Iowa vs Michigan: Big Ten Championship Preview
By Will Bateman
This weekend, College Football’s ten conferences will each crown a champion. Will Bateman previews the Big Ten marquee matchup between the Iowa Hawkeyes and Michigan Wolverines:
Many reading this will still be reeling from the spectacular events of last Saturday. It’s not often that the big college games live up to the hype, but ‘The Game’ will long be remembered as one of the very best, and rightly so. As we enter Championship Weekend, Michigan go into things with something of a siege mentality; after a swashbuckling win against Ohio State, they capped off an unbeaten regular season, but as we all know, things have been far from smooth in Ann Arbor.
While the Wolverines sit second in the College Football Playoff rankings, their season, and arguably the college football season, has been marred by the sign-stealing scandal that has been unravelling over the past few weeks. At a time when Coach Jim Harbaugh has already served a three-game suspension, both the NCAA and Michigan’s rivals are baying for blood. But rather than being cowed by outside pressure, the Wolverines have instead chosen to embrace their new-found infamy.
The siege mentality has manifested itself in Michigan Football’s new mantra ‘Michigan vs. Everybody’, where despite fairly damning evidence of a well-organised sign stealing operation, the Wolverines and their fans have closed ranks and have used the collective noise to push forward toward yet another unbeaten regular season, and yet another Conference Championship game. Michigan alumnus and heralded ‘GOAT’ Tom Brady and the Michigan Hockey Team have all adopted the mantra, as has the University of Michigan Club Shop with t-shirts, sweatshirts and posters all sporting the new line.
Michigan’s opponents this weekend are of course the stubborn 18th ranked Iowa Hawkeyes. After winning the Big Ten West for the third time in the school’s history, Iowa have come away from another hugely successful regular season, but with Michigan now in their sights, this is a team very much of two halves. If we take their offense as the first half, the Hawkeyes have the second fewest points per game in the Big Ten West, the fewest passing yards and touchdowns, the worst passing efficiency and the fewest yards per play, so to put it nicely, this is not a team that scores a lot of points.
Yet this is a team with a 10-2 record who find themselves in the Conference Championship game. The reason for this is the second half of our equation, their more than formidable defense. The Hawkeyes defense allowed just 12.2 points per game during the regular season, they also allowed the second fewest yards per attempt, the fourth fewest points per game and have allowed just two – count ‘em two – rushing touchdowns all year.
However, their competition is a Wolverines team with a formidable defense of their own, and a terrifying offense who have put up 30 per points in every game bar one this season. This of course raises the important question of whether Iowa actually have a hope against a Michigan juggernaut who look like they may go all the way this year. Well, if you ask Vegas, the answer is a pretty firm no. In fact, at time of writing, the sportsbooks don’t even project Iowa to score a single touchdown this weekend, at any point, and not many would disagree, but there is some precedent for a potential upset.
In 2016, the Hawkeyes faced a similar iteration of the present Wolverines team. Coming off a 41-14 demolition at the hands of Penn State, the then 5-4 Iowa welcomed a 9-0 Michigan to Kinnick Stadium and many expected a similar drubbing, but by the end of that freezing November night Iowa fans had flooded the field to celebrate with their team who had just won in a 14-13 upset.
Kirk Ferentz masterminded that Hawkeyes win and this season he has again led a team with a truly terrible offense to the Big Ten Championship game. Speaking this week, Ferentz said it would be ‘kind of funny’ for them to upset Michigan, but unlike 2016 fixture, this Wolverines team is a different beast buoyed by an us vs. them sense of togetherness and a marauding offense that continues to put up big scores on a consistent basis.
If Iowa’s offense was at least a touch more creative then better bets could be had on the Hawkeyes, but while their defence may be outstanding, it’s more a question of when rather than if, Michigan begin to run up a touchdown or three. If they do beat Iowa, the Wolverines could have firmly put Ohio State down and secured a third consecutive Big Ten Championship all in the space of a week, so perhaps being under siege isn’t all that bad after all.
Feature Image Credit: AJ Mast/Associated Press
Will works in communications and is a relatively new convert to College Football. Alongside the Minnesota Gophers, he’s an avid fan of the Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Phillies and Tottenham Hotspur. Follow him on Twitter @ItsWillBateman