The Big Ten West is suddenly wide open thanks to Iowa’s inability to hold onto the ball.
The No. 9 Hawkeyes turned the ball over three times deep in their own territory in the first half of Wisconsin’s 27-7 win on Saturday. The second consecutive loss for Iowa takes the Hawkeyes out of College Football Playoff contention and vaults Wisconsin and others into the thick of the West.
Iowa had moved to 6-0 through the first half of the season thanks to a defense that kept forcing turnovers and an offense that was able to keep the ball. Iowa had forced 20 turnovers through the first six games and had turned the ball over five times itself.
Iowa turned the ball over four times in a 24-7 loss to Purdue two weeks ago and gifted Wisconsin 10 points in the first half on three turnovers. Already trailing 10-0, Iowa was able to stop Wisconsin at the goal line after Spencer Petras was strip-sacked inside the 10. But Iowa fumbled at the 1 right after getting the ball back and Wisconsin scored one play later to extend the lead to three possessions.
A muffed punt after Wisconsin’s next possession led to another field goal and a 20-0 lead for the Badgers. At least Iowa was able to get a first down after Wisconsin’s second touchdown of the game. The Hawkeyes didn’t even get a first down before Wisconsin was up 17-0.
Wisconsin wins the West if it wins out
Iowa’s loss pushes Minnesota into first place in the West ahead of its game Saturday afternoon at Northwestern. The Golden Gophers entered the weekend tied with Iowa atop the West at 3-1 and still has games against Iowa and Wisconsin remaining.
That means Wisconsin’s path to the Big Ten title game is entirely in its own control. Thanks to a win over Purdue a week ago and the win over Iowa on Saturday, Wisconsin will be in the Big Ten title game if it wins its final four games of the season.
It's quite the turn for a team that was 1-3 after the first four weeks of the season. Wisconsin’s only win in September came over Eastern Michigan. The Badgers failed to score more than 17 points in their three losses to Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan as Graham Mertz struggled. Mertz threw just eight passes in the win over Purdue and threw over 20 passes for just the third time this season against the Hawkeyes.
He wasn’t great — 11-of-22 for 104 yards and a TD. He also didn’t have to be given all of the gifts Iowa presented to the Badgers. But it’s hard to consider Wisconsin a top-20 team without a much better passing game.