Monthly Magazine: Iowa Edition

September 25, 2023

Big Ten Showdown: Iowa vs Michigan State – Can the Hawkeyes Prove Their Dominance?

© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

While Michigan State at Iowa may not summon the ring of an instant classic or the cache of a matchup between two top-25 teams, it’s still a battle Big Ten foes. It’s a fall weekend in the Midwest, one that’s made for conference enemies. The hosting Hawkeyes enter the game with a 3-1 record, while the Spartans sit at 2-2 on the season.

Iowa’s record was unblemished until this past weekend when they ran into No. 7 Penn State – where they were promptly pummeled by the Nittany Lions. In fact, they were blanked, getting shut out 31-0.

Michigan State has also played just one top-25 team in No. 8 Washington. The Spartans lost that game 41-7. 

These two teams don’t seem so different, but the oddsmakers believe they are. The Hawkeyes are currently a whopping 12-point favorite. Is Iowa really that much better?

What to like about the Hawkeyes…

  • Iowa is a team built on defense and currently ranks 36th in the country in total defense. Conversely, Michigan State ranks 81st in total offense. In particular, the Spartans can’t seem to run the ball, ranking 22nd-worst in rushing yards per game. Aside from their matchup against Penn State, the Hawkeyes haven’t allowed more than 14 points in any of their wins. It all adds up to a combination that favors the Hawkeyes, especially at home.
  • Iowa’s offense has had its ups and downs, but running back Leshon Williams could soon emerge as one of the Hawkeye’s most dangerous weapons. Although getting just 25 carries, Williams is averaging nearly 7 yards per carry. Early in the season he wasn’t utilized – getting just seven total carries against Utah State and Iowa State – but against Western Michigan, the Hawkeyes might have found something, as he toted the rock 12 times for 145 yards.

What not to like about the Hawkeyes…

  • Their record may not reveal it, but the truth is that Iowa’s offense is one of the country’s worst. In fact, they’re the 4th-worst, totaling just 245.5 yards per game. Aside from a 41-point outburst against Western Michigan, the Hawkeyes have struggled to put points on the board, scoring just 24 points against Utah State, 20 against in-state rival Iowa State and the aforementioned “donut” against Penn State.
  • Iowa has been a turnover machine this season, giving the ball up eight times already. The defense has generated four turnovers, but the -4 turnover margin is a major concern in Iowa City. Making matters worse, Michigan State’s defense is seemingly at its best on third down, posting the 5th-best third down conversion percentage (24.5%) in the college football. 

Bud Parmalee’s Pick: Michigan State +12.0

Iowa should handle the Spartans to move to 4-1, but the Hawkeyes’ inability to score this season makes a 12-point spread look risky. With a point total that should come in around 36.5, it feels like there’s very little room for a 12-point gap. Look for a final score of 23-14, not quite good enough for Iowa to cover.