Maryland trudges into Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday as the keeper of a four-game losing streak and winless conference record. The Terps' loss to Penn State last weekend nearly shuttered whatever slim chance existed of Maryland mounting a run at postseason play, and No. 10 Iowa could all but drive the last official nail into that coffin.
This isn't your father's Iowa. In approximately his 77th season as the Hawkeyes' head coach, Kirk Ferentz has put together an explosive, powerful and balanced team that looks very much like the class of the Big Ten West. The Hawkeyes still don't have a loss, and their schedule the rest of the way strongly suggests they'll enter December's Big Ten Championship Game against Ohio State as a co-unbeaten.
Maryland has not beaten a ranked team since 2010 and doesn't appear to have any chance at beating one now. A Terrapins victory on Saturday would be a shocking upset, probably the biggest one of this college football season. Either the Terps will relish the opportunity to be spoilers, or that's all they'll be in the season's final four games.
This Halloween afternoon game kicks at 3:30 p.m. EST (or 2:30 CST) and will be televised on either ABC or ESPN2, depending on the regional market. If you're local, the game is on ABC.
Black Heart Gold Pants
Iowa Hawkeyes (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten)
2014 record: 7-6 (4-4 Big Ten)
Head coach: Kirk Ferentz (122-85 all-time and at Iowa)
All-time record vs. Maryland: 0-1
Returning starters: Five on offense, four on defense (accounting for current injuries).
F/+ ranking: 11
5-year recruiting ranking: 50
Players to know
C.J. Beathard, QB, junior, 6'2/209, No. 16. Beathard replaced Michigan transfer Jake Rudock under center this year, and he's given the Hawkeyes a striking upgrade. Iowa is No. 33 nationally in passing S&P+, up from No. 71 last year. Beathard has completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,415 yards, 9 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, only taking sacks on 5.6 percent of his drop-backs and keeping this upstart offense on track.
Austin Blythe, C, senior, 6'3/290, No. 63. Blythe is one of the country's best centers, and he's very important to Iowa's power-running game. He was a second-team All-Big Ten performer last year and could move up to the first team this year, given the success Iowa's offensive line as a whole has enjoyed. He'll be a tough matchup for Maryland tackles Quinton Jefferson and Azubuike Ukandu.
Akrum Wadley, RB, sophomore, 5'11/185, No. 25. Wadley is a really talented running back, and he's the guy Maryland will face on Saturday. Wadley replaced the injured Jordan Canzeri aptly against Northwestern two weeks ago, with 204 yards and four scores. He's hugely explosive, averaging 7.8 "highlight yards" once he gets beyond the five-yard threshold that is the responsibility of his offensive linemen.
Desmond King, CB, junior, 5'11/200, No. 14. King is one of the best cornerbacks Maryland will see all year, comparable to Michigan's Jourdan Lewis and Ohio State's Eli Apple. Stefon Diggs got the best of King in Maryland's game against Iowa last year, but Diggs is gone now and King is still here. He's a stingy cover corner and also a dangerous return man. He averages 15.7 yards per run-back as the Hawkeyes' primary punt returner and 22.5 on kickoffs.
Nate Meier, DE, senior, 6'2/252, No. 34. The Hawkeyes have been blessed with some excellent defensive linemen in the last few years, and Meier is the latest in that lineage. With edge partner Drew Ott gone for the year with a torn ACL, Meier is even more important to Iowa, and he's delivered all year. He has 6 sacks and 7 tackles for loss in seven games, and he'll make it very hard for Maryland to run off tackle.
Run defense. The Hawkeyes have the No. 6 rush defense nationally by S&P+, and they allow 2.4 yards per carry. Teams have scored a grand total of one rushing touchdown against them all season. There's simply not a lot to be gained on the ground against Iowa's 4-3 front, anchored by Meier and bolstered by a steady linebacking corps.
Forcing turnovers. Iowa hawks after the ball, which could be a real problem against turnover-obsessed Maryland. The defense has 9 interceptions and 6 fumble recoveries, which suggests Maryland – with its mind-boggling 20 interceptions thrown – could be in for a long day at the office.
Offensive line play. The Hawkeyes run-block and pass-block equally well. They're a respectable No. 45 nationally in adjusted line yards and No. 47 overall in adjusted sack rate allowed. This isn't a dominant offensive line by any stretch, but it's one that doesn't get pushed around or have any real holes. Yannick Ngakoue might be able to exploit its edges, but there won't be a lot of sacks for Maryland to find.
A thin pass rush. Can you even call this a weakness? Particularly with Ott injured, Iowa doesn't have a menacing rush. But the Hawkeyes aren't known for blitzing in general, and a strong secondary mitigates the problems this might otherwise pose. Besides, Iowa still has between two and five sacks in every outing this year. The injury to Ott and graduations of Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat have taken a toll on the Hawkeyes' line depth, but it's not like Iowa can't still get after quarterbacks.
S&P prediction: Iowa 38.1, Maryland 13.5
My prediction: Iowa 49, Maryland 21