A busy slate in college football is titled Saturday by a pair of top-five-ranked Big Ten teams competing against each other as No.3 Iowa hosts No.4 Penn State in Iowa City. With their unbeaten records and positions near the top of the polls at this point, these two teams see themselves as college football playoff contenders almost halfway through the 2021 season.
Iowa enter the game with a 5-0 record and have already claimed victories over Indiana and Iowa State, both ranked at the time. Penn State is also 5-0 and has two wins against ranked opponents Wisconsin and Auburn (yes, Auburn is still ranked). Now the two are looking to secure what would be their biggest wins of the season at this point.
Although they reside in different divisions, the two programs have become familiar with each other in recent seasons. Penn State holds the all-time advantage in the series, winning 17 of 30 games. That includes four wins over the Hawkeyes in the past five years, although Iowa won last season’s game at Penn State 41-21.
Iowa vs Penn State: Need to Know
It’s a rare match: According to Chris Fallica of College Gameday, this game will mark the first time there will be a regular season Big Ten conference game between teams ranked in the top five of the AP poll that did not include Ohio State since 1997, when Penn State hosted the Michigan. If you take Michigan out of the equation alongside Ohio State, this is the first time this has happened since a 1962 game between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Of course, if you include the Big Ten Championship Games, this last happened in 2015 when the No.4 from Iowa faced the No.5 from Michigan State, but that’s not a statistic. also fun, isn’t it?
The Iowa defense is phenomenal at intercepting passes: No team has intercepted more passes this season than Iowa with 12, but the total doesn’t tell the whole story. Not only do the Hawkeyes pass more passes, they do so at a much higher rate than almost any other team. Iowa has intercepted 7.2% of passes against him this season, ranking second nationally behind Houston. But this year is only five games, and that’s not a new trend with the Hawkeyes. Since the 2017 college football season, 2.7% of passes thrown at the FBS level have been recovered. The Iowa defense managed to intercept 4.4% of passes against it during that time, which is the highest score of any program in the country. Appalachian State is the only other team to cross the 4% mark, which puts them in second.
Sean Clifford has a career season so far: There were a lot of questions about Clifford heading into the 2021 season, and he was seen as a weak spot in a strong Penn State team. So far he has been a force. Clifford starts the weekend with a 160.7 passing efficiency, which is the Big Ten’s third highest score and by far the best number of his career. His 7.2% touchdown rate is the best of his career, and he also has the lowest interception rate of his career since becoming the Penn State starter. If the Nittany Lions are going to win in Iowa on Saturday, he’ll have to have another big game.
How to watch Iowa vs. Penn State live
Dated: Saturday October 9 | Time: 4 p.m. ET
Site: Kinnick Stadium – Iowa City, IA
TV: Fox | Direct: fuboTV (Try for free)
Prediction Iowa vs Penn State, pick
Featured Game | Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Penn State Nittany Lions
My official pick here is Penn State and Points, but I’d be lying if I told you I was confident about it. This game is a draw in my eyes. For one thing, I’m not sure if Iowa’s offense can be a long streak of goals if it takes one late. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’m ready to trust Sean Clifford on the road in a place like this. Earlier this year, Clifford struggled on the road against Wisconsin, and that Iowa defense is just as strong as Wisconsin’s. This game will come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes, and both are able to force them. So at the end of the day I’m just taking the points in what should be a close competition. Prediction: Penn State (+2.5)
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