Penn State football vs. Indiana, team entrance

Head Coach James Franklin and the Penn State football team enter onto the field before the Stripe Out game against Indiana at Beaver Stadium, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. The Nittany Lions shutout the Hoosiers 24-0.

A trip to Iowa City is looming for Penn State, as the No. 4 Nittany Lions will square off with the No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday.

It’s the first top-five matchup in the Big Ten since 1997 that has not included Ohio State, and it could be a preview of this year’s Big Ten Championship or even a College Football Playoff game.

Here’s how our staff sees this one playing out.

Alexis Yoder: Penn State 21, Iowa 17

A battle of unbeatens will take place on Saturday inside Kinnick Stadium when No. 4 Penn State clashes with No. 3 Iowa.

The Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions boast the first and second highest-scoring defenses, respectively, in the conference.

Expect both defensive units to be firing on all cylinders as they have been so far in 2021, making Saturday’s contest a low-scoring affair.

The outcome will depend on which offense can click fastest and most consistently, as points will be hard to come by against two of the nation’s top defenses.

However, Penn State produced more in both pass and run games through its first five matchups compared to the Hawkeyes.

The Nittany Lions hold the edge on the offensive side of the ball, which will be the difference maker come Saturday.

Justin Morganstein: Penn State 17, Iowa 13

Penn State faces its toughest challenge to date this weekend, as it travels to Kinnick Stadium to take on No. 3 Iowa.

The Hawkeye defense has been the big story for Kirk Ferentz’s team so far, as their 16 turnovers lead the nation through five weeks.

They come in just as hot as the Nittany Lions with a big road win against previously undefeated Maryland last week.

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The Penn State defense will need to continue its dominant stretch to start the year, as it could face some short-field situations courtesy of Hawkeye turnovers.

But if Sean Clifford can continue to protect the football and the offense is able to run the ball efficiently enough, the Nittany Lions should be able to score enough to pull out a win in Iowa City.

It’s tight the whole way, but James Franklin once again finds a way to win at Kinnick.

Max Ralph: Penn State 20, Iowa 17

I don’t like having a consensus pick in as tight of a matchup as this one should be, but my gut is really telling me to go Penn State’s way.

This game is the coin flip of all coin flips in my opinion. Both teams have blistering defenses paired with offenses that have shown flashes but maybe aren’t quite there yet.

Iowa’s 16 total turnovers, backed by a 7-turnover performance this past weekend, is the staggering number that jumps out on paper.

However, Penn State and Sean Clifford have done a very solid job of limiting turnover this season, which is something they heavily struggled with last year. I don’t think Clifford escapes Iowa unsacthed, but I think he’ll protect the ball well enough to not let this one get out of hand, unlike Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa.

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The Hawkeye offense has been dominant with short fields thanks to turnovers, but when it has to go longer distances, it struggles a bit more. Jordan Stout has done a phenomenal job of flipping the field this season even when the offense struggles.

Lastly, I think I’ve doubted the Penn State defense too much this year, and I’ve learned my lesson. I predicted a barnburner at Wisconsin and 17 points out of the Indiana Hoosiers. The Nittany Lions put their stamp on both of those performances.

I don’t want to count Iowa out by any means. If you ask me later in the week, I might flip my prediction to the Hawkeyes.

Both teams do a lot of the same things at very high levels, and it’s going to be a boxing match on Saturday in Iowa City.

At the end of the day, I think Penn State’s offense has the edge in terms of explosiveness, pushing it barely past the No. 3 Hawkeyes.

Seth Engle: Penn State 20, Iowa 17 (OT)

Like three of the last four matchups between the two schools, Penn State and Iowa will be decided by less than a touchdown on Saturday.

For both programs, defense has been the major contributor to close matchups in the past, and it should remain that way when the two teams face off this weekend.

Penn State’s defense currently sits at No. 3 in the nation in points allowed per game at 12, while Iowa holds the No. 2 spot at 11.6.

The Nittany Lions are ranked fourth in the AP Poll, the Hawkeyes are No. 3.

According to Vegas and what the stat sheet might suggest, Iowa seems just one step ahead of the blue and white.

It’s clear that both teams, currently the top-ranked programs in the Big Ten, have the ability to establish a road to the College Football Playoff.

What’s unclear is which team deserves it more.

Penn State has won nine straight dating back to last season, while Iowa has won ten. Both teams have faced ranked opponents in 2021, but only one — Auburn — remains in the top 25.

The Nittany Lions are no stranger to big-time games and moments, with many of their current players having already played in the rambunctious Kinnick Stadium before.

Iowa City is nearly always a battleground between these two schools, but Penn State’s experience across the board should propel the blue and white to close victory, potentially past regulation.

Let the trial by combat commence.

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