Every week, the WolverinesWire staff has predicted each game in the Big Ten. Now, it’s down to just one game.
Michigan football travels to Indianapolis to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes for the rights to the Big Ten championship and a College Football Playoff berth. Though the Wolverines are 10.5-point favorites (per Tipico Sportsbook), it’ll be a task easier said than done to emerge victorious.
The Ohio State Buckeyes are vanquished, but the maize and blue now have their eyes set on bigger sights and sites. Both the Wolverines and Hawkeyes are trying to earn their first conference title since they shared it in 2004. Here’s what we predict for the Big Ten Championship Game.
Some could say this contest is all the makings of a letdown game against the Hawkeyes. The Wolverines just beat their arch-rival for the first time since 2011 and it sure was an emotional game for the players, coaches, and fans. But — as I’ve been saying for quite some time — this is a different team, and it’s built differently. The coaches are going to have this team focused and ready for Iowa.
I believe if Michigan can get out to an early two-score lead, then this game will be over quickly. Although the Hawkeyes have an elite defense, they also have one of the worst offenses in all the country. This is going to be a challenge for the Michigan offense, but if it can run the ball efficiently, then I think the Wolverines will cover the spread — and win the game of course.
The only chance Iowa has in this game is if it can run the ball and take up a ton of clock to shorten the game. In the end, I just don’t see the Hawkeyes scoring that many points to make this close on the scoreboard. I’m taking Michigan in a tough-fought game, but a score that looks like it wasn’t that close.
Michigan 31, Iowa 14
Michigan is saying all the right things. They’ve immediately turned their attention to Iowa. The Ohio State win is diminished if they don’t win the conference.
Everything is on the line here, but this team is still taking the same myopic approach (in a good way) that it has all season: one game at a time. No looking forward, and now, no looking backward.
Make no mistake: Michigan is significantly more talented than Iowa. But the same could have been said of the Buckeyes vs. the Wolverines. The Hawkeyes have found ways to win despite having a moribund offensive attack, in large part due to defense and special teams. Losing to Wisconsin is no fluke considering what the Badgers present, but Purdue perhaps caught the then-No. 2 team by surprise, using its explosive passing attack and turnovers to get its first giant upset of the season. For the first time though, really, Iowa is facing a team that’s really on another level. The question is, will Michigan be ready?
I’ve spoken to a few people behind the scenes who have indicated that it will be. But I’ve also heard that before. Still, this Michigan team is hungry, and has shown that it can offensively take it to even the tougher defenses. Some (particularly Ohio State fans in my preview of that game) have cringed at me bringing up Wisconsin, saying that the Badgers have changed since, but it was their offense that has — the defense remains as it was, and the Wolverines managed to move the ball regularly in Madison. To me, Iowa is like Wisconsin-lite, but now it really has something to play for.
I expect that Michigan won’t be able to run the way it has in the latter part of the season. This game will look a lot like Penn State in my mind: a tough one where moving the ball comes at a premium for either team. The difference is that Iowa doesn’t have a Sean Clifford. Spencer Petras was named the starter this week and while he’s an upgrade on Alex Padilla, considering the defense Michigan presents, it’ll be a challenge. There will be times that Tyler Goodson gets some good push, particularly running behind all-world center Tyler Linderbaum. But I like the Wolverines’ focus, and don’t think that the Hawkeyes will threaten much in the pass game.
Expect about 150 yards rushing, some schemes that help move the ball with the horizontal game, and just enough passing to put things away.
Michigan 24, Iowa 13