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IOWA CITY, Iowa - At the end of an uneven 2020 regular season created by COVID-19, the Big Ten set up what it called Champions Week. The league matched up teams from the East against West. 

Iowa drew Michigan. The game was canceled due to virus concerns within the Wolverine program. 

As fate would have it, the teams will match up a year later in the actual conference title contest. That happens Saturday (7 p.m. CT, FOX) at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. 

The squads have changed significantly from a personnel standpoint. Both coaches said they didn't think they'd be able to draw much from preliminary scouting reports on each other last year. 

"We were a couple of days into game plans, so some (work done)," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. "But really the (12) ballgames (from '21) we're looking at now and where all the focus will be." 

No. 2 Michigan (11-1 overall) won the East with a 8-1 conference mark. The Hawkeyes (10-2) took the West at 7-2. The teams did not meet during the regular season. 

The programs last faced each other in '19, with the Wolverines winning a 10-3 decision. Prior to that, they lined up in November of '16 in Iowa City, with the Hawkeyes earning a 14-13 decision against third-ranked and previously unbeaten Michigan. 

That year, Iowa spoiled the Wolverines' Big Ten title hopes and their dream of reaching the College Football Playoff. Once again, the Hawkeyes are positioned to be a spoiler. 

"We're used to it. This team always seems to be the underdog," Iowa running back Tyler Goodson said. "I don't know why. We always have a winning record ever since I've been here and a couple years before me. It is what it is. This team has done a good job blocking out the noise." 

They also have plenty of incentive. A win sends them to the Rose Bowl and means the program's first Big Ten Championship since '04. 

When Harbaugh looks at Iowa, he sees a complete team. 

"It's just how conscientious they are in all three phases. You can tell Iowa spends time in the special teams' phase. They win games from it," he said. 

"It's a really finely-tuned organization that knows what they're doing. It's always a talented, well-coached team." 

Harbaugh mentioned Goodson (1,101 rushing yards) and linebacker Jack Campbell (124 tackles) as Iowa players who stood out to him. 

"He's got a nose for the ball," the Michigan coach said of Campbell. "I think that's probably the best thing you can say about a linebacker is that it's somebody who shows up where the ball is. He does it repeatedly. He's always in the frame making the tackle or really close to it." 

Saturday's game features two of the country's top scoring defenses. Michigan ranks eighth, yielding 17.17 points per game. The Hawkeyes check in one spot behind, allowing 17.25. 

The Wolverines held Ohio State to 27 points in Saturday's East-clinching victory. The Buckeyes led the conference in scoring (45.5 points per game). 

Michigan ranks second in the league scoring (37.3), while the Hawkeyes check in 10th (25.7). The Wolverines pace the Big Ten in rushing (224.9 yards per game), while Iowa comes in 11th (121.2). 

Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum provide Michigan with an impressive one-two punch at running back. Combined, they have 2,097 yards and 28 touchdowns on the ground. 

The Wolverines utilize a two-quarterback system. Cade McNamara (2,301 yards passing, 14 touchdowns, 3 interceptions) starts and takes the bulk of the reps. J.J. McCarthy brings more of a running element and change of pace to the game. 

"We definitely just have to pay attention which guy is in and how that changes their scheme based off which guy's in," Hawkeye safety Jack Koerner said. 

Michigan's signal callers spread the ball around. Ten different players have at least 10 receptions and at least one touchdown with Cornelius Johnson (34 catches, 564 yards, 3 TDs) and tight end Erick All (32-331) leading the way. 

It will be interesting to see how the Wolverines attack with the pass. Iowa leads the nation in interceptions with 22 and ranks third in turnover margin (1.08).  The Wolverines' nine turnovers this season are the sixth fewest in the country.  

"Just looking at their offense, they like to run the ball, but they do have the skill on the outside to make some plays. So, we're going to have to be sound in every facet," Iowa defensive end Zach VanValkenburg said. 

Michigan features stars at each level of its defense. Defensive end Aidan Hutchinson paces the Big Ten with 13.0 sacks, while teammate David Ojabo (11.0) ranks second. Linebacker Josh Ross (8.5 tackles for loss, 8 quarterback hurries) and safety Daxton Hill (2 interceptions, 7 pass breakups, 3 quarterback hurries) make plays. 

Goodson believes his offense is up to the challenge. 

"In my eyes, I'm the number one back in the country and this (Iowa) team is the No. 1 team in the country," he said. "If anybody else has something to say about that, they can. That's my opinion. That's how I feel. And we're going to show it come Saturday." 

Spencer Petras returns as Iowa's starting quarterback after Alex Padilla opened the last three contests. Petras is recovered from a shoulder injury he suffered Oct. 30 at Wisconsin. 

Both special teams stand out. Michigan kicker Jake Moody is 22 of 24 on field goal attempts, while Iowa Caleb Shudak is 22 of 25. They've combined to make all 84 of their extra-point tries. Wolverine punter Brad Robbins and his Iowa counterpart, Tory Taylor, both average 45.8 yards per punt with 50 of them being downed inside the opponent 20. 

The Hawkeyes rank 14th nationally in punt return defense (3.25 yards per return), while Michigan is 37th (5.86). The Wolverines are No. 1 in the country in kick return defense (12.08). Iowa is 17th as (17.33). 

"They've been playing very well," Iowa Center Tyler Linderbaum said. "At the end of the day, it's going to be two great teams going against each other. Whoever prepares the best this week is going to come out on top." 

TV ANNOUNCERS: Gus Johnson, Rick Klatt and Jenny Taft on FOX.

SERIES: Michigan holds a 42-15-4 advantage in the series that began with a 28-5 Iowa win in 1900. The first meeting between the two teams was played in Detroit and the second in Chicago.

Saturday will mark the fourth time the teams have met with Michigan ranked No. 2 in the nation. Iowa beat the Wolverines twice on last-second field goals in 1985 and 2016. 

The Hawkeyes, ranked first at the time, defeated Michigan to win 12-10 in 1985 in Iowa City. Unranked Iowa edged the Wolverines, 14-13, in 2016 in Iowa City. 

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Michigan won 20-6 in 2006 in Ann Arbor when the Wolverines were ranked second and Iowa was unranked. Iowa has won five of the last seven meetings against Michigan.

BETTING LINES: The game opened with Iowa +10.5 points at Vegas Insiders (VI) on Sunday. It rose to 11.0 as of Tuesday afternoon. The total was at 43.5, down from a 44.0 open.


-Hawkeyes are 5-1-1 Against The Spread (ATS) in their last 7 games as an underdog.

-Under is 4-1 in Iowa's last 5 games as an underdog.

-Wolverines are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games overall.

-Michigan is 5-1 ATS in its last 6 games as a favorite.


-Aidan Hutchinson, DE – The senior from Michigan is to the Wolverines what Tyler Linderbaum is to Iowa - the best player on the team. Hutchinson leads the Big Ten with 13.0 sacks and ranks fourth in tackles for loss (14.5). He'll apply pressure, literally and figuratively, to the Hawkeye tackles. They can't let the Wolverine star wreak havoc. 

-Hassan Haskins, RB – A senior from St. Louis, Haskins is a load to handle at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds. He has 1,232 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing. Backfield mate Blake Corum (865 yards, 10 scores) is the lightning to Haskins' thunder. 

-Josh Ross, LB Another senior playing in his home state, Ross leads the Wolverines in total tackles (86). He has 8.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 quarterback hurries and 2.0 pass breakups. 


Michigan: Avoid costly turnovers and force Iowa into throwing the ball. 

Iowa: Start fast and be creative on both sides of the ball. 


-The Wolverines have scored on 55 of 60 trips inside the red zone this season. That 91.7 percent success rate ranks second in the Big Ten and 10th nationally.

-The Michigan offense has produced 59 plays of 20-plus yards (37 passing, 22 rushing) this fall. It’s produced 10 scoring plays of 50+ yards (6 passing, 4 rushing). Fifteen different Wolverines have contributed at least one play of 20+ yards.

-Michigan is fourth in the Big Ten and 14th nationally in total defense (319.3 yards per game). It’s allowed more than 17 points just four times in 12 games this season.

-The Wolverines have recorded 66 tackles for loss this season with 33 of them being sacks. Those 66 TFLs have resulted in 300 lost yards for opponents. Twenty one different defenders have contributed to the total.

-Michigan leads the nation in kick return defense, allowing just 12.08 yards per attempt. Kicker Jake Moody is a finalist for the Groza Award, while punter Brad Robbins was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award.

-Iowa has three wins this season over ranked opponents (vs. #17 Indiana, 34-6; at #9 Iowa State, 27-17; vs. #4 Penn State, 23-20) and has won six straight against ranked opponents overall. Only Alabama (10) has more consecutive wins over ranked opponents.

-Iowa is playing for a trophy this week for the fifth time this season. The Hawkeyes are 3-1 in trophy games this season and 22-5 in their last 27 rivalry trophy games (Iowa State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin). The Hawkeyes are 25-5 in their last 30 trophy games (includes bowl games).

-Iowa leads the country in interceptions (22) and ranks third nationally in takeaways (28). The school record for interceptions in a season is 23 (1986, 1987, 2008). The Hawkeyes have 86 interceptions since 2017, more than any team in the country.

-Hawkeye WR Charlie Jones ranks second in the Big Ten averaging 8.5 yards on a league-high 34 punt returns. He has returned 23 kickoff s for an average of 26.3 yards per return, No. 2 in the Big Ten. He returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown Week 11 against Illinois.

-Iowa LB/DB Dane Belton ties for the NCAA lead with five interceptions. CB Riley Moss has four interceptions and CB Matt Hankins has three interceptions. Eleven different Hawkeyes have at least one interception this season. Iowa is plus-19 in turnover margin in its 10 wins and minus-six in its two losses.


Michigan – James Earl Jones 

Iowa - Oswald Veblen

HOWE I SEE IT: Unlike a meeting with Ohio State, which would have been strength on weakness, the Iowa-Michigan matchup looks more like two teams with similar styles. They want to establish the run to set up play action and stop the opponent's rushing attack. 

Of the three phases from each team, the Hawkeye offense will need to be better than it has been for much of this campaign. It's asking a lot for the defense and special teams to carry the squad to victory against a foe equally as strong in those areas. 

Iowa would benefit from an element of surprise. The Wolverine defense is too stout to stick with tendency. 

I think the Hawkeye coaches will show some wrinkles. If they're creative and the players execute them, Iowa can make it a four-quarter game and pull off the upset. If not, well, hello Cap One Bowl. 

PREDICTION: Michigan 23, IOWA 20

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Rob Howe is in his 25th year covering University of Iowa Athletics. He's worked for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Hawkeye Nation, Hawk Fanatic, Hawkeye Insider and more. Please follow @RobHoweHN on Twitter.