The first Big Ten game of the season for No. 18 Wisconsin and Iowa could end up being the biggest one in the West division this season.
The Badgers (2-1), despite getting upset by BYU last weekend, still look like the class of the struggling West. But Iowa (3-0) and its dominant defense look like Wisconsin's most dangerous threat — and Saturday's game at Iowa City could go a long way in determining who reaches the Big Ten title game.
Wisconsin has won three of the last four West crowns. Iowa, which like the Badgers is built around its defense and the run game, won the division in 2015.
"What's fun about playing Iowa and really what's neat about the game of football, you earn everything that you get," Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. "Nothing will be given to you — and that's a pretty neat way to play this game."
Wisconsin had its way with the Hawkeyes a year ago, winning 38-14 in Madison despite Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson's two pick-sixes.
But ranked road teams haven't fared well at Kinnick Stadium at night in recent years.
Michigan, then ranked No. 2, lost 14-13 on a late field goal in 2016, and last season Ohio State's playoff dreams were dashed in large part because of a 55-24 loss at Iowa. Fourth-ranked Penn State survived in 2017, but only after scoring a touchdown on the game's final play.
"I think what really makes that place is they're always into it, there's never a quiet moment at that place," Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Edwards said. "It's exciting. We definitely get pumped up when we play there."
Iowa is tied for second nationally at just eight points allowed per game, and all three of the touchdowns the Hawkeyes have let in came in garbage time when they were resting starters. Iowa is also second in yards allowed per game (209) and rushing yards per game (42).
"Like any good defense, you can start up front," Chryst said. "The linebackers, maybe they don't have as many starts, but you watch them and they know what they're doing."
FERENTZ ON TAYLOR
Perhaps the most remarkable thing Iowa's defense has done this season was to keep Iowa State running back David Montgomery under wraps. Montgomery, one of the nation's most elusive backs, had just 44 yards on 17 carries in a 13-3 Iowa win on Sept. 8. But the Hawkeyes expect to have their hands full with Jonathan Taylor, who is second nationally with 171.7 rushing yards per game.
"We just played an outstanding running back two weeks ago. I mentioned he might be the best in the country," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "If he's not, it might be the one we're playing this week. This guy is just a tremendous football player, too. It's unusual when you play two guys of this caliber within a two-week span."
Wisconsin can also play some defense. After ranking third nationally in 2017 with 13.9 points given up a game, the Badgers are at 13.7 points so far this season. Wisconsin has also allowed 100 yards or more rushing in just eight of its last 17 games.
Wisconsin and Iowa are the only teams to win the Big Ten West, now in its fifth season. ... Wisconsin is 47-11 since 2014, trailing only Alabama (56-5), Ohio State (52-6 and Clemson (53-7) in wins and winning percentage over that span. ... Iowa's Noah Fant broke the school record for touchdowns by a tight end with his 14th last week against Northern Iowa. ...Wisconsin's nine-game road winning streak is the second-longest in the nation.
HE SAID IT
"They're built, strong and physical front on both sides of the football. Have a great running game. Played great defense traditionally, great special teams." — Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz on Wisconsin.