The Wisconsin Badgers look to keep their BCS bowl dreams alive on their weekend trip to Iowa City to face the 5-3 Iowa Hawkeyes. Wisconsin is coming off of a bye week, having drubbed Illinois last on October 19, while Iowa just defeated Northwestern 17-10 in overtime last Saturday.
It's a pivotal game for both teams, as there's significant bowl jockeying to be done at this point, and even a single unexpected loss can dramatically alter both teams' postseason hopes (Wisconsin for an at-large BCS bid, Iowa for a bowl at all). Of course, an Iowa loss isn't exactly unexpected here, but a win changes the Hawkeyes' whole situation dramatically and could put the Hawkeyes atop the second tier of bowl teams in the Big Ten.
Rankings and records: Wisconsin, ranked No. 24 entering the weekend, is 5-2 (3-1) on the season, while Iowa is 5-3 (2-2). The all-time series is tied at 42-42-2, with Wisconsin winning the last matchup, a 31-30 thriller in 2010.
Vegas: Wisconsin is currently favored by 9.5 points, per OddsShark.
Weather: It's not exactly balmy in the Big Ten in November; the temperature will be in the upper 40s for the duration of the game with a stiff northwest breeze.
Three names to know
Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon III is no longer a serious Heisman contender, but he's still arguably the most dangerous weapon in the Big Ten, capable of busting off a big run every time he touches the ball. Gordon's yards per carry are down (down!) to 9.5 yards per carry, and the fact that he remains paired with James White, who rips off over 6 yards per carry on his own like it's no big deal should be terrifying for the rest of the Big Ten.
Iowa's weapon in the backfield is Mark Weisman, who is on pace for his first 1,000-yard season—not too shabby for a former walk-on fullback. Weisman won't dazzle anyone with his speed or agility, but he runs through arm tackles without breaking a sweat and trucks defensive backs with regularity.
As for defense, Wisconsin LB Chris Borland is on a very short list for Big Ten defensive player of the year. He's not a physical freak of nature by any stretch of the imagination, but he's one of the toughest, hardest-nosed players in the entire nation, and he's got phenomenal production to show for it. Borland was hobbled by a hamstring injury against Illinois and might not have been able to play if the Iowa game were last week (Wisconsin was on a bye). He will be a game-time decision this week.
Two things at stake
A win by Iowa would not only get the Hawkeyes bowl-eligible (a far cry from their slumping 4-8 season last year), it would technically keep them in the Big Ten title race. Michigan State holds a one-game lead and the tiebreaker with Iowa with four games to play -- these are not realistic dreams -- but staying mathematically alive as long as possible never hurt anyone. Plus at 6-3 with at least one winnable game to go (@Purdue), Iowa can start thinking about middle-of-the-road bowls instead of Christmas in Houston.
For Wisconsin, it's a matter of closing strong, as a big finish puts the Badgers firmly in the BCS at-large discussion. Moreover, it sets Wisconsin on pace for double-digit wins, which should impress voters enough to get the Badgers back near the Top 10 where, frankly, they're closer to belonging than at the outskirts of the Top 25.
How to witness
TV: This game will be on ABC for most of the country, and ESPN2 for everyone else, at 12:00 ET, 11:00 CT (local for both teams).
Online streaming: As with all ESPN-family games, this game will be available on ESPN3.com.
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