Preview/Prediction: Wisconsin

Iowa plays host to Big Ten West Division rival Wisconsin Saturday in a game with title ramifications. HI publisher Rob Howe breaks down the match-up and offers up his prediction.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Four Big Ten West Division teams are facing an elimination situation. The battle kicks off on Saturday.

First-place Wisconsin plays at Iowa, which in a tie for second with Nebraska and Minnesota. The Huskers and Gophers lock up in Lincoln.

Next week, Nebraska heads to Iowa City and Minnesota is in Madison. It's a round-robin to find a champion.

Coaches and players try not to look ahead. They can't avoid realizing what's going on here, however.

"Kids know exactly what the situation is and what the positions are," Badgers Coach Gary Andersen said on the Big Ten teleconference Tuesday. "As a league, you couldn't ask for a better position to be in as far as everybody is playing everybody that has a chance to win it.

"It's a great spot to be in for these young men, this spot they get to be in late in the year. They're still excited about football and excited to get out there and play. It brings tremendous attention to the Big Ten, which is great for all of us."

Wisconsin (8-2 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) enjoys a one-game lead over the other three teams. Iowa's chances are increased by playing two home games.

"The opportunities are there," Hawkeye Running Back Mark Weisman said. "We have to take advantage of the opportunities. It's been a crazy year, up and down, but we're still in the hunt."

Much has been made of Iowa stopping Badger super back Melvin Gordon, who ran for a record 408 yards in a 59-24 thumping of Nebraska last week. The Hawkeyes (7-3, 4-2) talked extensively about that challenge.

Gordon, who needs 91 yards to become the 17th player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, will be featured on many pre-game broadcasts coming off the torching of the Huskers. He's a household name and solid Heisman Trophy contender now after that performance.

National analysts already are firmly in the Badgers' corner as the team from the West that will face Ohio State in the Dec. 6 Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis. Actually having to win the games at Iowa and for Paul Bunyan's Axe against Minnesota next week is a formality for many talking heads.

Badger Coach Gary Andersen knows better. He only has to reach back to his team's loss at Northwestern early this year to illustrate his point.

"The (Iowa) running game is very difficult to deal with for a lot of reasons, for the physicality, for the scheming and because of the young men that are participating in it," he said. "Play-action passing is a huge part of their game and it's rendered them big plays in this season.

"If you look at them on defense, they're a very stout, physical, tough-minded crew. They play on offense, defense and special teams just like you would expect Iowa to play - big, physical, tough kids that love the game of football. They're fundamentally sound and well coached."

Hawkeye defensive tackles Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis, both of whom have accepted invitations to the Senior Bowl, have caught the eye of Andersen.

"It's not hard to see them," he said with a chuckle. "You know where they're going to be.

"You have to run your offense, No. 1, and you're going to have to try to block them. Our kids are excited about the opportunity to compete against some of the best. They definitely are. And I'm sure those young men are excited to compete against Wisconsin's offensive line."

Gordon runs behind a mammoth front that also does a fine job protecting quarterbacks Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy. Reserve running back Corey Clement has 742 yards on the ground, which is more than anyone on the Hawkeyes.

Receiver Alex Erickson paces the Badgers with 37 receptions for 480 yards and three scores. Tight end Sam Arneson leads the team with four scoring catches and ranks second with 20 balls for 276.

Wisconsin's high-powered offense highlighted by Gordon overshadows a salty defense. Despite losing their front seven from a year ago, the Badgers lead the Big Ten and rank third nationally in scoring defense (15.3 points per game). They lead the country in total defense.

It's a group effort for Wisconsin, which doesn't have a player among the nation's Top 100 tacklers. Safety Michael Caputo averages 7.0 stops a contest, good for 18th in the Big Ten.

"The challenge is trying to get a manageable third down," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We didn't do a good job last year.  But they really do a good job with the run attack.  They allow around 100 yards, they are under 100 this year and slightly over it last year.  They make it tough for you to run the football.  And if they can get you in predictable third downs, they do a good job there, too."

Time, TV, Announcers: 2:36 p.m. CT on ABC/ESPN2 with Dave Flemming, Chris Speilman and Todd McShay.

The Series: Wisconsin leads 43-42-2.

Betting Line: Vegas Insiders showed Wisconsin opening as a 8.5-point favorite. As of Wednesday, the Badgers moved to a 10-point pick at the Wynn Vegas. The total sat at 51.5.

Betting Trends:

-Wisconsin is 4-0 Against The Spread in its last 4 conference games.

-Iowa is 5-2 ATS in its last 7 conference games.

Match-up to Watch: It has to be Gordon against the Iowa defense. He's arguably the best running back in the country and he's facing a unit that has been gashed on the ground at times this season.

There's a tendency to focus on the front seven when it comes to stopping the rush. In the case of Gordon, it's going to require 11 guys swarming to the ball. If one guy gets out of position or misses an assignment, he'll be in the end zone in a few seconds.

It starts up front with the line absorbing blocks and gumming up the gaps. If he picks up speed darting through a lane, it makes it that much harder for the second and third levels to corral him.

Gordon will get to the linebackers and defensive backs. When he does, they need to break down and tackle. Cornerbacks and safeties must support and hold the edge.

Take Note: Iowa has scored 30 or more points in four Big Ten games for the first time since 2005 (4). The last time Iowa scored 30 or more points in five Big Ten games was 2002 (6). Under head coach Kirk Ferentz, Iowa is 62-6 when scoring 30 or more points.

Take Note, Take Two: Wisconsin finished with at least nine wins in 8 of the previous 10 seasons entering 2014, making UW one of just eight schools to achieve that level of consistent winning.

Non-Sports Related: Green Bay is the Toilet Paper Capital of the World.

Did You Know?: Harry Houdini, a famous magician and escape artist, was a Wisconsin native.

Did You Also Know?: The original Barbie is from Willows, Wisconsin. Barbie's full name is Barbie Millicent Roberts.

Wisconsin Wins If… it doesn't turn it over.

Iowa Wins If… it can limit Gordon.

Overview: We've arrived at the point of the season that Iowa fans most looked forward to. As the Hawkeye faithful hoped, it means something.

Pressure can create strange results. Iowa is looking for one that surprises folks outside the program.

Based on previous results this season, the Badgers certainly deserve to be the favorite here. They're performing more consistently at a higher level than is Iowa.

The past doesn't dictate the future, however. And it's not like Wisconsin is far superior. It needs to play well to win in this spot.

The Hawkeyes will be well supported by the home crowd. They can keep alive their opportunity to achieve history in winning a Big Ten title.

Iowa is confident and up for the challenge. The home team will play well. The Badgers will be a hair better.

Prediction: Wisconsin 35, IOWA 31.

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