Dienhart: Iowa wins ... and so does Big Ten West rival Wisconsin!
Iowa won’t repeat as Big Ten West champs, but the Hawkeyes closed the regular season with three wins in a row as one of the hottest teams in the conference following a dominating 40-10 win vs. Nebraska.
Iowa wasn’t the only winner on this day. Wisconsin also won the West Division title without taking a snap thanks to the Hawkeyes’ triumph. The Huskers could have won the division with a victory vs. Iowa and a loss by the Badgers to Minnesota on Saturday. But the NU defeat gives Wisconsin the title, rendering the Badgers’ game vs. Minnesota meaningless, from a Big Ten West perspective. There’s still bragging rights, Paul Bunyan’s Axe and College Football Playoff hopes on the line.
The Badgers will play in the Big Ten title game for a fourth time, more than any other program in the conference. The Badgers are 2-1 in the championship tilt, winning the title in 2011 (42-39 vs. Michigan State) and 2012 (70-31 vs. Nebraska) and falling in 2014 (Ohio State, 59-0).
A win by the Badgers in Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3 could earn Wisconsin a playoff spot—even though the 11-2 Badgers would have two losses. The Badgers would have a nice resume with wins vs. No. 5 LSU, No. 8 Michigan State, No. 7 Nebraska and a good team (Penn State, Michigan or Ohio State) in the Big Ten title game. And this would be a hot team, as Wisconsin would have won seven games in a row.
The Badgers’ foe in Indy will be determined on Saturday. If Michigan wins at Ohio State, the Wolverines will win the East; if Penn State beats visiting Michigan State and Michigan loses, the Nittany Lions will win the East; if Ohio State wins and Penn State loses, the Buckeyes will win the East. For what it’s worth, Wisconsin lost, 14-7, at Michigan this year and fell 30-23 in overtime at home to Ohio State. The Badgers didn’t play Penn State.
Iowa (8-4 overall, 6-3 Big Ten) was in the Big Ten title game last year, falling 16-13 to Michigan State in a season that concluded with a Rose Bowl berth for the first time since the 1990 season and a 12-2 mark. There will be no such glory this season, but the Hawkeyes can take solace in a nice bowl destination (Music City?) and strong finish.
A big key today was an offense that showed rare big-play ability. Entering today’s game, the Hawkeyes had only five plays of 50-plus yards. But on this afternoon, Iowa produced three plays of over 50 yards.
– Akrum Wadley ran 75 yards for the first TD of the game.
– C.J. Beathard hit Riley McCarron for a 77-yard TD for the second score.
– LeShun Daniels rumbled 56 yards to set up his own four-yard TD run.
Wadley and Daniels each went for over 100 yards rushing, as Wadley ran 11 times for 105 yards and a TD and Daniels ambled 29 times for 158 yards and two scores. Add it up, and the Hawkeyes ran for 264 yards. That dynamic duo’s numbers are a testament to an offensive line that has been tweaked often but been resilient all season. Daniels went over the 1,000 yard on this day and has 1,013; Wadley has 966. With a rushing game like that, Beathard didn’t have to do too much, hitting 10-of-15 passes for 144 yards and three scores vs. NU.
The Iowa defense also played a big role—again. The unit has played well down the stretch. The Hawkeyes allowed just one TD vs. Michigan two weeks ago, shutout Illinois last week and permitted the Huskers to score just one TD with a scant 217 yards. Add it up, and that’s just two TDs allowed in the last three games. It is quite a reversal from the unit’s effort in a 41-14 loss at Penn State on Nov. 5 in which Iowa allowed 599 yards and the offense gained only 234 a week after a 17-9 loss to Wisconsin in which the Hawkeyes had 236 yards and yielded 423.
Husker QB Tommy Armstrong was still battling the effects of a hamstring injury that kept him out of last week’s home win vs. Maryland. The senior battled hard, hitting 13-of-35 passes for 125 yards with a TD. But he wasn’t himself, lacking explosion as a runner as he carried six times for 13 yards in the loss.
While Nebraska’s West Division hopes are squashed, the Huskers still look primed to go to perhaps the Outback Bowl. This has been a season of validation for Mike Riley, who has navigated the Huskers to a 9-3 mark after debuting with a 6-7 record that had some grumbling. But Nebraska looks to be on good ground moving forward.
But for this season, the West belongs to Wisconsin—with an assist from Iowa today.