In a massive college football weekend, one matchup that shouldn’t be overlooked is the one between the no. 18 Iowa Hawkeyes and the no. 13 Wisconsin Badgers. Game time is set for 4:00 EST on Saturday, November 9 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. The game will be nationally televised on Fox.
If we check the Week 11 college football odds, the Badgers are listed as 9.5-point favorites at home. The game also has an over/under of 38.5 points.
After looking like a bonafide College Football Playoff contender during the first half of the season, the Badgers have come back down to earth with a pair of losses. First, there was an upset loss to Illinois, which was followed by a humiliating 38-7 loss to Ohio State. In fairness, both games were on the road, and after getting last week off, the Badgers will return home and look to finish the season strong with hopes for a 10-win season and conference title still alive.
It’s been a similar scenario for Iowa, who looked outstanding on their way to being 4-0. That was until the Hawkeyes suffered a couple of close losses to Michigan and Penn State. However, Iowa has bounced back with two straight wins over Purdue and Northwestern to put them at 6-2 overall and 3-2 in Big Ten play.
As it stands, both Iowa and Wisconsin have two losses in conference play, putting them two games behind undefeated Minnesota in the Big Ten West division. Fortunately, both teams still have a chance to play Minnesota head-to-head. With a little luck, either the Badgers or Hawkeyes could overtake the Golden Gophers to win the Big Ten West and reach the conference championship game. However, the loser of this week’s game will be out of the West division race, making it a must-win for both sides.
Of course, it’s always a must-win game when Iowa and Wisconsin get together. These two schools from the heartland have been meeting on the football field for over 100 years. These days, the Heartland Trophy is up for grabs every time they square off against one another. The Badgers have dominated the rivalry in recent years, winning three in a row and six of the last seven against Iowa. However, the Hawkeyes have actually won two of their last three trips to Madison, winning at Camp Randall as recently as 2015.
This is one of those games where the spread is so vital. I’m not high on Iowa’s chances of winning in Camp Randall, even if they’ve had a little success there in the past. But I also find it hard to buy the Badgers covering more than a touchdown. Both of Iowa’s losses this year have come by a touchdown or less. That makes me think the Hawkeyes will keep this game close and beat the spread.
The Hawkeyes might have the overlooked defense in the Big Ten this year. It’s fair to question the competition they’ve faced outside of Michigan, Penn State, and Iowa State. However, the Iowa defense held all three of those teams to 17 points or less. That’s remarkable consistency against a trio of quality teams, which is why I’m not sure we can count on Wisconsin being able to top 20 points, which will make covering the spread difficult.
Of course, the Wisconsin rushing attack isn’t an ordinary rushing attack. Jonathan Taylor was posting Heisman-type numbers during the first half of the season. However, both Michigan State and Ohio State have been able to keep him somewhat contained. Meanwhile, Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan has failed to deliver when the Badgers have needed him the most. He didn’t do enough against Illinois and had a rough day against Ohio State. Most quarterbacks have had subpar performances against the Iowa defense this season and I don’t think Coan will be any different. That will put even more pressure on Taylor and the Wisconsin rushing attack.
On the other side, there’s the Wisconsin defense. This unit was almost impenetrable the first half of the season, keeping four shut outs in six games. However, that’s not been the case in recent weeks. I can give the Badgers a pass for the Ohio State game, but they failed to protect a 9-point lead in the fourth quarter against Illinois. That has me a little concerned, especially with their confidence down after the Ohio State game.
To be fair, the Iowa offense doesn’t typically light up the scoreboard. But the Hawkeyes have a functional running game with three backs they can rotate. They also have a veteran quarterback in Nate Stanley who can usually be trusted in big games. He may not win the game, but Stanley should do enough to keep Iowa within striking distance.
Ultimately, I think the Hawkeyes are good enough to stay within 10 points of Wisconsin. The Iowa defense is better than people realize, which will force a low-scoring game. Given his experience, I think Stanley can lead the Iowa offense on a few good drives and score enough points to make this a one-score game and beat the spread.