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Penn State-Iowa preview: Now the Big Ten grind really starts

The Nittany Lions embark on a series of three straight games against ranked opponents on Saturday against the Hawkeyes. They can't afford mistakes.

Trace McSorley against Iowa last season.
Trace McSorley against Iowa last season.Read moreJEFF ROBERSON / AP

The game was almost a month ago, but people still wonder if Penn State has completely recovered from its crushing one-point loss to Ohio State. The Nittany Lions returned after a bye with an uninspired performance in a loss to Michigan State, followed by a win at Indiana that was too close for comfort.

The 17th-ranked Lions no longer can dwell on what might have been. Saturday's game against No. 18 Iowa begins a killer three-game stretch that includes No. 5 Michigan on the road and 20th-ranked Wisconsin at home.

The Hawkeyes last week mirrored the old-school football that 20-year veteran coach Kirk Ferentz teaches. They held Maryland to 115 total yards in a 23-0 victory and possessed the football for almost 41 minutes. They are in the top five in the nation against the rush, and in points and total yards allowed.

Offensively, Iowa is not a juggernaut but it can keep the sticks moving with its rushing attack and the quarterbacking of Nate Stanley, who has thrown 16 touchdown passes.

The Nittany Lions added muffed catches on kickoffs and punts last week to their weekly routine of dropped passes and an inability to run time off the clock down the stretch. Their offensive line will have their hands full with Iowa's massive defensive front.

There really isn't much of an edge when you take everything into consideration but Penn State is at home: Nittany Lions 23, Hawkeyes 20.