IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Melvin Gordon’s record-setting effort against Nebraska pushed Wisconsin one step closer to another Big Ten title.
A repeat performance could send the 14th-ranked Badgers back to Indianapolis for the championship game— and Gordon to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten, No. 16 CFP) still has a lot to play for on Saturday when it faces Iowa (7-3, 4-2) in its road finale, even if a spot in the playoffs is likely out of reach.
A Badgers win, coupled with a Nebraska win over Minnesota, will put them in the league title game for the third time in four years.
Gordon, whose 408-yard outburst in last week’s 59-24 rout of the Cornhuskers set a new FBS mark, could solidify his Heisman candidacy by running for even half as many yards against the Hawkeyes.
“There is nobody that has the ability to play with that explosiveness and to just all of the sudden, away he goes. It’s amazing to see what he does,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said.
The Hawkeyes can also win the West, even if that idea sounds deservedly far-fetched.
Iowa’s path to Indianapolis is actually quite simple: beat Wisconsin and Nebraska the day after Thanksgiving and hope that Minnesota loses one of its last two games.
But the Hawkeyes have yet to beat an FBS team over .500 and are nearly a 10-point underdog against the Badgers.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin has won five straight — and three of their last four victories were by at least 35 points.
Here are some of the key points to consider as Iowa and Wisconsin prepare for their 88th meeting:
FLASH GORDON: Gordon needs just 91 yards against Iowa to become the 17th player in FBS history with a 2,000-yard rushing season. Former Wisconsin star Ron Dayne’s Big Ten rushing record is also within reach, with Gordon just 201 yards away from breaking that mark. “You can see he’s got personality. He’s a really enthusiastic, energetic player, and very strong-willed. And he’s been able to stay healthy, too. That’s no easy trick for a running back sometimes,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
IOWA’S OFFENSE: Iowa’s offense, while inconsistent, has gone through stretches where it has moved the ball with ease. The Hawkeyes are fifth in the Big Ten with 32 points per league game, and last week they gained a season-high 587 yards in an easy win at Illinois.
WISCONSIN D: Iowa hasn’t faced a defense anywhere close to being as good as Wisconsin though. The Badgers lead the nation with just 244 yards allowed per game and are third at just 15.3 points an outing. “They’re tough, aggressive guys. It’s a battle of wills. You really have to be detailed with what you’re doing. And realize, too, you’re not going to get a lot of big plays. They do a good job of making sure that you don’t do that. You have to earn whatever you get,” Ferentz said.
FOURTH-DOWN HAWKS: Iowa, which has a reputation for being conservative on offense, has embraced the concept of going for it on fourth down this season. The Hawkeyes have converted 11 fourth downs, the most in the Big Ten, with a pair of touchdowns.
TROPHY GAMES: It’s easy to chuckle at all the new trophies that have popped up in the Big Ten in recent years. But Wisconsin seemingly can’t be beat with one of them at stake. The Badgers have won seven straight trophy games dating back to 2009. Wisconsin and Iowa have played for the Heartland Trophy since 2004, with each team winning it four times.
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