Iowa vs Iowa State Prediction: Against the Spread Pick and Latest Odds
Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Iowa State Cyclones
Spread: Iowa State -3.5
Game time: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, ABC
On Saturday in Ames, Iowa and Iowa State will renew a unique college football rivalry. There are few major series that tend to be more of a slog in terms of their playing style, and the safest bet when the Hawkeyes and Cyclones meet is that, some way and somehow, it’ll turn into a mess. This rivalry has lived up to its affectionate internet nickname, ¡El Assico! Iowa has also kept a consistent upper hand, leading the all-time series 45-22 and entering this weekend’s College GameDay showdown on a five-game winning streak against the Cyclones.
It makes some sense that the Cyclones are favored by 3-4 points at the sportsbooks, because the two teams figured to be on similar levels in 2021, and the game is at Iowa State. With a home-field adjustment of three-ish points in the other direction, Iowa would be favored. But the teams looked a lot different in Week 1, with the Hawkeyes dominating what figured to be a good Indiana team and Iowa State almost losing (for the second time in three years) to an FCS Northern Iowa team that they required triple-overtime to beat in 2019. This year was a bit better, as the Clones beat UNI 16-10 in regulation, but they still looked far from what I’d call “good.”
Iowa’s defense is mean. This should not be surprising. The Hawkeyes finished 2020 ranked second in Defensive SP+, and Kirk Ferentz usually puts out a good product on that side of the ball. But what the Hawkeye defense did to Indiana and quarterback Michael Penix Jr. in a 34-6 win was truly brutal. The Indiana offense was in jail all day. Penix was 14-of-29 for 156 yards and three interceptions before coach Tom Allen mercifully pulled him. Two of Penix’s picks were returned for touchdowns, and another INT was nullified on a roughing-the-passer flag. The Hoosiers’ run game didn’t have a better time, going for 2.8 yards per carry without sacks included. (With sacks included, it was just 2.5.) The Hawkeyes’ defense couldn’t have been more dominant. It wasn’t a perfect overall picture, because Iowa’s offense also looked, well, Iowa-like, and had trouble moving the ball when the defense wasn’t putting it in easy situations. But on the whole, Iowa looked like an elite team in dispatching the Hoosiers.
Iowa State didn’t look nearly as good. The problem isn’t, in a vacuum, that the Cyclones came somewhat close to losing to a pretty good FCS team. Even though UNI only gets 63 scholarships to the Cyclones’ 85, sometimes good FCS teams are going to be prickly. The more concerning issue is that Iowa State’s offense was stuck in neutral all afternoon, in a way that suggests it won’t be able to get traction at all against the tremendous Hawkeye defense. The ISU run game generated a net negative total of “expected points added,” an advanced stat that measures each play’s effect on a team’s likely scoring total on that drive. Star running back Breece Hall never really got going, and ISU’s most efficient running performance came on scrambles by quarterback Brock Purdy. For his part, Purdy played OK and had a nice connection with receiver Xavier Hutchinson (seven catches on seven targets for 88 yards), but I would have preferred to see a lot more from the offense. If it weren’t for some turnover luck, there’s a really good chance ISU would’ve started 0-1 with an FCS loss.
Iowa State has made a lot of strides under Matt Campbell. This is not the bottomfeeder it was for most of the Big 12’s history, and there’s a strong chance that ISU makes a real run in the conference this year (and any year, until Campbell does what’s probably inevitable and takes another job at a conference that’s less screwed long-term than the Big 12). They have a better quarterback than Iowa –– Purdy is far superior to Spencer Petras –– and more talented at the offensive skill positions. But that talent came together in a sloppy fashion in Week 1, and Iowa’s defense isn’t a good unit to have opposite you while you’re still trying to get fully operational.
Pick: Iowa + 3.5 @ -110