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Sam McKewon's Big Ten picks: Can darling Iowa State knock off the Hawkeyes?

Sam McKewon's Big Ten picks: Can darling Iowa State knock off the Hawkeyes?

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Check out Sam McKewon's Big Ten picks for Week 2.

LINCOLN — Nebraska and Iowa State football don’t have much in common these days (or ever, for that matter). But if the two shared a pizza somewhere in Omaha, they could bond over their inability to beat Iowa since 2014.

You knew that with the Huskers. You’ve probably heard it this week regarding ISU coach Matt Campbell, who heads into the biggest game of his career Saturday against the rival Hawkeyes.

ESPN’s "College GameDay" is in town. A midafternoon kickoff in blistering temps should draw at least five million sets of eyeballs to ABC.

Fans will tune in not for sturdy, starchy, dependable Iowa, but the darling Cyclones, the lifelong little brother to just about every program in the Midwest. Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma — even Missouri. ISU has never — not ever — posted a 10-win season. But it has 22 three-win seasons.

This is Iowa State’s moment, and it’s perfectly timed. Big 12 bullies Oklahoma and Texas are leaving soon for the SEC, but the league will survive — with 12 teams — after adding BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston.

As the Sooners and Longhorns head out, there’ll be a power vacuum. Campbell and his Cyclones — 36-28 since he arrived — can fill it.

Gotta beat Iowa, though. The Big 12’s No. 1 team can’t be No. 2 in its own state.

“Look at us in this game,” Campbell said this week. “At times we have played well, and yet in some of the critical moments we haven't been able to execute, and they have, and that's been the difference in the game.”

Iowa's plus-5 turnover margin in the series since 2015 has been the difference. Kirk Ferentz’s offense has had more answers than Iowa State’s.

Ferentz and Campbell have built their programs similarly.

Both want to run the ball and control the pace. Both prefer a points-prevention defense that might allow some yards before getting stingy in the red zone. Iowa tends to have better special teams, but Campbell has made upgrades in kickoff coverage that should help.

Much as Nebraska seems like a Big 12 team hanging out in the Big Ten — and that isn’t going well — Iowa State is a Big Ten team holding its own in the Big 12. Sometimes that means ISU struggles to knock out lesser foes — Louisiana last year, Northern Iowa this year — but expect 12 rounds when the heavyweights roll in.

And though it irks Husker fans, Iowa is a heavyweight right now. The Hawkeyes have won 72% of their games since 2015. That includes a respectable 9-12 record against ranked teams and three wins over top-10 teams. They’ve produced 21 NFL draft picks since then, including six in the first two rounds. Iowa’s facilities are newer and nicer than Nebraska’s — until NU's new building opens in 2023 — and Kinnick Stadium has been modernized in ways Memorial Stadium still awaits.

These are facts not in dispute. Iowa also has found every way to beat Iowa State.

But doesn’t the heart say it’s time for the Cyclones? Don’t they have the better quarterback (Brock Purdy) for once? And the better running back (Breece Hall)? And a home crowd for the ages? In an even-steven matchup, don’t those things count for something?

I say yes. Iowa State, a 4½-point favorite, wins 23-21 at the gun. Mayhem in Ames.

No. 12 Oregon at No. 3 Ohio State

11 a.m., Fox

Line: Ohio State by 14½

If the game was in Eugene — and not at 9 a.m. according to the Ducks' body clock — you could see the Buckeyes being taken to the wire. Perhaps that happens next decade when OSU visits Oregon for the game that was never played in 2020. 

Ohio State 42-24

Washington at Michigan

7 p.m., ABC

Line: Michigan by 6½

Washington’s 13-7 turnover-laden loss to Montana torpedoed interest in this game. But the Huskies defense is really, really good, and if its offense has its head screwed on straight, Michigan could drop a game most think it should win. 

Michigan 21-17

Buffalo at Nebraska

2:30 p.m., BTN

Line: Nebraska by 14

The heat probably plays to NU’s advantage as the game wears on, but beware Buffalo’s early punch. The Bulls are as good as the Northern Illinois team that stole one from the Huskers in 2017, and almost as good as the 2018 Troy team that outplayed Nebraska start to finish. 

Nebraska 28-20

Ball State at No. 11 Penn State

2:30 p.m., FS1

Line: Penn State by 22½

The Cardinals are no joke, perhaps the best team in the MAC. Under James Franklin, PSU has had hiccups at home against lesser teams. Look for a tighter game than expected. 

Penn State 31-22

Rutgers at Syracuse

1 p.m., ACCN

Line: Rutgers by 2

It’s nice to see this game return after a decade hiatus. The Orange and Scarlet Knights played each year from 1980-2012. The contest may come down to turnovers, and I like Rutgers to produce a few more. 

Rutgers 24-21

Youngstown St. at Michigan St.

11 a.m., BTN

Line: Michigan State by 19½

Letdown week for the Spartans. Chalk up a win, but don’t expect it to be pretty. 

Michigan State 24-10

Idaho at Indiana

6:30 p.m., BTN

Line: Indiana by 32½

Indiana’s schedule gets nasty after Saturday. The Vandals won 68-0 against a Division II school in Canada, which doesn’t have much bearing on this week. 

Indiana 34-9

Illinois at Virginia

10 a.m., ACCN

Line: Virginia by 10½

Bronco Mendenhall has made the Cavaliers an Atlantic Division contender with stingy defense. Illinois’ offense hasn’t been shabby in games against Nebraska and UTSA, but Virginia is a different test. 

Virginia 28-17

Purdue at UConn

2 p.m., CBSSN

Line: Purdue by 34

Jeff Brohm doesn't strike me as a man of mercy who’d take it easy on a dysfunctional team whose coach just retired immediately. The Huskies got all kinds of plaudits last season for sitting out the season due to COVID-19. It doesn’t feel like that now. 

Purdue 56-17

Eastern Michigan at No. 18 Wisconsin

6 p.m., FS1

Line: Wisconsin by 26

EMU had an awful defense last season — allowed 36 points per game in the MAC — and Wisconsin’s offense could use a pick-me-up after blowing last week’s Penn State game. 

Wisconsin 35-10

Indiana State at Northwestern

11 a.m., BTN

Line: Northwestern by 26½

What evidence is there that even a good Wildcat team can beat anybody in September by four touchdowns? 

Northwestern 28-7

Miami (Ohio) at Minnesota

11 a.m., ESPNU

Line: Minnesota by 18

The Gophers lost their top running back but have several capable backups, all of whom Nebraska would take as its starter tomorrow. The RedHawks can run the ball a little bit and should shorten the game. 

Minnesota 31-13

Howard at Maryland

6:30 p.m., BTN

Line: None

The Terrapins can name their score. They beat the Bison 79-0 in 2019. 

Maryland 63-3

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