Big Game Hunting: Is Iowa City where No. 4 Penn State goes down?

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Arum Wadley and the Hawkeyes are waiting to put their claws into No. 4 Penn State at Kinnick Stadium. (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Ican’t be the only one who’s looking at No. 4 Penn State at Iowa (6:30 p.m., Ch. 7) and thinking back to the prime-time game last November in Iowa City between the Hawkeyes and then-No. 3 Michigan. Iowa was a three-touchdown underdog that night, but its defense rose up mightily in a 14-13 upset, holding the Wolverines to a measly 201 yards of offense. Might the Nittany Lions — 12½-point favorites — be in similar trouble?

Short answer: Yes, this Big Ten opener between 3-0 opponents has the potential to end in an upset that rocks the conference and deals a staggering blow to a presumed playoff contender.

But there’s an obvious difference between this Penn State squad and that Michigan one: The Nittany Lions, led by quarterback Trace McSorley, running back Saquon Barkley and a dynamic group of receivers, have one of the most potent offenses in the country. A game played in the teens is awfully hard to imagine here.

Can first-year starting quarterback Nate Stanley — already with an impressive 10 touchdown passes — lead the Hawkeyes on a few touchdown drives? Will Iowa’s defense put consistent pressure on big-play machine McSorley and win the turnover battle? It’ll take those things and more for an upset scenario to develop.

‘‘We realize we’re going to have to play at our best and our highest competitive level if we’re going to be competitive in this football game,’’ Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Penn State’s much-improved defense will have its hands full with Akrum Wadley and his partners at running back, who have one of the top lines in the conference paving the way for them. The Kinnick Stadium crowd will play a role, too.

‘‘That place is going to be rocking,’’ Penn State coach James Franklin said. ‘‘Their sidelines are very tight; their fans are going to be right up against you. We want to get our players prepared for that. We’ve got to get ready for the noise.’’

The Nittany Lions’ 8-0-1 record against the spread in the Big Ten last season almost makes me wonder why we’re even talking about how this game will go. On the other hand . . . Nits 27, Hawkeyes 24.

This much we know about No. 8 Michigan at Purdue (3 p.m., Fox-32): Boilermakers quarterback David Blough has played far better than Wolverines counterpart Wilton Speight. A decided edge at the most important position on the field would seem to give surging Purdue (2-1) — which played extremely well in its lone defeat, against Louisville — a fighting chance against a 3-0 powerhouse.

You have to love the complete turnaround we’re seeing from the Boilers, don’t you? New coach Jeff Brohm has been a revelation. His defense — the welcome mat of the Big Ten for many a season — has life. His program has hope. Despite all that, I’m not feeling an upset here or even a nip-and-tuck affair. The Boilers live to fight another day, but the Wolverines cover the 10-point spread.

The SEC brings a pair of conference openers featuring four 3-0 teams — No. 1 Alabama at Vanderbilt (2:30 p.m., Ch. 2) and No. 17 Mississippi State at No. 11 Georgia (6 p.m., ESPN) — with the road teams giving 18½ points and getting 5½ points, respectively. The first line isn’t big enough. Crimson Tide 37, Commodores 7 sounds about right. I smell a Nick Fitzgerald-led upset in the second game. Mississippi State’s Fitzgerald is the best quarterback no one is talking about.

No. 16 TCU at No. 6 Oklahoma State (2:30 p.m., ESPN) is the game of the day in the Big 12. Both 3-0 teams are led by go-go offenses. The Horned Frogs are averaging 49 points and the Cowboys 54. I love the Pokes, and not just because of coach Mike Gundy’s out-of-this-world mullet. Oklahoma State all day.

More 3-0 vs. 3-0 goodness in Pac-12 country: No. 5 USC at California (2:30 p.m., Ch. 7) and No. 7 Washington at Colorado (9 p.m., FS1). Trojans by 17, just nipping the line of 16½. Huskies by only 10, just missing the line of 10½.

My favorite favorite: Auburn -18 at Missouri (6:30 p.m., ESPNU). Are you not aware of the dumpster fire that is Mizzou?

My favorite underdog: Arizona +4 vs. Utah (9:30 p.m. Friday, FS1). The Utes are ripe to be picked apart by the Wildcats’ zone-read offense.

Last week: 5-2 straight up, 2-5 (ouch) vs. the spread.

Season to date: 16-5 straight up, 11-10 vs. the spread.


The facts: 7 p.m., Fox-32, 1000-AM.

The records: Notre Dame 2-1, Michigan State 2-0.

The storyline: Each team has a quarterback whose readiness for prime time is fully in question. Is Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush polished enough to read a good defense and put the ball where it needs to go? Does Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke have the talent to make plays in the passing game consistently? The Irish have higher-touted blockers on their offensive line, which might be the key to this game. But Sparty’s defense has been nasty thus far, especially at the line of scrimmage. Whichever team takes the Megaphone Trophy will have hope for a different sort of season than the sad, sordid one that befell it in 2016. MSU won 36-28 a year ago in South Bend, then shockingly dropped its next seven games. Notre Dame flailed away to a 4-8 finish. What no one realized when they played was that both teams were abject disasters. That’s not the case again, is it?

The line: Irish by 4.

Greenberg’s pick:Notre Dame, 20-13.

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.



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