There are few games bigger in the Big Ten West division, literally and figuratively, than the Iowa Hawkeyes and Wisconsin Badgers. Simply put, it seems as if the division winner goes through winning that game.
With Iowa coming off a monumental upset of Ohio State last weekend and the Badgers sitting 9-0 on the season, once again this game has plenty of meaning. Not only is the Heartland Trophy on the line, but so too are the hopes of a West division title for both teams.
We’ll get in to that and more as we dive deep in to the Badgers vs. Hawkeyes matchup at Camp Randall Stadium this Saturday afternoon.
1: This is Wisconsin’s magic number for the Big Ten West division title
The scenario is easy: Wisconsin wins, it wins the West division title on Saturday and Badgers fans can count on their hotel reservations in Indianapolis meaning something once again. With Northwestern the only team within striking distance of the Badgers and already with two losses (including one to the Badgers) a win coupled with just two games left in the regular season would clinch the division for UW for the third time in four years.
2: Wisconsin is second in the Big Ten in rush defense this season
That stat line may not be all that shocking, considering how good we have seen Wisconsin’s defense play all season. But, after giving up just 40 yards on the ground last weekend to Indiana, Wisconsin’s per-game average of 87.7 puts them just .7 yards per game behind league-leading Michigan State. Iowa comes in to this game with just eight rushing touchdowns, the second-worst rushing TD mark in the conference, and are 10th in rushing offense (143.2) on the year.
3: That is the number of Big Ten West divisions titles won between the Hawkeyes and Badgers
Yes, it has been only three years since the East-West division split for the Big Ten, but you can count on the winner of this game likely winning the division. No other team has won it outside of Iowa or Wisconsin, with the Badgers winning twice and Iowa once. However, neither have gone on to win the Big Ten championship.
4: Iowa’s defense is 4th in the Big Ten in scoring defense (18.1 points per game)
Just how good have Big Ten defenses been this season? Iowa’s 18.1 points per game average sits No. 16 in the nation heading in to this week but is just the fourth-best mark in the conference. Wisconsin’s offense is averaging a healthy 36.1 points per game, but Iowa’s defense has had a good time holding opponents down. Just how good are they in doing that? 8 of the last 9 opponents have been held under their season average.
5: Wisconsin senior DE Alec James has put up 5.5 sacks this season
While he isn’t getting a ton of publicity, he is having one of the most productive seasons for a Badgers defensive lineman in nearly a decade. His current total sits just behind J.J. Watt’s 2011 total of 7.5 sacks for the best in the last seven years. With three games to go there is a good chance for James to beat that mark. That’s especially true considering 3.5 of his sacks have come in the last two weeks combined. Iowa’s offensive line has had issues dealing with pressure most of this season, so James could have a good chance to get on the board once again this weekend.
6: Wisconsin has won six of the last 11 games in this series
Why is this even significant? Well, this Saturday will be the 12th time the Badgers and Hawkeyes have met for an official trophy game and the Badgers own the Heartland Trophy edge with a 6-5 record in the 11 games played for the brass bull since its introduction in 2004. Iowa owned Wisconsin in the first two games once the trophy was introduced, but the Badgers own the longest win streak in the trophy game at just three (2010-2014). The two have traded wins since then, can the Badgers buck the trend?
7: A win on Friday would mean 7-straight for the Badgers in the Rusty Toolbox game
The what? Yes, while there is a trophy on the line on Saturday afternoon, the managers of these two teams play an equally heated one the day before this game. Iowa leads the all-time series 11-10, but the Badgers have a chance to even things up and make it 7-straight over the Hawkeyes managers with a win in this flag football contest. The game first started in 1991, but has been played every year the two teams have gotten together since 1995.
8: 8 of 11 opponent drives to start in UW territory have ended in no touchdowns
One of Wisconsin’s biggest strengths on defense this season has been its ability to not buckle under pressure. In fact, they seem to thrive on it, like as in the fact that just 3 of 11 drives that have started in UW territory have ended in a touchdown. That includes a Maryland drive that started at the Badgers 5-yard line a few weeks ago. Given Iowa’s ability to create turnovers, this could be a huge help to Wisconsin’s efforts on Saturday afternoon.
9: UW’s 9-0 start puts them in rare territory this season
The Badgers are just one of five teams with an undefeated record heading in to the final three weeks of the season. Alabama, Georgia, Miami (FL) and UCF are the only other unbeaten teams in FBS football. But, the Badgers win streak isn’t just sitting at nine games, it’s been 12 straight wins in Big Ten regular season play and that is the best win streak in B1G play by any Badgers team ever. With a win on Saturday, the Badgers would also have a third-straight 10-win season under head coach Paul Chryst, with the Badgers already owning 30 wins in the Chryst era. Let’s just say this bunch knows how to win and win often.
10: That is the number of receiving touchdowns for Iowa’s tight ends in 2017
Want to know the secret to Iowa’s offense? Look no further than the guys who are the edges of the offensive line, because they’ve been instrumental in just about anything Iowa has done this season. Noah Fant (So.) and T.J. Hockenson (redshirt freshman) have combined for 42 receptions this season. Of those 42 receptions, all but five have resulted in a touchdown (10) or first down (27). Fant’s seven TDs are a single-season school record for a tight end.