Much at stake for Badgers heading into Big Ten opener at rival Iowa
The University of Wisconsin’s trip to Iowa on Saturday night may only stand as the Badgers’ first of nine Big Ten games, but a victory could carry much more weight than a 1-0 conference record.
Since the Big Ten formed East and West divisions in 2014, the winner of the Heartland Trophy also finished atop the West standings.
“It just adds a little more importance because we know that’s a really big game in the West division,” UW left guard Michael Deiter said. “To open up Big Ten with that, it adds a little bit of pressure, but it’s fun. It’s a fun pressure that, if you know you go out and execute the way you want to, then you’ll put yourself in a good position to win the West.”
The rivalry itself often adds intrigue to the UW-Iowa series, but the high stakes associated with recent games makes it all the more interesting.
The late-November game in Iowa City during the 2014 season saw the Badgers escape with a nail-biting, two-point victory before the Hawkeyes used a 10-6 win at Camp Randall the next year as a springboard for their 12-0 regular season.
UW’s won the previous two games against Iowa, including last year’s 38-14 victory in which a dominant defensive performance clinched the West division for the third time in four years.
Saturday marks just the second September contest between the teams in the series’ 91-game history, and the 18th-ranked Badgers are coming off a shocking loss against BYU as 22-point favorites. UW’s not shying away from the challenge of rebounding in a game of such importance this early in the season.
“I think it’s kind of good timing for where we’re at,” Deiter said. “We need to pick up and go get a tough road game. This is perfect for us right now.”
It’s also the Badgers’ first road game of the year, set for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.
While UW’s won its last four games in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes are no stranger to knocking off ranked teams at home, including a 55-24 thumping of No. 3 Ohio State last season and a 14-13 victory over second-ranked Michigan in 2016. The Badgers entered their last two games at Kinnick Stadium as a top-15 team and won a one-score game on both occasions.
“The day games are crazy enough, so I can only imagine what a night game is,” UW inside linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “The crowd is always into the game. The sideline is real close to the bleachers and stuff, so that’s always fun. I just think it’s a classic Big Ten rivalry game, so the excitement is there from the jump.”
Badgers coach Paul Chryst said he doesn’t believe the rivalry’s streak of producing the Big Ten West winner changes anything about Saturday’s game.
“This is just about this week, our team against their team,” he said.
There are, after all, eight more conference games apiece to determine the fate of each program’s season.
As UW attempts to avoid a disastrous 2-2 start and gain a leg up on its biggest competition for the division crown, however, Saturday’s game at Kinnick Stadium may feel more like a championship game than most.
“When you’re playing Iowa, they’re going to get our best shot and we’re going to get theirs,” Edwards said. “Especially being a 7:30 game, a night game, at their place, it’s going to be loud. The crowd’s going to be into it. I don’t really think you can draw it up much better than that.”