucky last year in Champaign, I don’t think he’ll be quite as lucky this year in Kinnick.
Prediction: Iowa 20 - Illinois 10
There’s no two ways about it, losing Cooper is a big blow to this team. He was the best athlete on either side of the ball for the Hawkeyes and the hidden yards he provided on punt coverage and returns is irreplaceable. But I’m not ready to throw in the towel on the season due to his loss. Deshaun Lee has real game experience and the loss of one admittedly large piece does not automatically cause this defense to crumble. I think the defense will be okay.
What I really want to see on Saturday is if the offense can replicate their fourth quarter performance from the Rutgers game. If they want to convince me they’ve turned a corner then I need to see production like more than once. Iowa’s offense should be able to do that against Illinois, and if you are really concerned about breaking in a new starting corner, the offense needs to do its job keeping the Illini’s offense off the field.
I’m not giving into the doom and gloom. Hawks win and celebrate a West Division title on Senior Day and we get more Emotional Kirk.
Prediction: Iowa 20, Illinois 14
I am so torn on how this one is going to play out. On the one hand, I could see this being the FU send off game. Kirk and Brian come in passionate in the last game Brian will spend in Kinnick. The offense actually gets going against an Illinois defense that was absolutely sliced and diced a week ago and gives the defense some opportunities to actually take chances.
But on the other hand, we have basically nine of ten games played to indicate that isn’t a reality. Toss in the CDJ injury this week and there’s a real chance Iowa comes out totally flat and pulls a Nebraska game from a season ago.
Ultimately, I think we get something in between. Iowa comes out sleep walking and lets Illinois get on the board early. The offense is the offense, but does enough to get a few points of their own and then the defense wakes up and sucks the Illini into the black hole before landing a knockout punch late.
Prediction: Iowa 17, Illinois 13
There are several reasons to expect an Illinois victory. Between the injury to Cooper DeJean, Bret Bielema’s long history of notching soul-crushing wins against the Hawkeyes, Illinois’ desperation to make a bowl game, and Iowa’s general offensive ineptitude, it is easy to imagine Iowa coming out flat, struggling to move the ball, and giving up enough big plays in the passing game to make Iowa fans rethink their travel plans to Indy.
Ironically, Iowa might actually benefit from Illinois’ plan to start Luke Altmyer at quarterback instead of backup John Paddock, the latter of whom just threw for 507 yards in a thrilling overtime win over Indiana. While Altmyer is the more mobile option and has more arm talent, he is also incredibly turnover-prone and has thrown 13 touchdowns to 10 interceptions compared to Paddock’s 6:1 TD:INT ratio. In a game where Iowa cannot rely on DeJean to lock down an entire side of the field, the Hawkeyes may need Altmyer to make the types of mistakes that have unfortunately characterized his season this year in order to pull out a win. Iowa forces multiple turnovers, generates juuuuust enough offense, and rides a riotous Kinnick Stadium crowd to its second Big Ten West title in three years.
Prediction: Iowa 17, Illinois 14
Last week pleasantly surprised me. Frankly, if we get even like…half of that offensive production, I think this is a win. No Cooper concerns me, but I have faith in this defense wanting to assert authority.
Prediction: Iowa 17, Illinois 9
So that’s how we see this one playing out. How about you, Hawkeye fans? Let’s see those predictions in the comments below!
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.