Big Ten play officially gets underway this week, as the no. 20 Iowa Hawkeyes play host to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Kickoff is set for noon EST on Saturday, September 7 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. The game can be seen on FS1.
Oddsmakers view the Hawkeyes as 20.5-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 51 points. Be sure to check out all of this week’s college football betting odds.
As expected, the Hawkeyes took care of business in their season opener against Miami (Ohio), winning 38-14 despite narrowly missing out on covering the 24-point spread. After a slow start, Iowa dominated the game statistically and probably could have won by a lot more if they wanted to keep their foot on the gas. The Hawkeyes now have a chance to take an early lead atop the Big Ten West standings with a win over conference bottom-feeder Rutgers. Of course, Iowa doesn’t want to look past Rutgers with their in-state showdown with Iowa State on tap for next week.
Meanwhile, the Scarlet Knights also started the season 1-0, which is exactly what Chris Ash and company needed. Of course, it wasn’t necessarily easy for Rutgers, especially after falling behind UMass 21-7 at the end of the first quarter. But the Scarlet Knights responded with 31 points in the second quarter, ultimately scoring the final 41 points of the game to win 48-21. The caveat is that UMass is one of the worst teams in the country. Rutgers now faces a tough schedule for the rest of September with games against Boston College and Michigan after this week’s trip to Iowa.
This will be just the second time Iowa and Rutgers have run into each other since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes traveled to Piscataway in 2016 and escaped with a 14-7 win. Iowa is hoping for a more comfortable win on their home field in the second-ever meeting between the two schools.
Honestly, I was a little disappointed with Iowa’s performance in their season opener. I thought they’d be a little more dominant against a MAC team. But they’ll get a second chance this week because I still view Rutgers as more or less a MAC team. I’m not buying the Scarlet Knights just because they hammered UMass. I’ll trust the Hawkeyes to win by at least three touchdowns and cover the spread.
The biggest takeaway from the Rutgers season opener was the play of Texas Tech transfer McLane Carter at quarterback. He racked up over 340 yards through the air, including a pair of touchdown passes. But I think those numbers are a little misleading, especially considering the opponent. McLane also threw three interceptions against a bad UMass defense and completed nine of his 22 passes to running back Raheem Blacksheer. In my mind, Bo Melton remains the only outside threat on the Rutgers roster.
Against a quality defense, which is what Iowa brings to the table, I think the Scarlet Knights offense will be a little limited. The Hawkeyes are stout up front, so the Scarlet Knights won’t be able to run the ball as easily as they did last week when Blackshear and Isaih Pacheco combined for nearly 200 yards on the ground. Iowa also has one of the best pass rushes in the country. We didn’t see a lot of it last week, but I still expect the Hawkeyes to put a lot of pressure on Carter, which could cause problems given his relative lack of experience.
Defensively, the performance from Rutgers last week was also a bit of fool’s gold. They took advantage of UMass being inexperienced at quarterback and not having great playmakers at receiver. That will not be the case this week when they face Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley, who is one of the most trustworthy quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Whether the Hawkeyes have dynamic playmakers on the outside who can consistently produce remains to be seen. But having Stanley at quarterback puts them in safe hands.
Moreover, the Rutgers defense wasn’t particularly stout against the run last week, even against a weak UMass team. Iowa, on the other hand, has a trio of proven running backs and an offensive line that’s likely to push around the Rutgers front-7. To be fair, Rutgers didn’t give up any points after the first quarter last week. But I expect the Iowa offense to grow into the game and slowly impose their will on the Scarlet Knights. Ultimately, I expect the Hawkeyes to find a good balance between Stanley and the running game, giving the Rutgers defense problems.
Considering some of the lopsided losses the Scarlet Knights have suffered at the hands of ranked teams in recent years, I don’t think the spread is unreasonable. I worry a little because the Iowa offense is more efficient than it is explosive. But if Rutgers struggles to score against the Iowa defense the way I think they will, I have no problem trusting the Hawkeyes to cover the spread.