Wisconsin at Iowa this Saturday is:

A) 2 teams each trying to avoid a .500 or worse record through 10 games for the first time in at least a decade
B) 2 hot teams looking for a 3rd straight win and a strong position in the B1G West race
C) A game only lovers of defense and low over/unders could love
D) A game that should have major $$$ implications for each head coach
E) All of the above

Everyone should get that one right. It’s telegraphed worse than a Spencer Petras pass. It’s clearly E) All of the above.

Inspiration and desperation

When the Badgers meet the Hawkeyes at 2:30 CT (FS1) at Kinnick Stadium, both teams will be riding 2-game winning streaks and sporting the same record: 5-4 overall, 3-3 Big Ten.

The winner will continue on the path toward salvaging a season that was on the brink of collapse a few weeks ago. If Purdue wins at No. 21 Illinois in a game that kicks off 3½ hours earlier, the winner of this game will essentially be in the driver’s seat in the muddled B1G West race. Both teams have already beaten Purdue (5-4, 3-3), and both still play Minnesota (6-3, 3-3) and Nebraska (3-6, 2-4). The Illini (7-2, 4-2) still have to play at Michigan, so their margin for error hinges on beating the Boilermakers (5-4, 3-3).

The winner of this game — Wisconsin is a 1.5-point road favorite — still has a shot to finish well above .500 and possibly earn a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game.

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The loser falls to 5-5 for the first time since most of its players were in grade school. Wisconsin hasn’t had 5 losses through 10 games since 2008; Iowa since 2012.

Winning would be a big boost for interim coach Jim Leonhard, whose Badgers have spoken out in the past weeks about their desire for him to get the full-time gig. For 24th-year Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz, a home win should lower the noise from those tired of the team’s anemic offense and his son Brian’s leadership of same. A loss, and it’ll be interesting to see how loyal 16th-year AD Gary Barta remains to the winningest and longest-tenured coach in Iowa football history.

The matchups

Iowa has a bad offense and a really good defense, which is reflected in an over/under of 35.5 points, the lowest total of the 32 Power 5 conference games this weekend.

Petras and the Hawkeyes offense have found some rhythm over the past 2 weeks, The senior quarterback has thrown for 412 yards and 3 TDs without a pick, going mostly to TE Sam LaPorta and WR Nico Ragaini. Last week, in a 24-3 domination of Purdue, freshman Kaleb Johnson broke out with a 200-yard rushing game.

The Hawkeyes will try to keep that going against a stiffer defensive challenge. Wisconsin’s Nick Herbig leads the B1G in sacks with 8 and is part of a dynamic linebacker group.

Wisconsin’s attack is led by up-and-down Graham Mertz, who went just 5-of-18 for 77 yards in ugly weather Saturday vs. Maryland. Prior to that, the junior QB had been reasonably solid since Leonhard took over for the fired Paul Chryst. The Badgers also feature star sophomore RB Braelon Allen, who is just 11 yards short of 1,000 for the season. Allen and his offensive linemen will have to deal with the B1G’s No. 3 overall defense, led by the league’s top tackler in LB Jack Campbell.

As is usually the case when these teams meet, there won’t be a lot of finesse.

Wisconsin has won 8 of the past 10 meetings, including a 27-7 win last year in Madison.


Wisconsin is +6 in turnover margin, while Iowa is only +3 this year after leading the B1G at +12 a year ago. The Hawkeyes probably need to close that gap to have a chance Saturday.

Weather could be a factor. A cold snap is scheduled to hit Iowa City on Friday, and Saturday’s high won’t get much above freezing if the forecast holds. Winds up to 15 mph won’t help. Given how much Mertz struggled at home Saturday against a Maryland defense ranked No. 10 in the B1G, Petras and the Hawkeyes’ defense look like the play here. Iowa also has the better kicker, as Drew Stevens is 12-of-14 on field goal tries and Wisconsin’s Nate Van Zelst is 5-of-7.

Iowa 19, Wisconsin 13