Iowa CITY, Iowa - Few people would have thought Iowa would control its own destiny in pursuit of a divisional crown after an Oct. 29 loss at Minnesota. Yet, after last week's upset of Michigan, the Hawkeyes have put themselves in that spot with three games to play.
No. 13 Michigan State comes to Iowa CIty this week attempting to rebound from a a 37-6 beat down it suffered last year at Kinnick Stadium. The Spartans have lost seven-straight games in Iowa City, with MSU's last win there coming on Oct. 7, 1989, 17-14. "We've got 40 players who last season went out there with us when we were undefeated and ranked fifth in the nation at that point in time, and we didn't respond very well," Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio said. "So we've got some things to prove. But we've got 40 players who have been in this situation before in terms of having to come back and play in an environment such as we did last year against Penn State."
Iowa and the Spartans are the only two teams in the Big Ten Legends Division that control their destiny. If either one wins its last three games, it will be in the in the conference's first championship game next month in Indianapolis.
"We're really not worried about division standings right now or Big Ten standings," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "A week ago it didn't look like we were going to a bowl game to a lot of people. We're nine days removed right now from not getting it done on the game field, and that's kind of where we're at as a team right now, so we need just to really try to worry about a good opponent coming in here and see if we can play a good game because that's really what's important for us right now is trying to play well. If we don't play well, it'll be a tough day, I know that. This is a really good team."
TELEVISION: The game will be televised to a national audience by ESPN2. The announcers are Beth Mowins and Mike Bellotti.
RECORDS, RANKINGS: Iowa is 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten. The Spartans are 7-2 and 4-1. They're ranked No. 13 in the country.
HISTORY: This is the 43rd meeting between the two schools. Iowa leads the all-time series by a 22-18-2 margin. Iowa has won the last two games in the series and four of the last five. The last Spartan win at Iowa City came in 1989 (17-14). Iowa leads the series (13-8-1) in games played at Iowa City.
THE LINE: Caesar's in Vegas installed Michigan State as a 2 1/2-point favorite to open on Monday. It held there through Thursday.
This is a tricky one. Michigan State clearly is the more accomplished team of the two. However, Iowa is 6-0 at home this season.
While the Spartans struggled the last two weeks, Iowa is coming off a big win against Michigan. In which direction are these teams headed?
It's also a match-up of similar styles. That often can make the outcome even tougher to call.
Caesars has the total at 47. That's also a tough call.
Here are a some interesting trends:
-Hawkeyes are 5-0-1 ATS in their last 6 games as a home underdog.
-Hawkeyes are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 home games.
-Hawkeyes are 2-6-1 ATS in their last 9 conference games.
-Hawkeyes are 1-4-1 ATS in their last 6 games in November.
-Spartans are 6-2-1 ATS in their last 9 games as a road favorite.
-Spartans are 8-3 ATS vs. a team with a winning record.
-Spartans are 1-4-1 ATS in their last 6 games in November.
-Spartans are 0-5 ATS in their last 5 meetings in Iowa.
Scherff started the last two weeks in place of Tobin, but both have played. Tobin looked to be the better of the two against Michigan. It clearly has been the soft spot on this year's Iowa offensive line.
The rotation here could work to Iowa's advantage by giving Worthy different looks and keeping a fresh body on him.
Iowa RB Marcus Coker vs. Michigan State Front Seven - Coker is on a roll right now after a slow start to the season. He's a physical runner and he'll be facing a hard-hitting defense.
The yards for Coker likely will be tougher to come by this week than they have the last month. It will be reminiscent of facing Penn State's defense.
Coker needs to hit the hole hard as he is been doing and decision will have to be quicker.
Cousins is the opposite threat. He will sit in the pocket and survey the field.
Iowa must generate a pass rush from its defensive front. Blitzing will help, but the veteran Cousins can pick you apart at whenever he has the time.
Michigan State WR B.J. Cunningham vs. Iowa CB Shaun Prater - Prater needs a big game to erase some of the memories of inconsistency for him this season. This would be a great time to put that together.
Cunningham is a tall, physical receiver that will force Prater to use solid technique to counter the height disadvantage. He can't count on the dropped passes that Junior Hemingway helped him with last week.
Michigan State -
- Under Dantonio, Michigan State has compiled a 10-3 record (.769) in November. MSU went a perfect 3-0 in November last season for the first time since 1999.
-Michigan State has been a strong first-half team, outscoring its opponents, 143-75 (+68). In the second quarter alone, MSU has outscored its opponents by 82 points, 98-16.
-The Spartans have only allowed their opponents 18 trips into the red zone this season, which is tied for the fifth fewest trips permitted in the NCAA FBS.
-Michigan State has had four different starting combinations in nine games on the offensive line this season, including three different starting centers (Blake Treadwell, Travis Jackson, Ethan Ruhland).
-Kirk Cousins has connected on 52-of-84 third-down throws (.619) for 553 yards, with 32 of those completions resulting in first downs and five for touchdowns.
-With wins over Michigan and Wisconsin, Michigan State became the first team to defeat opponents with 6-0 or better overall records in consecutive Big Ten Conference games.
-Michigan State became the second team in Big Ten history to go 3-0 against Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin in a three-game span, joining Penn State, which accomplished the feat in 2008.
-With consecutive wins over No. 10 Michigan and No. 4 Wisconsin, Michigan State became just the third Big Ten team since 2002 to record back-to-back victories over Top 10 opponents.
-Michigan State defensive line coach Ted Gill worked for five years as an assistant coach under Hayden Fry at Iowa (1990-94) where he coached the defensive line and linebackers, helping the Hawkeyes earn three bowl appearances (1991 Rose, 1991 Holiday and 1993 Alamo).
-Michigan State senior quarterback Kirk Cousins' grandfather, Ralph Woodard (end: 1945, 1947- 49), and great uncle, Dick Woodard (center/linebacker: 1944, 1946-48), were four-year lettermen for Iowa in the 1940s.
-Iowa has won 55 of its last 66 games (.846) in Kinnick Stadium, dating back to the 2002 season.
-Iowa is 23-4 (.852) at home since the start of the 2008 season.
-Senior WR Marvin McNutt, Jr. and sophomore RB Marcus Coker could give Iowa a 1,000-yard receiver and 1,000-rusher in the same season for just the second time ever. Coker has rushed for 1,101 yards in nine games, while McNutt has 959 receiving yards. In 2000, RB Ladell Betts rushed for 1,090 yards , while WR Kevin Kasper totaled 1,010 receiving yards.
-An Iowa running back has gained over 1,000 rushing yards in 17 seasons (seven times under Kirk Ferentz), while just three Hawkeye receivers have totaled over 1,000 receiving yards in one season.
-Iowa is fourth nationally in fewest penalty yards per game (33.1), seventh in fewest turnovers (nine), tied for ninth in red zone defense (71%), tied for 14th in fewest penalties per game (4.4), 17th in net punting (39.5), 21st in red zone offense (89%) and 26th in punt return defense (5.3).
- Iowa is 17th nationally in pass efficiency offense,while Michigan State is seventh in pass efficiency defense (102.8).
THE PREDICTION: A lot is made of Iowa's success rate against Penn State. The Hawkeyes do pretty well against Michigan State as well, especially at home.
The focus for me is on Iowa's run defense versus Michigan State's rush offense. Both are inconsistent.
If Iowa can bottle things up like it did last week against Michigan, it gets the upper hand in this contest. If the Hawkeyes allow Michigan State to get it going on ground, and the Spartans do have talented backs, it could be a long day for the home team.
I'm still not sure of this is the Iowa team we saw at Minnesota or the one that showed up against the Wolverines last week. It's been a Jekyll and Hyde squad this year.
I do know that the Hawkeyes are tough to beat at home. And they seem to perform better against teams that match their style.
I called for a win against Michigan and I'll stay on the upset train.
IOWA 20, Michigan State 17