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Longtime nemesis Iowa stands between Michigan and Big Ten title, College Football Playoff

Wolverines clinch conference title with win

Cade McNamara #12 of the Michigan Wolverines looks up before the snap in the third quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Stadium on November 27, 2021 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Mike Mulholland, 2021 Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich.Michigan football has overcome so many demons to get to the Big Ten championship game.

The Wolverines won on the road at Wisconsin and Penn State. They survived games after blowing late leads. Most importantly, they found a way to beat Ohio State.

Now, there’s just one more obstacle between Michigan and a Big Ten championship. Of course, it has to be Iowa.

Pesky Hawkeyes

The Wolverines lead the all-time series against Iowa 42-15-4, but since Kirk Ferentz took over as head coach of the Hawkeyes, they’ve been an absolute pest in situations like this.

Iowa has won five of seven games against Michigan since Lloyd Carr retired, and seven out of 13 under Ferentz (since 1999). But it’s not the record that haunts Michigan fans, but the circumstances under which those wins came.

READ: Every possible playoff matchup, bowl game, opponent for Michigan heading into champ week

The most recent and obvious example is 2016 -- ironically, the last time Michigan was ranked No. 2 in the College Football Playoff poll. Michigan (9-0) went into Iowa City as a double-digit favorite but managed just 201 yards of total offense.

Michigan lost the game 14-13, and that ultimately kept the Wolverines out of the playoff.

A few years earlier, in 2011, Michigan (7-1) visited Iowa as the No. 15 team in the country. The Wolverines again struggled offensively, scoring just 16 points and suffering their second loss, which put an end to their Big Ten title hopes. That Michigan team won out and finished 11-2.

There are countless other examples of Iowa playing spoiler to Big Ten contenders. So it feels only fitting that as Michigan tries to clinch a conference title and playoff appearance, Iowa stands in the way. It’s like one last Big Ten rite of passage.

Matchup

One major factor working in Michigan’s favor: The game is in Indianapolis, not Iowa City. The Wolverines have won four of their last five home games against Iowa, while losing each of the last four at Kinnick Stadium. The road team hasn’t had much success in this matchup.

Well, this time there is no road team, so that might even the playing field. Iowa is a stout defensive team that cashes in on opportunities. Turnovers and special teams miscues will translate into points for an Iowa offense that isn’t exactly built to sustain long, methodical drives.

Aidan Hutchinson #97 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates a sack against the Ohio State Buckeyes with teammates during the first quarter at Michigan Stadium on November 27, 2021 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (2021 Getty Images)

If Michigan can stay within itself and avoid debilitating mistakes, the defense should be in a good position.

Iowa isn’t getting much national attention despite having 10 wins and being ranked No. 13 in the CFP poll. This is absolutely a team that could beat Michigan and foil another potentially special season.

Spencer Petras, Iowa’s starting quarterback, completes just 58.1% of his passes for 6.5 yards per attempt. He’s thrown nine touchdown passes and six interceptions this year.

Iowa’s leading receiver is tight end Sam LaPorta, who has caught 40 passes for 486 yards and two touchdowns in 2021. The team’s most dangerous offensive weapon is running back Tyler Goodson, who has 1,101 rushing yards and seven total scores.

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Kicker Caleb Shudak could be an X-factor on Saturday. He’s cashed in on 22 of 25 field goal attempts this season, including four from at least 50 yards. Shudak and Jake Moody could put on a show in the domed Lucas Oil Stadium.

The true storyline for Saturday’s game is a clash between top-15 defenses -- each in terms of points allowed, yards allowed and yards per play.

Iowa allows under 3 yards per rush this season (No. 8 nationally), while Michigan averages 5.25 yards per carry (T-16th nationally).

It’s probably going to be a close, low-scoring game, and that means every play, every mistake is magnified. Michigan only had one mistake-prone game this season, and the Wolverines went home from it with a loss.

What’s at stake?

Everything. All the work Jim Harbaugh’s team has put in culminated in this opportunity, and Michigan has a chance to do something special.

The programs’s first Big Ten title since 2004. The first College Football Playoff appearance in school history. A legitimate chance at a national championship.

Even coming off an emotional win over Ohio State, the Wolverines have to be laser focused, because so much is on the line. If Michigan can leave Indianapolis with a win, this will go down as one of the greatest teams in school history.


About the Author:

Derick is a Senior Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.