On Saturday, two of the hottest Big Ten teams will face off in a crucial battle that has plenty of implications at the top of the crowded conference.
Twist: I'm talking about Penn State and Iowa.
After the Nittany Lions' tumultuous offseason and 0-2 start to the season with losses against Ohio and Virginia, and the Hawkeyes' 2-2 start that included a one-point win over Northern Iowa and losses to Iowa State and Central Michigan, I don't think anyone foresaw what would happen next.
Penn State reeled off four straight wins—including an upset of No. 24 Northwestern—while Iowa won two in a row including a road win over Michigan State. They are a combined 4-0 in the conference.
Let's take a look at everything you need to know about this suddenly important Big Ten matchup.
When: Saturday, Oct. 20, at 8:00 p.m. ET
Where: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA
Watch: Big Ten Network
Live Stream: Big Ten Network 2 Go
Betting Line: Iowa (-3), according to Covers
Penn State Injuries (via USA Today)
DE Pete Massaro, Shoulder, Questionable
G Mark Arcidiacono, Foot, Questionable
LB Nyeem Wartman, Knee, Out
Iowa Injuries (via USA Today)
OL Drew Clark, Disciplinary, Questionable
DB B.J. Lowery, Wrist, Questionable
OL Austin Blythe, Undisclosed, Questionable
RB Damon Bullock, Head, Questionable
RB Mark Weisman, Ankle, Questionable
DB Ruben Lile, Knee, Out
What's at Stake?
Prime position in the Big Ten.
Penn State, which is 2-0 in the Leaders Division, only has Ohio State (3-0) and Nebraska (2-1) to deal with, as the rest of the division (combined 0-8) is quickly falling off the map.
Iowa, meanwhile, is currently tied with Michigan atop the Legends Division at 2-0, with just Northwestern (2-1) serving as a threat.
It's unlikely that the Hawkeyes were thinking about a big-time bowl at the beginning of the season, but with the Big Ten having such a down year, as Kevin Garnett would say, anything is possible (Penn State would be in the same situation, but the Nittany Lions are ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA sanctions).
Penn State Player to Watch: Matt McGloin, QB
Um, the Nittany Lions know they are in the Big Ten, right? And that passing the ball with any type of efficiency is strictly prohibited?
Apparently the senior quarterback didn't get the memo, as he has looked poised and dangerous in the pocket on his way to 250 yards per game, 12 passing touchdowns, five rushing touchdowns and just two interceptions.
In a league with Taylor Martinez, Braxton Miller and Denard Robinson, McGloin has quietly formed arguably the most exciting—and not to mention efficient—tandem with sophomore wide receiver Allen Robinson, who has pulled in 524 receiving yards and seven touchdowns already.
Iowa Player to Watch: Mark Weisman, RB
This feels like cheating since Weisman's status for Saturday's contest is in doubt, but there's no questioning just how important the walk-on fullback is to this team.
Weisman was, ahem, wise to walk-on for the Hawkeyes because after they were hit with a seemingly endless barrage of running back injuries, he took the opportunity and ran with it. Or maybe more appropriately, took the opportunity and ran over a bunch of unsuspecting defenders with it.
Thanks to a no-nonsense, down-hill, get-the-F-out-of-my-way running style, Weisman has racked up 631 rushing yards on 6.3 yards per carry and eight touchdowns in just four games. Not only has he been impossible to stop, but he's injected energy into this squad and given it an identity.
With Iowa's passing game struggling, there's no question how important Weisman is to this offense. If he isn't able to go, it sounds like the pressure will fall to Jordan Canzeri, who has 31 career rushing attempts.
Key Matchup: Matt McGloin vs. Iowa Secondary
If Weisman is out, Iowa is going to have to turn this into a low-scoring game to have any kind of a chance. In order to do that, they'll have to slow down Penn State's passing attack, which ranks 47th in the country in yards per game.
Not only are the Hawkeyes 28th in the nation in yards per pass allowed (6.3), but they do a decent job of getting after the quarterback and an even better job of forcing turnovers (2.0 takeaways per game).
If Iowa can force McGloin, who has taken care of the ball so well this year, into some mistakes and create a short field, they have a good chance of moving to 3-0 in the Big Ten.
I'm operating under the notion that Weisman will miss the game, leaving Iowa to rely on its inexperienced running backs (albeit behind a terrific offensive line) and a passing game that ranks at the bottom of the Big Ten.
Should Weisman make a dramatic comeback, I reserve the right to change my prediction to the winner of the game, but as it stands, I don't see the Hawkeyes being able to move the ball as well as Penn State. The defense and energy from the crowd will help keep them close, but it won't be enough.
Penn State 21, Iowa 20
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