College Football Picks for Saturday

The Iowa Hawkeyes and Northwestern Wildcats are set to do battle this Saturday in Iowa City. Kinnick Stadium is historically a tough place to play, but Northwestern has had the upper hand in recent years. For a free pick this weekend, considered taking a touchdown and backing the road underdog in this contest.

The line opened with Iowa as a 5 ½ point favorite. Over the course of the week the line has moved up to 6 ½ at most sites. Buying a half point in this situation is usually a good idea, but there’s a chance this will level off at 7 anyway.

Oddly enough, Northwestern has beaten Iowa straight up the last three seasons, each time as an underdog. In last year’s game in Evanston, Dan Persa injured his Achilles tendon and has only recently gotten back on the playing field. In that game the Wildcats had to mount a fourth quarter rally, but they managed to beat a good, although underachieving, Hawkeye team. The year before last, Northwestern went into Kinnick Stadium and beat an Iowa team that had gone 9-0 at that point in the season. Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi was injured in that game, which was certainly a factor, but the Hawkeyes had won a few games with smoke and mirrors and it was time for their luck to run out. And even the year before that, Northwestern went into Kinnick and beat another Hawkeye team.

The point in bringing all this up is that Northwestern under Pat Fitzgerald – for whatever reason – has been an unusually difficult opponent for Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes. Sometimes certain teams with certain schemes match up in ways that are beneficial for one side or the other. Regarding Iowa, they seem to have trouble with a mobile quarterback who can extend plays and make accurate throws. Before Dan Persa was a guy named Mike Kafka who gave Iowa fits. Earlier this season against Iowa State, Steele Jantz was an unsolvable riddle.

Having said that, there is one element of Iowa’s game that scares me in this matchup. The Hawkeyes have some talented receivers and a quarterback who can get them the ball. Last week against Penn State, Iowa had some serious issues with a tough Penn State defense and a talented secondary. But Northwestern’s secondary is suspect. Against Michigan at home last week, the Wildcats took a 10 point lead into halftime, helped in large part by three Denard Robinson interceptions. But Robinson’s throws were more of a factor in the interceptions than Wildcat personnel. Then in the second half, Michigan put up 28 unanswered points going away.

Like Iowa, Michigan has a couple exceptional receivers in Roy Roundtree and Junior Hemingway. They were able to haul big pass plays on what Fitzgerald called “fifty-fifty balls.” Marvin McNutt and Keenan Davis could have big games this Saturday if the Northwestern secondary can’t keep them in check. And unfortunately for Northwestern, James Vanderberg is a more accurate passer than Robinson, although he’s nowhere near the threat running the football.

Northwestern burned me last week with their second half collapse, and I’m a little hesitant to back them again this week. But all things considered, they seem like an attractive play at 7 points. They’ve proven that they have Iowa’s number and as Hawkeye fans know, the Iowa defense has had problems containing a mobile, accurate quarterback. Hopefully the Northwestern defense comes to play, but I expect Persa to have a great game and keep his team in it. Consider grabbing a touchdown and playing the underdog. Good luck.

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