Offense? What Offense? Low-Scoring Iowa Keeps Defying the Odds

Illinois vs Iowa CFB Prediction: Hawkeyes Slight Home Favorites

Looking to maintain their pursuit of a spot in the Big Ten Championship game, the Iowa Hawkeyes square off Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET) against Illinois.

Iowa, 16th in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, is a 3-point favorite (-115) and -155 on the moneyline. Meanwhile, the Fighting Illini are +3 (-105) on the spread and +135 to win outright. The projected total is 30.5 (-110 Over, -110 Under), the lowest of any college football game in Week 12.

Can the Hawkeyes take care of business at home? Read on as we break down the odds and give our Illinois vs Iowa CFB prediction.

Fighting Illini logo Illinois Fighting Illini vs Iowa Hawkeyes Hawkeyes logo

Day/Time: Location: Kinnick Stadium; Iowa City, Iowa
Streaming: FS1

Illinois vs Iowa Betting Trends

The Illinois Fighting Illini are just 2-8 against the spread. Their 20% cover rate is tied with Mississippi State for second lowest in FBS. The total has gone Over in four of Illinois’ last six games. Meanwhile, the Iowa Hawkeyes are 5-4-1 ATS. The total has gone Under in the Hawkeyes’ last five games and eight of 10 overall. That’s important to remember when assessing our Illinois vs Iowa CFB prediction.

Setting a Low Bar

How low can they go? When it comes to Iowa, anything’s possible.

The total for last Saturday’s matchup with Rutgers opened at 30 but dropped to 27.5, the lowest for any college football game since at least 2000. Despite, that the Hawkeyes still — yes, still — managed to hit the Under for the fifth straight time, shutting out the Scarlet Knights 22-0. This season, Iowa games have hit the Over just twice: Western Michigan (41-0) and Michigan State (26-16).

Despite their woefully inefficient offense, the Hawkeyes still have plenty to accomplish. Sitting atop the Big Ten West at 8-2 (5-2 conference), the Hawkeyes control their path to the Big Ten Championship game. If they win out, they’ll play either Michigan or Ohio State in Indianapolis with — in the Hawkeyes’ case — a New Year’s Six bowl on the line. It’s why they still have faint hopes at +1800. That said, they’re no longer even on the board for the college football championship in some sportsbooks.

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The Hawkeyes, winners of two straight and five of their last six, continue to ride their defense. On that side of the ball, they rank third in FBS in scoring (12.3 PPG allowed) and eighth overall. They’ve held three of their last four opponents to under 10 points. Outside of Penn State, which smacked them 31-0, nobody’s scored more than 16.

Projected for 7.5 wins, the Hawkeyes have already surpassed expectations. At the very least, they’re headed to a bowl for the third straight season under Kirk Ferentz. Each time they’ve won at least eight games.

Unfortunately, their offense continues to hold them back. The Hawkeyes rank dead last nationally (130th), averaging just 243 yards per game. Within the Big Ten, only Michigan State has scored fewer points. Keep that in mind when analyzing our Illinois vs Iowa CFB prediction.

Turning Back to Altmyer

Quarterback Luke Altmyer is expected to return for Illinois after sustaining a concussion Nov. 4 against Minnesota. John Paddock, a transfer from Ball State, set a Memorial Stadium record last week after passing for 507 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-45 overtime victory over Indiana. A 4.5-point favorite, Illinois needed to overcome a 15-point deficit in the first half to get back to .500.

Paddock, who also led the Fighting Illini from behind the previous week versus Minnesota, will now return to the bench. Altmyer, a transfer from Ole Miss, has 1,883 passing yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his first season with the Fighting Illini. While turnovers have been an issue, Altmyer has just three interceptions over his last six games.

At 5-5 (3-4), the Fighting Illini are seeking their first three-game winning streak since they won six in a row last season. While they need to win out to surpass expectations (projected 6.5 wins), the Fighting Illini are just one win from bowl eligibility. Notably, Illinois hasn’t been to back-to-back bowls since 2010-11 under Ron Zook. Because they’re still technically alive in the Big Ten West, Illinois is a +25000 longshot to win the conference per NCAAF odds.

On the heels of their highest output of the season, the Fighting Illini are averaging 23.8 points.

Handicapping the Game

Rather than stick with the hot hand in Paddock, Illinois head coach Bret Bielema is choosing to turn back to his Week 1 starter. It’s a curious move, as Altmyer hasn’t shown much upside despite being the supposed quarterback of the future for Illinois. But this way, Bielema has a veteran insurance policy in Paddock if things go awry offensively.

Whatever the case, Illinois is in a tough spot on the road. Iowa’s 5-1 at Kinnick Stadium, with its only loss coming Oct. 21 to Minnesota. If you’re skeptical of Iowa’s ability to cover by more than a field goal — for what it’s worth, the Hawkeyes are 5-4-1 ATS — consider betting the Under. The total (30.5) doesn’t seem like much, and it isn’t, but Iowa hasn’t shown an ability to score with any consistency. Ferentz’s team is always finding itself in rock fights. This week might not be any different.

For NCAAF picks and parlays, betting analysis, and more, visit Point Spreads Sports Magazine.

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