Big Ten Championship Game 2021: Early Preview, Predictions for Michigan vs. Iowa

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistNovember 28, 2021

Big Ten Championship Game 2021: Early Preview, Predictions for Michigan vs. Iowa

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    For the first time in five years, the Ohio State Buckeyes will not be winning the Big Ten championship. Instead, the Iowa Hawkeyes and Michigan Wolverines will be meeting in Indianapolis to determine the conference's winner. 

    For the Wolverines, it's a chance to not just win its first conference championship under Jim Harbaugh. It's an opportunity to get into the College Football Playoff. With its stunning win over the Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan now has an inside track on one of the four spots to play for it all in January. 

    For the Hawkeyes, this is an opportunity to play spoiler and secure a spot in a New Year's Six Bowl. A win would send Kirk Ferentz and Iowa to their first Rose Bowl appearance since 2015. 

    It isn't the Big Ten championship everyone expected heading into the final week of the regular season, but it's an intriguing high-stakes affair nonetheless. Let's take an early look at the matchup. 

When Michigan Has the Ball

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    As Michigan showed on Saturday in The Game, the Wolverine rushing attack is formidable. There's a reason the Wolverines are running the ball nearly 60 percent of the time. They are pretty good at it. 

    Michigan's rushing attack racked up 297 yards and six touchdowns against a Buckeyes defense that was allowing just 3.1 yards per carry to opposing teams. 

    The Wolverine offensive line is going to have to be dominant once again as the Hawkeyes have been even tougher against the run. They are only surrendering 2.97 yards per carry on the ground. 

    It's likely that Cade McNamara is going to have to make some plays for the Michigan offense to function in this one. The quarterback went 14-of-19 for 159 yards and an interception against Ohio State, but that interception was an uncharacteristic mistake. 

    He had only thrown two this season going into the game and has been great at protecting the football. 

    He'll need to do that once again in a big spot. The Hawkeyes are good enough at stopping the run that Michigan will need to keep them honest by making some plays in the passing game.

When Iowa Has the Ball

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    Iowa is a lot like Michigan in that it likes to rely on the running game. The only problem is that it isn't nearly as good at it. Iowa runs the ball nearly 55 percent of the time but is 113th in yards per carry, only averaging 3.3 yards per attempt. 

    That doesn't paint the whole picture, though. The average climbs to 4.4 when you take out the quarterback rushing totals, which are weighed down by sacks. 

    Tyler Goodson is Iowa's best weapon. The running back has been on a hot streak recently with more than 130 yards on the ground in three of the last four games. 

    Speaking of sacks, that's a serious area of concern for The Hawkeyes. They are 98th in sacks allowed on the season, and after the day that Aidan Hutchinson and the Michigan defensive front had against Ohio State, it's safe to say Iowa is going to need to scheme ways to take the pass rush out of the game. 

    The quarterback duo of Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla isn't going to strike fear into the Michigan secondary. They have combined for just over 2,000 yards on the season and 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions. 

Prediction

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    It's easy to look at this matchup in light of what each team did in the last week and see it as a lopsided matchup. After all, Michigan just shook off a decade's worth of frustration against their archrival in impressive fashion while Iowa needed every bit of the fourth quarter to beat a 3-9 Nebraska team. 

    But that's underselling the strength of the Iowa defense. The Hawkeyes are fifth in defensive efficiency. In addition to having a stingy run defense, they have only allowed 13 passing touchdowns to 22 interceptions That's enough to give them a chance to pull off the upset. 

    Obviously, Michigan has the hosses up front to impose its will on any given Saturday. But it's no guarantee the team will experience the same success it had against Ohio State. 

    This is shaping up to be a fight, and Iowa is happy to play that game. However, Michigan still deserves to be the favorite here based on how much better equipped it is to have success on offense than Iowa is. 

    Prediction: Michigan 20, Iowa 13

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