Saturday, October 3, 2015

B1G West Season Opener: Wisconsin host Iowa in Conference opener

Madison, WI -- The Wisconsin Badgers (3-1) open the 120th season of Big Ten Football, with a three game win streak in 2015, as well, as a three game win streak over their opponent, the Iowa Hawkeyes (4-0). It will be the Badgers new head coach Paul Chryst's first Big Ten game, as head coach, but a homecoming for the former Badger player, assistant coach and native of Madison.
The Badgers have held the possession of the Heartland Trophy over the past three
games, since 2010, all played in Iowa City. The Badgers welcome the Hawkeyes
back to Madison for the first time, since 2009. RB #25 Melvin Gordon, TE #49
Sam Arneson and  OL #78 Rob Havenstein have all departed, as seniors last year.
Iowa finished 2014, with zero trophy wins for the season and a disappointing 7-6 record. The dean of Big Ten coaches, Kirk Ferentz, found his program needing an uplift in 2015. Changes were needed and began immediately in January, with a new quarterback named number 1. The Hawkeyes have not been able to successfully win a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, since the game was created in 2011. The Hawkeyes have not won a bowl or been ranked in the Top 25, since the 2010 season.

Hawkeye quarterback #16 C.J. Beathard named co-Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week
after the 31-17 win at Iowa State, in Week 2. Beathard was 15-25 for 215 yards, three
touchdowns, in Iowa's first trophy game of the season. He also rushed for 77 yards.
After a 4-0 start in September under junior quarterback C.J. Beathard, the building blocks may be in place to improve the Hawkeyes standing in the Big Ten and a Top 25 ranking may be very close, as they head to Wisconsin to open the 126th season of Iowa Football, now in conference play. A win over the Badgers will likely launch Iowa into the Top 25, but more importantly, it would be the second of four trophy games for Iowa, as well as a 1-0 start in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes won the Cy-Hawk Trophy on the road in Week 2, with a 31-17 win over Iowa State.

Iowa senior RB #33 Jordan Canzeri has become an effective inside runner
and effective in the passing game. Last year, he had a 27 yard pass reception,
in the short passing game. He has eight touchdowns on the season to lead the
Big Ten. He is a player to watch in the Black and Gold on Saturday.
Iowa has won three straight Big Ten road openers with new coordinators, since OC Greg Davis arrived and DC Phil Parker was named to the position, in 2012. Iowa is 12-5 in Madison dating back to the Bob Commings era in the 1970s. The Hawkeyes have had only two head coaches, since 1979, with Hayden Fry and Ferentz. A 5-0 start for Iowa in 2015, would be a huge boost for a program that has been struggling to get back to relevance in the Big Ten picture.

Who's defense steps up in Madison today or will the offenses be the spotlight?
On the opposite side, Wisconsin has played in two Big Ten Championship Games, since 2011. The Badgers won the inaugural Big Ten West Division in 2014. However, they were destroyed by Ohio State, 59-0, who went on to win the inaugural College Football Playoff, last season. A new coach, with a lot of history in Madison, is now leading the program, after the Gary Anderson era came to an end, after two seasons at the helm. Ironically, Wisconsin lost their coach, after each division win.

The visitor has actually won six of the last eight Heartland Trophy games, including four straight, since Iowa's 2009 win in Madison, 20-10. Last time around, Iowa was without one of their top wide receivers (Marvin McNutt) for the game heading to Madison. Iowa found out this week, they will be without the services of senior wide receiver Tevaun Smith. Iowa was successful in 2009 in circling the wagons, with after losing a key player. Ferentz is 3-3 as a head coach in Madison.

Iowa's top receiver in 2015 is junior WR #89 Matt VandeBerg. He has
developed into a key combination with Iowa QB C.J. Beathard this year.
Ten different Hawkeyes have combined to catch 77 passes this season. Junior Matt VandeBerg, who has caught 25 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns leads the Hawkeyes in receiving. The Hawkeyes also welcomed back senior tight end Jake Duzey, from injury, in their final non-conference tune-up ahead of Big Ten play. Duzey lead all returning tight ends from a year ago in receiving.

The Badgers do return junior C #70 Dan Voltz, as anchor of the OLine and senior QB
#2 Joel Stave back in the battle with the Hawkeyes in 2015. Last season, the Badgers 
used a two quarterback attack, but new coach Paul Chryst has settled with a true #1 for
2015. The Badgers are going for a four year possession of the Heartland Trophy.
Wisconsin has had the experience in the backfield lately in the series. In the past two games, the running game was a huge advantage for the Badgers. With the injury of junior running back Corey Clement, the Badgers have less experience leading the running game, than Iowa on Saturday. The Badgers will lean on junior Dare Ogunbowale, who likely can help on the ground and through the air. Last week's leading rusher was redshirt freshman Taiwain Deal, who was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week, after 147 yards rushing, two touchdowns, in the 28-0 win over Hawaii.

Senior #46 Austin Traylor is the new starting TE for the Badgers this season.
Last year, now a sophomore, wearing #81, last year #48 Troy Fumagalli got into
the fun. The TE position is a huge for both teams in the offensive game. Who
steps forward on Saturday could determine the outcome of Saturday's match-up.
Both teams have new parts in the offensive line heading into the 2015 Big Ten season. Both teams lean on experienced and talented centers to anchor the lines. Iowa will start a new left tackle for the Big Ten opener, as junior Cole Croston steps into the line up. Iowa's experience is inside at all three positions. Wisconsin starts two redshirt freshmen at the two guard positions and a new right tackle. The run game hasn't been as strong, as recent Badger offenses.

Defense wins championships and plays an important role in the Heartland Game. The Badgers have not given up a touchdown in the past three non-conference game, after the disappointing opener in Texas against Alabama. On the flip side, Iowa hasn't given up a rushing touchdown yet in 2015. Will something give, or will we see a defensive, grind out game in Madison on Saturday?
I think of tough, physical, hard-nosed football. It’s going to be a brawl-type of game. I have a lot of respect for Iowa. It was a school that I considered. I see a lot of similarities between Wisconsin and Iowa. When I say that, I mean the mindset that it takes to play the game. They’ve got players who love to get after it – they pin their ears back and come at you. We’re the same way.” - Wisconsin senior OLB Joe Biegel on the Iowa-Wisconsin game.

The Badgers operate out of a 3-4 defense, one of the key performers is senior OLB
#47 Vince Biegel, back from last year's game corralling Iowa reserve, now a
sophomore, #25 Akrum Wadley, who ran for a 100+ yards vs. Northwestern in '14. 
The 3-4 defense isn't something Iowa hasn't faced in 2015. In Iowa's first trophy game win of the young season at Iowa State, the Hawkeyes took care of business. However, the Wisconsin defense has consistently been disruptive for the Hawkeyes, especially in Wisconsin DC Dave Aranda's first season, in 2013. Last year, the Hawkeyes got the passing game going, in the two point loss.

Wisconsin senior SS #7 Michael Caputo is the leader of the Badgers
secondary. He could figure in the pressure game, as the Badgers
typically blitz more than Iowa, who work from a 4-3 defense.

The secondary will play a big role on both sides of the football for Iowa and Wisconsin on Saturday. Iowa returns three starters in the secondary, as do the Badgers. Wisconsin has moved former quarterback Tanner McEvoy to free safety and wide receiver, for his senior season. The 6-6 231 McEvoy will be an interesting guy to watch on Saturday.

Wisconsin senior OLB #58 Joe Schobert leads the Badgers defense with six sacks,
as well, as the leading the team in tackles, in non-conference play.
The Iowa-Wisconsin game often is a very tight game. The Badgers have been known to break out early over the Hawkeyes. On the flip side, the Badgers won the 2010 game, with a comeback victory. Iowa has done that before, as well.

Our Pick: Iowa 31, Wisconsin 17 in Madison

With obvious interest, Wisconsin OLB Vince Biegel did watch the BTN interview with Iowa QB C.J. Beathard, who’s 5-0 as a starter with the Hawkeyes. “I can definitely tell from watching film and seeing that interview that he’s the leader of their offense,” Biegel said. “It’s just the way he leads – he’s in full control.

The Hawkeyes have one win on the road at Iowa State. C.J. Beathard, 5-0 as a starter
has lead Iowa to two fourth quarter victories this season, against ISU and Pitt. He
also lead Iowa to a comeback victory last season, against Paul Chryst's Pitt team,
as well. It was a 24-20 win at Pitt, where Beathard lead the Hawkeyes from a 10 point
deficit. This should be a 60 minute game on Saturday in Madison for Hawkeyes-Badgers.
Beathard has been particularly effective in the fourth quarter – completing 14 of 17 passes for 206 yards and one touchdown through the first four games. Twice, he has led late game-winning scoring drives against Iowa State and Pittsburgh. He has a 142.6 pass efficiency rating in the quarter, tops in the Big Ten. Iowa used backup quarterback Tyler Wiegers, in the past the other two Iowa games, in wins over Illinois State and North Texas.

The Big Ten West Division looks to be wide open, with Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin all in the discussion for the title by many pundits. Of course, Illinois and Purdue don't want to be left out, but they are likely in a spoiler role, as opposed to contender role. It is Year 2 of the West Division and three big division games spotlight the first week of October:

  • Iowa @ Wisconsin - Iowa has won 20-10 in 2005 and 2009 in Madison. Is there something special about that score for the Hawkeyes in Madison?
  • Minnesota @ Northwestern - This should be an interesting B1G opener, the Wildcats are undefeated for the first time, since 2013, the first of back to back 5-7 seasons. The Golden Gophers have not fared well on offense opening 3-1 in the non-conference. Do the Golden Gophers make it three in a roll, under Jerry Kill over Pat Fitzgerald?
  • Nebraska @ Illinois - this could be a shootout, as both teams defenses have not been outstanding, especially against the pass. Welcome to the Big Ten Mike Riley at Nebraska, as interim head coach Bill Cubit looks to win the battle between 3-1 teams ...
  • Purdue opens in a division cross-over game, @ Michigan State, after a sluggish 1-3 start for the Boilermakers, but the Spartans should prevail in East Lasing in the B1G opener.
In the Big Ten East Division, there are two division games, as Rutgers (0-1) enjoys a bye week and Penn State (1-0) hosts Army, in their final non-conference game. The Nittany Lions should remain undefeated at home, after falling in the season opener at Temple.
Jake Rudock
Michigan senior transfer QB #15 Jake Rudock played last season at Maryland,
in an Iowa uniform. The game was a disappointment though, as the Hawkeyes
fell 38-31. The Wolverines, also fell in Ann Arbor last season 23-16 to Maryland.
Look for the Wolverines offense to click, while the defense should lead them to
victory, as Big Ten play opens up in the Big Ten today.

  • Michigan @ Maryland - The Wolverines have won three straight, since the opening loss at Utah to kickoff the Jim Harbaugh era for Michigan. The Terrapins have struggled in 2015, with a new signal caller and on defense.
  • Ohio State @ Indiana - The first battle of the 2015 season in the Big Ten against undefeated 4-0 teams; the Buckeyes have not hit all cylinders, coming off a B1G title and the first College Football Playoff championship. The Hoosiers look good offensively, but defense still leaves a lot to be desired. Urban Meyer has never lost a Big Ten regular season game, entering his fourth season in Columbus.

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