Iowa and Wisconsin played one of the more boring, exciting games that I watched last season. The Badgers turned the ball over four times, including 2 interceptions tossed right into the hands of future Thorpe Award winner, Desmond King, which surely didn't help their cause. However, the biggest turnover came with just under eight minutes left in the game when Joel Stave fumbled the ball on his own one yard line. Iowa's Faith Ekakitie recovered the fumble to give Iowa possession.
The Hawkeyes turned the ball over twice themselves while only mustering 221 total yards, including just 77 through the air. But they did hold Wisconsin's rushing attack, which was without Corey Clement to just 2.5 yards per carry.
Wisconsin comes to Iowa City looking to take back the Heartland trophy that they held in their possession the three years prior.
The Badgers were without their most talented rusher in this game last season in Corey Clement. They'll get him back and barring injury, he should be a workhorse for this Badger offense. He did carry the ball 48 times for 221 yards and five touchdowns a year ago. The Badgers also return three starters along the offensive line in Micah Kapoi (LG), Michael Deiter (C), and Beau Benzschawel (RG). Rob Wheelwright also returns as a starter in his senior season at the wideout spot.
The biggest question mark is going to be at the quarterback spot. Joel Stave wasn't exactly stellar last season, although a 10 win Badger team might indicate otherwise. He tossed 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions a year ago. Stave has graduated and Bart Houston will step in to take his place. Houston completed 27 of 47 passes for 281 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions last season in his back up role.
Keep an eye out for Alex Hornibrook, who could possibly push Houston to the limit and could take his starting job at some point if Houston is not playing up to coach Paul Chryst's standards.
It's going to be a combination of Jazz Peavy and Troy Fumagalli trying to help out Wheelwright in replacing Alex Erickson's 77 catches from a season ago. Wheelwright should take some of the load, but he has been plagued by injuries throughout his career as a Badger.
The biggest thing for the Badgers is getting the running game back on track. Melvin Gordon left for the NFL the season before last and Wisconsin's running game took a hit. Mostly due to the injury to Clement, but last year was the first time Wisconsin was unable to produce a 1,000 yard rusher in over a decade.
The defensive side of the ball saw a little mix up this off-season. Dave Aranda, the former d-coordinator left for the same position at LSU, so Chryst brought in Justin Wilcox, who used to coach over at the University of Southern California, who the Badgers ironically beat in the Holiday Bowl last season.
Wilcox loses stud linebacker Joe Schobert, who absolutely reeked havoc on Iowa's offensive line last season totaling eight tackles and three sacks in the game. Schobert also recovered a fumble in that game. He'll also be burdened with replacing Michael Caputo, who picked C.J. Beathard off in Madison a year ago.
They return five starters on defense, but just one in the defensive backfield in Sojourn Shelton. With three newcomers back there, don't be surprised if teams take a few shots down the field early on in games just to gauge what kind of day these guys might be having. Their defense was the biggest storyline last season as they only allowed 13.7 points per game, which was good for 1st among all FBS teams.
That is largely why they went 10-3. They weren't the best at scoring the football, but they were the best at keeping teams out of the end zone. ILB T.J. Edwards also returns after leading the team in tackles with 84 last season.
This game could look a lot like last years game with how stubborn both of these defenses will be. Wisconsin isn't going to light it up through the air, especially given how talented Iowa's secondary will be. That means they will have to resort to the running game with Clement and Dare Ogunbowale, who was the teams leading rusher last season.
I can see Iowa taking some shots down the field and trying to get those safeties backing up, given their lack of starting experience. That will also open up the running game for the Hawkeyes.
I would call this a potential trap game right before Iowa heads to Happy Valley two weeks later to take on Penn State, but it's Wisconsin. The Badgers always bring it, and Iowa knows that. With the Heartland Trophy on the line, this should be another defensive struggle.
I like Iowa winning this game, 17-13, to remain undefeated.