Breaking it down: Illinois State vs. Iowa
Who: Illinois State vs. Iowa
When: Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
Where: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa
TV: Big Ten Network
Matchup to Watch: Tre Roberson vs. Drew Ott
The Indiana transfer set just about every possible offensive record he could’ve in his first year at ISU. Even more impressive, he led the Redbirds to their most successful season in school history, which ended with an FCS title game loss to North Dakota State. But Roberson hasn’t faced a pass rusher like Ott since his Indiana days. The ISU signal-caller did all his record-setting damage against FCS schools. Still, Roberson did throw for 2,433 yards and rushed for nearly 1,000 yards in the Big Ten. The chase between the two could be one of the better opening week matchups we’ll see. And if Ott can’t generate a pass rush? The Hawkeyes’ loaded secondary could make give Roberson headaches, too.
Thing I’m excited to see: C.J. Beathard under center
Who’s going to be more nervous, Beathard or Kirk Ferentz? After all, it was Ferentz who might’ve risked his job to start the long-haired quarterback in favor of veteran Jake Rudock. But Beathard beams confidence and has said all the right things in camp to assure his coach that he made the right choice. It’ll be a little bit different than the Tennessee defense he saw when he last took the field. Beathard has the mobility the Hawkeyes need to show more variety on offense. Ferentz and Co. also might be willing to take more chances with a wideout like Tevaun Smith, who is basically the Big Ten’s version of Odell Beckham. That could develop into one of the conference’s better combinations.
Number to Remember: 4.75
That was Iowa’s average point differential in non-conference play last year. The Hawkeyes didn’t get to ease into the season with a few non-conference laughers. Instead, every game was decided by single digits. Ball State and Northern Iowa should’ve been routs, but they made fans question how the Hawkeyes would handle the Big Ten slate. That’s the long way of saying, if Ferentz has a chance to step on the gas and score a whole bunch of points against a less-skilled ISU defense, he’d be wise to do it. A little breathing room would be a nice change for the Cardiac Hawkeyes.
Prediction: Iowa 35, Illinois State 28
But do I think Ferentz gets that blowout opening win? No. Roberson wasn’t intimidated by the Kinnick atmosphere when he made his first collegiate start four years ago and he won’t be come Saturday. He’ll do his best to will the Redbirds to the upset, but ultimately, they won’t be able to get enough defensive stops to get past the Hawkeyes.