The stage is set Saturday for the Big Ten Championship Game, in which Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa Hawkeyes will hope to stay flawless versus the Michigan State Spartans.
Because that's how we all drew it up back in July when we were too busy dialing up algorithms on how the Buckeyes wouldn't burst onto the scene with Urban Meyer FatHeads draped all over our notes, right?
I polled 40 Big Ten writers before the season. NONE picked EITHER Michigan State OR Iowa to reach Indy. https://t.co/qoHmBeG7SX— Doug Lesmerises (@DougLesmerises) December 1, 2015
That about sums it up.
Michigan State vs. Iowa
Spread: Michigan State -3.5
The Spartans may have shattered through the floodgates with eight consecutive wins to kick off 2015, yet those that backed Michigan State early were plagued by slow starts. Thanks to a string of six straight losses against the spread, the Spartans were gaining attention for all the wrong reasons. Now, at 11-1 and having covered the last three (and five out of the last six), the motor is running.
Saturday will mark just the second time this season when Iowa is listed as underdog; the first resulted in a 10-6 win in Madison over the Wisconsin Badgers. Tag it as unfamiliar territory all you want, but Iowa has proven it can win on the road, cover gaudy spreads, and even stave off potential trap games (Indiana and Nebraska).
What You Need to Know
The oddsmakers are giving the Spartans a flurry of love here with a hook on the field goal, as well as the total. With Michigan State's team total projected around 28 points, it speaks volumes to the trust that is being put in Sparty: Iowa has yet to surrender more than 27 points all season.
Both teams rank in the top 15 in rushing yards (MSU: 15, Iowa: 6), so, if one team can exploit a secondary early, things could get awfully exciting on Saturday. Michigan State's passing game is led by the star-studded tandem of Connor Cook and Aaron Burbridge, while Iowa signal-caller C.J. Beathard has found refuge in junior wide receiver Matt VandeBerg.
Most are waiting for the Hawkeyes to get 'exposed' as the naysayers defame the partial cakewalk of a schedule. Michigan State flexed its muscles versus a lowly Penn State club last Saturday by doing pretty much whatever it wanted.
Does Sparty keep the engines revved or is the Hawkeye narrative calling for a storybook ending?
I expect a feeling out process to start the game with the Big Ten affiliates keeping the ball on the ground to test the waters. Iowa's been hell bent on establishing running back Jordan Canzeri and should probably refrain from a track meet-type of game; keep Connor Cook on the sidelines and continue to keep the chains moving.
Michigan State's recovered well off of a potential heartbreaker in Lincoln, and I don't perceive the Hawkeye magic to persist upon Saturday's end. It'll be close, but Michigan State withholds Iowa on a game-winning field goal.
Michigan State 30, Iowa 28
Pick: Iowa +3.5/Over 52.5