Your HATE is rising...
JDMill: The B1G West has pretty much a revolving door of teams beating each other up this year. Wisconsin gets beat by Northwestern, semi-struggles with Illinois then turns around and curb stomps Maryland. Iowa loses to Maryland, then goes out and pistol whips Northwestern. Minnesota beats Northwestern, struggles with Purdue, then gets beat by Illinois. On top of that, we've essentially got a round-robin tournament between Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin to look forward to over the next month as all four teams will play each other and all four teams have a shot to win the division. In general, what do you make of the B1G West and who do you think has the inside track to Indy?
ROSS: I think it's great -- it's everything we hoped to see when the new divisions were set up and when we pored over the schedules last summer. One of the goals for Iowa this season was to enter November with a chance to win the Big Ten West -- mission accomplished. The path to this point hasn't always been pretty, but hey. It's November and they're fully in control of their destiny to make the Big Ten Championship Game a month from now -- that's very good news. I think it's really exciting that Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin are going to have a round robin over the next month to determine the winner, too -- it's great to be able to settle things on the field in head-to-head match-ups.
As far as who has the inside track to Indianapolis... I think Iowa, Wisconsin, and Nebraska all have certain advantages. Nebraska has already banked one more win than the other teams (I'd always rather have a win in hand than have to go out and get it) and gets a bye to heal up for the stretch run (which is vital since Ameer Abdullah is banged up). Iowa gets to end the season with home games against Wisconsin and Nebraska and has probably the easiest non-round robin game remaining (at Illinois). Wisconsin also gets two out of three round robin games at home (Nebraska, Minnesota) and their non-round robin game is pretty winnable (at Purdue). I think Minnesota is definitely in the worst spot -- they play two out of three round robin games on the road (Wisconsin, Nebraska) and their non-round robin game is very difficult (Ohio State). If Abdullah is 100% after Nebraska's bye week, I think they have a great chance of navigating this gauntlet, although winning in Madison and Iowa City won't be easy. If I knew that the Iowa team that played against Northwestern was going to show up for all four games this month, I'd have a lot more confidence in picking them to win the West. I guess I'd lean Wisconsin slightly at the moment -- playing Nebraska at home is a nice advantage for them and they've (sadly) proven capable of winning in Iowa City (they've won the last two games there), so I don't think they'll be intimidated.
JD: This could still be the "Maryland & Rutgers don't belong in the B1G" hangover talking, but Maryland? How did Maryland manage to go from down 14 in the first quarter to up by 17 halfway through the fourth on the Hawkeyes?
ROSS: A little of this, a little of that. On offense, Iowa had a terrible gameplan -- they did a poor job of getting the receivers involved in the offense and they neglected to ride Mark Weisman, even though he was averaging almost 8 yards per carry. Instead they put the offense in a box and threw a brain-melting number of short passes to the running backs and tight ends. That... didn't work. On defense, Iowa looked like they'd never seen the zone-read before and consistently took bad angles and did as poor a job of tackling as I've seen from an Iowa defense in several years. In the second and third quarters, every little break seemed to go against Iowa, too -- Iowa fumbled the ball on a promising drive that looked like it was going to lead to points, while a potential Maryland fumble on the goal line wasn't called. There were also a few key penalties that went against Iowa in those quarters; basically, just about everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong.
JD: Kirk Ferentz has claimed to be going with a two-QB system, giving snaps to both Rudock and Beathard. But, let's be honest, Rudock is really QB1, isn't he?
ROSS: Absolutely. To be fair, I don't know if Ferentz ever said that he would be going with a two-QB system, just that the Iowa coaches really liked Beathard and that he would play. Which was not exactly true. The part about him playing at least -- I do think the Iowa coaches like Beathard and his potential. But, no, Rudock is definitely QB1 for Iowa and he's going to start on Saturday and, barring injury or a blowout, he's going to be playing basically every snap of the game. I still think there's a slight chance that Beathard could see a little non-blowout/non-injury action if Rudock really struggles, but the reality is that it's going to be The Rudock Show on Saturday.
JD: Weisman, Canzeri, and now Wadley? Weisman is clearly the scoring machine with 13 of Iowa's 17 rushing TD's this season and at least 2 TD runs the last 5 games, but what does the stable of available back bring to the table and how do they compliment each other.
ROSS: The stable might be a bit light at the moment, honestly. Wadley only got significant action last week because several guys ahead of him on the depth chart are injured -- Jordan Canzeri is dealing with a high ankle sprain (and is questionable for the Minnesota game), LeShun Daniels is out for the year with a foot/ankle injury, and Jonathan Parker got dinged up early in the game against Northwestern. Depending on the health of Canzeri and Parker, Weisman and Wadley might be the main rushing options for Iowa on Saturday. Damon Bullock is also an option, but he seems to have settled into a third-down back role; he's a good pass-catcher and solid pass-blocker, but he struggles to run between the tackles. I think you know what you're getting with Weisman: he's big, he's strong, he doesn't shy away from contact, and as long as he stays between tackles, he can be quite effective. Wadley is a much different style of running back: he's better at avoiding contact, and showed off good vision and a very good spin move against Northwestern. He has better speed than Weisman, but he's not really a burner. Weisman and Wadley have the makings of an effective one-two punch, but one game is too soon to tell how good that pairing can be (or will be).
JD: On defense, Iowa has seemingly been both good and bad against both the run and the pass in different games throughout the year. Example: the Hawkeyes gave up only 86 yards rushing to Purdue, then gave up 316 to Indiana. They gave up 380 passing yards to something called Northern Iowa, but then only 75 to Northwestern. What gives with this defense? What are some of this defenses strengths?
ROSS: The defense has definitely been a bit inconsistent this year, although I think the inconsistently has mostly just been with the run defense since that horrible first week against UNI. Iowa is giving up the 16th fewest passing yards in the country 185.4 ypg), holding teams to around a 50% completion percentage, and forcing more interceptions (10) than conceding touchdowns (6). That UNI performance was very poor, but the pass defense has looked much better since then, although Iowa also hasn't faced the most dynamic passing attacks, either. (And, no offense, but I don't think that's going to change this week if the stats are any indication.) The run defense has been another story. James Conner gashed Iowa in the first half of the Pitt game, Tevin Coleman's big play ability gave Iowa fits, and Maryland (as noted) killed Iowa with the zone-read. Iowa's biggest vulnerability against the run has come on the edges; Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat are excellent at plugging up the middle but Iowa's containment on the outside sometimes springs a few leaks. Davis and Trinca-Pasat are key members of the best unit on the Iowa defense -- the defensive line. Along with Drew Ott (who has been terrorizing quarterbacks all season long) and Nate Meier and Mike Hardy, they form a unit that has been giving opponents fits all season long. Outside of the trio on the defensive line, the best player on the Iowa defense is cornerback Desmond King, who's been smothering opposing wide receivers all season long.
JD: When it comes to rivalries, Gopher fans are kind of split. Most would tell you Wisconsin is our #1 rivalry, with Iowa being #1a. How do Hawkeye fans view the Minnesota/Iowa rivalry and where does it rank on their list?
ROSS: Feelings are pretty split among Iowa fans, too. Some say Minnesota, some say Wisconsin, some Iowa State, and some even say Nebraska. A lot of it has to do with where you're located -- Iowa fans around Des Moines seem more invested in Iowa State as a rival, while Iowa fans in western Iowa care a bit more about Nebraska as a rival. As far as the Minnesota rivalry goes, I think the arrival of Jerry Kill has been a shot in the arm for the relevance and importance of that rivalry. He's made Minnesota far more competitive, both overall and within the Iowa-Minnesota games, which has been healthy for the rivalry.
JD: Prediction time. Who wins? How do they make it happen? What is the final score?
ROSS: Iowa 27, Minnesota 20. I think Weisman and Wadley wear down the Minnesota defense and set up a few second half scoring drives. Cobb runs for 100+ against Iowa, but Mitch Leidner throws a pair of interceptions, including the game-icing interception late in the fourth quarter.