Madison might not sound like an ideal vacation resort for most people. But for Iowa, it's proven itself a splendid little place for a weekend getaway. In 2003 & 2005 the Hawkeyes came here in November. In '03, both teams were playing for an Outback Bowl bid. Iowa knocked Jim Sorgi out of the game, rallied from a double-digit deficit and then held off a last-ditch UW drive in the end zone. In '05, it was the final home game for Barry Alvarez. After a shaky first half, Iowa asserted itself on the ground and whipped the Badgers into submission for another road win. In between, they welcomed Wisconsin to their house in '04 and merely denied Alvarez a fourth Rose Bowl bid in the season finale. While UW got the monkey partially off their backs last year with a win in Iowa City, they need to defend their home turf on Saturday night with ESPN's prime-time lights on.
The key issue in this game is going to be what happens when the Hawkeye offense is on the field. Wisconsin's defense has taken a half to get going throughout the non-conference schedule, but there has been little evidence forthcoming that Jake Christiansen and the Iowa attack can take advantage of this. The more competent battle will take place when UW has the ball. The Hawkeye defense is virtually airtight, not even surrendering a touchdown in last week's shocking loss. But Wisconsin has weapons on offense, and P.J. Hill will look to establish himself as an early conference MVP candidate. A big question will be whether this is a game when the loss of explosive receiver Paul Hubbard and the sparse number of career starts by Tyler Donovan will come back and haunt the Badgers.
Iowa-Wisconsin is the emerging rivalry in this conference, given the closeness of the programs on a competitive level, as well as the numerous ties and friendships among the coaching staffs, notably the close relationship between Barry Alvarez and Kirk Ferentz. On Saturday night, Iowa desperately needs to rebound. Wisconsin needs to re-establish its turf and keep its national hopes alive.
Ohio State will not be tested this week, as they play Northwestern. Around The Oval has a look at linebacker James Laurinaitis, who joins Penn State's Dan Connor in the race for best linebacker in the Big Ten.