Every college season has its tectonic plate-shifting games, and maybe, just maybe, No. 3 Michigan at Iowa (7 p.m., Ch. 7) will be one of them. Three weeks ago in Happy Valley, Penn State upset three-touchdown favorite Ohio State in ABC’s prime-time game. In Iowa City, the three-touchdown-underdog Hawkeyes will attempt to knock off OSU’s partner in Big Ten East domination and playoff contention. But can they?
It sure is a tall order. The Hawkeyes (5-4) seemingly have yet to recover from last season’s heartbreak in the conference title game; they were obliterated by Stanford in the ensuing Rose Bowl and this year have fallen apart on their home field. Three straight opponents — North Dakota State, Northwestern and Wisconsin — have won at Kinnick Stadium. Meanwhile, Kirk Ferentz’s defense has been strong one week, run over the next.
It’s just hard to figure out this Iowa team, which has yet to find it’s A-game all season. If it saves its very best for Michigan … maybe?
“This is a championship (game) and we take that to heart,” Wolverines quarterback Wilton Speight said. “We know it’s win or go home. All this means nothing if we’re 9-1 this time next week.”
Iowa has some key ingredients, starting with a quarterback in C.J. Beathard who has won a lot of hard-fought games. Running backs LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley will challenge Michigan’s best-in-the-land defense. Can the Hawkeyes’ struggling offensive line rise to the occasion and shield Beathard from the Wolverines’ supercharged pass rush? If not, it’ll be a wipeout.
I’m looking for the Hawkeyes to play their most inspired football of the season — but am not convinced even that will be enough. Michigan earns every inch of a 27-21 victory.
No. 20 USC at No. 4 Washington (6:30 p.m., Fox-32) is a major test for the 9-0 Huskies and an opportunity for the 6-3 Trojans — who’ve been outstanding throughout a five-game winning streak — to completely rewrite what once looked like a terribly disappointing 2016 story.
“USC is right back to (being) USC,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “You just watch the tape.”
The Trojans’ defense is coming off a dominant effort against Oregon, and their offense is humming under the leadership of redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold (20 touchdown passes, four interceptions). The Darnold-Jake Browning battle should be a blast; Huskies sophomore Browning (34 TDs, three INTs) is on base to break the single-season record for passer rating set by Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson in 2011.
If we took September out of the equation, would the Huskies really be favored by 8½? UDub in a tighter squeeze than that.
There might not be anything that could happen in the No. 24 LSU at No. 25 Arkansas (6 p.m., ESPN) game that would keep Tigers interim coach Ed Orgeron in contention for the head job beyond this season. There are those who believe he still has a shot, though, and Orgeron sure as heck isn’t giving up on his 5-3 team, which competed hard last weekend in a 10-0 loss to Alabama.
“I know we’re going to bounce back,” he said. “I know these guys. I know this team.”
Maybe he can explain why 6-3 Arkansas is catching a whopping seven points at home? Hogs run their Golden Boot winning streak to three.
A couple of early games in the Big 12 with significant ramifications: Baylor at No. 11 Oklahoma (11 a.m., ESPN2) and No. 16 West Virginia at Texas (11 a.m., FS1).
The Sooners (7-2) — winners of six in a row since a rough night at home against Ohio State — are going for their 14th straight conference victory. The Bears (6-2), perhaps still hurting from a one-point defeat at Texas, didn’t even bother to show up last weekend in a blowout loss at home to TCU. Has Baylor packed up the tent already? OU covers the 15½.
WVU (7-1) trails the Sooners by one game in the league standings and hosts them next week, meaning a league title still is within their grasp. Texas (5-4), a two-point favorite, has playing better for under-the-gun coach Charlie Strong.
“We’ve won two in a row,” Strong said. “Now let’s go get this one.”
Why the heck not? Horns up in a fun one.
My favorite favorite: Stanford -3 at Oregon (3 p.m., Pac-12 Network). Remember the long-ago days when you could bank on this being a prime-time national-TV affair? P.S.: Stanford is still decent at football. Oregon, not so much.
My favorite underdog: Minnesota +7 at Nebraska (6:30 p.m., BTN). Each Big Ten West title hopeful is 7-2 overall and 4-2 in league action, but the Gophers — winners of four straight — are just plain playing better.
Last week: Big Game Hunting had a bye week.
Two weeks ago: 8-1 straight-up, 7-2 vs. the spread
Season to date: 51-21 straight-up; 40-30-2 vs. the spread.
Northwestern at Purdue
The facts:11 a.m., BTN; 720-AM.
The records: Northwestern 4-5, 3-3 Big Ten; Purdue 3-6, 1-5 Big Ten.
The line:Wildcats by 13½.
The story line: Purdue can’t stop the run, portending good things for Justin Jackson and the Wildcats’ ground game. Then again, NU can’t stop the pass, which could put Boilermakers quarterback David Blough in line for a big game. This won’t be a walk in the park for Pat Fitzgerald’s team as it fights for bowl eligibility. The Boilers have the No. 1 pass offense in the league and a big-play receiver in DeAngelo Yancey. Should be close.
Greenberg’s pick:Northwestern, 35-30.
Illinois at No. 7 Wisconsin
The facts:2:30 p.m., ESPN2; 670-AM.
The records: Illinois 3-6, 2-4 Big Ten; Wisconsin 7-2, 4-2 Big Ten.
The line:Badgers by 26½.
The story line: Any Illini fans remember that super-fun Saturday at Michigan three weeks back when a grand total of six first downs were gained by Lovie Smith’s offense? Ugh. This one might not be that bad for the Illini, but the Badgers sure are stingy on defense themselves. Also: Discipline appears to be a factor for both teams. The Illini are the second-most-penalized team in the Big Ten. Wisconsin is on pace to be the least-penalized team in school history.
Greenberg’s pick:Wisconsin, 30-7.
Notre Dame vs. Army
The facts:San Antonio, 2:30 p.m., Ch. 5; 890-AM.
The records: Notre Dame 3-6, Army 5-4.
The line: Irish by 13½.
The story line: We know Army — trying to become bowl-eligible for only the second time in 20 years — will be motivated to the max. That’s something we sadly never know about the Irish. But Notre Dame has won 14 consecutive games in this series, and its defense should be pretty well-prepared for another option offense after facing (and losing 28-27 to) Navy last time out.
Greenberg’s pick:Notre Dame, 38-14.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.