Penn State heads to Iowa for the Big Ten's Game of the Century of the Week, a rare top-five matchup that provides the Lions with an even rarer opportunity to get a road win over a top-five team.
Saturday's game in Iowa City matches No. 3 Iowa vs. No. 4 Penn State, marking Penn State's first game involving two top-five teams since 1999. The No. 3 Lions opened that season with a 41-7 win over No. 4 Arizona, won their first nine games, then lost the last three to fall to the Alamo Bowl.
Since beating Arizona, Penn State is 1-15 vs. teams ranked in the top five of the AP Top 25; the win was over No. 2 Ohio State in 2016. Penn State last won a road game over a top-five team in 1994. The Lions, then ranked third, defeated No. 5 Michigan 31-24 en route to their last undefeated season. They are 0-11 in road games vs. top-five teams since.
Saturday's game should be fascinating in a marvelous environment, which Penn State coach James Franklin is looking forward to seeing for only one reason. But for all the pregame hype that will apply, the game, win or lose, could have very little effect on Penn State's championship hopes.
No. 4 Penn State (5-0) at No. 3 Iowa (5-0)
- When: 4 pm ET Saturday
- Where: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City
- TV: Fox
- Streaming: fuboTV
- Betting Line: Iowa is a 1.5-point favorite, according to SI Sportsbook
- Last Meeting: Iowa 41-21 in 2020 at Beaver Stadium
- Streaks: Penn State has won nine straight games; Iowa has won 11 straight
About the Lions: Certainly, this is a signature game on the Big Ten schedule, but ultimately a loss (at least a close one) wouldn't harm Penn State's title chances. Conversely, a win guarantees nothing in the Big Ten East. The road to the conference title game always ran through Penn State's Oct. 30 visit to Ohio State, and it still does. But the Lions also have to face rejuvenated Michigan (No. 9) and Michigan State (No. 11), both of which are 5-0. Penn State can afford to lose at Iowa and still control its championship hopes. The Lions' remaining strength of schedule ranks No. 4, according to the ESPN Power Index, so an 11-1 Penn State team that then wins the Big Ten title game (perhaps in a rematch with Iowa) most likely earns a CFP bid.
About the Hawkeyes: Iowa hasn't lost since a 2020 Halloween game against Northwestern, in which it gave away a 17-point lead and fell by one, 21-20. Since then, the Hawkeyes have won 11 straight games without allowing more than 21 points in any of them. Iowa has fielded the Big Ten's most consistently rigid scoring defense for four years. The Hawkeyes lead the conference this season (allowing 11.6 points per game; Penn State gives up 12) and ranked second the past three seasons. This year, turnovers are the most notable difference. Iowa leads the Big Ten, and the nation, in turnover margin — it's an astonishing plus-12 and has forced 16 turnovers. Iowa has scored 41 percent of its points (68 of 166) via turnovers. Is that model sustainable, particularly against a Penn State team that is plus-9 in turnover margin? Iowa might have to generate some independent offense, no easy feat against a Penn State defense coming off its first shutout in two years.