Mike Carter-US PRESSWIRE
If IU can handle being a home favorite, then the season will get very interesting.
IU's non-conference losses to Navy and Ball State should have ended the Hoosiers' postseason hopes. Nevertheless, in a crazy Big Ten, the Hoosiers have a non-crazy path to 6 wins, and a slightly crazy path to the postseason even if they fall short of 6 wins. The scenario, as I discussed earlier in the week, is this: with Penn State and Ohio State ineligible for postseason play, the winner of the IU-Wisconsin game on November 10 will hold the tiebreaker in the race to rerepsent the "Leaders" Division in the Big Ten championship game. If IU beats Iowa tomorrow (a game in which IU is favored) and then upsets Wisconsin, then that would leave both teams 3-3 in the league with two games remaining and with IU holding the tiebreaker.
But, of course, to have any chance, the Hoosiers almost certainly have to beat Iowa. Here's what we've said about this game earlier this week:
The Iowa program is in a bit of turmoil. In our Q&A yesterday, Ross of BHGP made clear that there is no real chance that Kirk Ferentz will lose his job in the foreseeable future, but the grumbling about this team and the regime are easy to find right now. Iowa is 4-4 and follows the IU game with a home game against Purdue, a trip to Michigan, and a home game against Nebraska. If the Hawkeyes drop to 4-5 tomorrow, their chances of avoiding that seventh loss become pretty slim.
This game will be strength against strength, weakness against weakness. IU is #37 in FBS in total offense and #93 in total defense. Iowa is #39 in total defense but #102 in total offense. Iowa fans over at BHGP have resisted the notion that Iowa will score a bunch of points against IU, but every Hoosier opponent except ISU, UMass, and Illinois has broken the 30 point barrier against IU's defense. Still, the Iowa offense may put that to the test. The lead whipping boy is senior QB James Vandenberg, who is completing only 56 percent of his passes and has thrown 3 TDs to 5 INTs. At running back, a series of injuries, transfers, and who knows what has led the Hawkeyes to a point where they have only one healthy running back with any meaningful experience. Because of his own injuries, Damon Bullock has played in only four games this season, but he is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and nearly 100 yards per game. On the downside, the Hawkeyes will be without leading rusher Mark Weisman, who has run for 661 yards and 5.8 yards per carry. The best thing that can be said about the Hawkeye offense is that they have taken pretty good care of the ball. Iowa is comfortably in the black in turnover margin. The Hawkeyes have seven offensive turnovers compared to 15 on defense. They are +1 per game in turnovers, which is even better than IU's +.38. Keenan Davis leads Iowa in receiving yards and catches, and has one of Iowa's three passing TDs this season.
On defense, the Hawkeyes are better, and as noted, have produced nearly two turnovers per game. It will be interesting to see how the Iowa defense fares against an IU offense with only four turnovers on the season. Cornerback Greg Castillo and linebacker Tom Donatell have two interceptions each. Linebacker Andrew Hitchens is Iowa's leading tackler and has 4 TFL and a sack. Cornerback Micah Hyde has no interceptions but has broken up 9 passes. Defensive end Joe Gaglione, after failing to break into the two deep during his first three years on campus, now leads Iowa with 8 TFL and 4 sacks as a fifth year senior.
Well, what can we expect? With the possible exception of the Illinois game, IU's offense has dictated the nature of all of the Hoosiers' games. Iowa is a mediocre team, with high points that include a win at Michigan State, but with a bad loss to a horrid Central Michigan team. IU has been in every home game, but hasn't played consistently well at home (a narrow loss to Ball State is different from a narrow loss to Ohio State). I think this is going to be a very exciting game that will go down to the end. If I were doing this in a vacuum, I might predict a narrow IU win. While I'm not ordinarily superstitious, I'm not going to mess with last week. Iowa 28, Indiana 27.