Iowa at Minnesota
Bold, off-the-wall prediction: While both these teams would be double-digit dogs to both Michigan State and Ohio State, this game will be every bit as entertaining — and every bit as fiercely competitive — as Ohio State-Michigan State.
The giant bronze pig isn’t the only reason for this. Both these teams have the same record (6-2) and the same defense-first profile. The real question is which version of the Hawkeyes show up. Last week against Northwestern, Iowa suddenly showed signs of aggression and even (dare I say it?) swagger. It’s like Kirk Ferentz finally picked up the rivalry gauntlet Pat Fitzgerald has been trying to throw down for years. The Hawks abandoned Greg Davis’s decaffeinated version of the West Coast offense and came up with an impressive bulldozing of the Wildcats.
Thing is, I’m not so sure that’s going to work in this game. First, Minnesota plays much better defense than Northwestern. If there was a draft of Big Ten defensive backfields, Minnesota’s would be one of the first three off the board. So any Hawkeye fans expecting a rejuvenated passing game need to check those hopes against the reality of the opponent. Second, as much as I hate people talking like it’s impossible to throw the football in cold weather, it is harder to get the passing game going when it’s in the upper 30s and there’s a healthy crosswind. Those are the predicted conditions in Minneapolis on Saturday.
For all those reasons and more I am expecting this to be a great game. Maybe not a technically flawless one, but a powerful slugfest nonetheless. In the end I have to believe Iowa’s slightly better passing offense will be just enough to make the difference. As with the prediction on the previous page, my confidence is not at all high.
The pick: Iowa 17, Minnesota 16