The stars seem aligned for Iowa to salvage something out of its disappointing 2006 season.
They got a massive wakeup call losing to at home to Northwestern last weekend, a result that would shake the lethargy off Eeyore. Their former supposed Heisman candidate, Drew Tate, has a healthy-ish thumb and needs to redeem himself after a very bad game against the Wildcats. They’ve got a six-year streak of playing in January bowl games on the line. This is their final home game of the season. They’ve beaten the University of Wisconsin four consecutive years, including two games in Iowa City (2004 and 2002), in which they allowed seven and three points, respectively, and covered easily. And finally, Wisconsin’s starting quarterback, John Stocco, had to leave the Badgers’ game against Penn State last week with a hurt throwing shoulder, and is questionable this week. Sounds good, right?
So why am I taking Wisconsin?
Well, first off, the Badgers are pretty good. They’ve got a legitimate shot at 11-1, and while they almost certainly won’t play in a BCS bowl, they’ll play on or about New Year’s and take in some much-needed publicity for first-year man Bret Bielema, who replaced Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin’s helm. They were competitive at Michigan before losing 27-13, and otherwise have rarely been tested; in their six Big Ten wins, their average margin of victory has been over 23 points. Meanwhile, Iowa is 2-4 in the Big Ten, including losses at Indiana and home against Northwestern. Tate has definitely led a potent passing attack — the Hawkeyes are 30th nationally in passing yards per game — but he’s made way too many mistakes: eight interceptions to 11 TDs on the season, and seven interceptions and just five TDs in Big Ten play. Considering Wisconsin allows the third-fewest passing yards per game and has allowed just three TD passes to 11 interceptions created, Tate could be in for another long day. On the other defensive sideline, the Hawkeyes have played passably well against the pass (ha), but have given up 101 passing first downs (the Badgers have allowed just 72). If Stocco winds up playing, Wisconsin will be as balanced as always.
And I think Stocco plays. He practiced Thursday night, and according to Bielema, made all the throws. He’s a tough kid who’s made 35 consecutive starts, and he doesn’t want to lead the seniors on his team (he’s one of them) to yet another loss against Iowa (last year’s Wisconsin class already graduated never having toppled the Hawkeyes). That should be enough motivation for a powerhouse rushing attack, led by P.J. Hill, who leads the Big Ten in rushing yards (1,370) and rushing touchdowns (13), and also averages aufabet สเต็ป2 whopping 5.6 yards per carry. Stocco probably doesn’t have the NFL Draft Day future that Tate does, but he’s had a far better senior season, having thrown for 15 scores and just four picks.
Neither of these teams exactly faced a murderers’ row of non-conference opponents (Iowa had Montana, Syracuse, Iowa St. and Northern Illinois; Wisconsin had Bowling Green, Western Illinois, San Diego St. and finishes against Buffalo), and Iowa did have to play Ohio St., while the Badgers miss the Buckeyes this year. Still, Wisconsin has been far happier against the number in 2006: they’re 7-1-1 against the spread overall, while overvalued Iowa is an incredible 1-8. (In fact, this line actually opened in favor of the Hawkeyes by a point, before shifting slightly in Wisconsin’s favor.) The Badgers are 5-1 against the spread in their last six conference games, 5-0-1 ATS in their last six road games, 4-0 ATS as a road favorite, and 8-1 ATS as a favorite overall. Meanwhile, Iowa is 1-5 ATS against teams with winning records, 1-6 ATS in games after a straight-up loss, and 0-4 (and 1-8) ATS overall. I grant you that the Hawkeyes are also 5-1 ATS in their last six as