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Sports writers Chad Leistikow and Danny Lawhon take a look ahead at Iowa's game against Northern Iowa Michael Zamora, mzamora@dmreg.com

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Last season, Noah Fant led all Football Bowl Subdivision tight ends with an average gain of 16.5 yards on his 30 catches.

Through two games this season, Fant’s longest catch has covered 11 yards.

That stat is representative of the lackluster start to 2018 for Iowa’s preseason all-American and projected first-round NFL Draft pick.

The Hawkeye junior with freak athleticism, wide-receiver speed and a 42-inch vertical jump has been grounded. He’s dropped passes and missed blocks and even rode the bench for much of the third quarter in Iowa’s 13-3 win against Iowa State.

Now would be a good time for Iowa and Fant to take off.

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The Hawkeyes are 20-point home favorites against Northern Iowa in Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. game, which will be televised by the Big Ten Network.

Fant has 41 yards on his seven receptions (a 5.9 average) this season.

Most probably figured he’d have at least 141 by now.

After the Northern Illinois game, Fant was openly frustrated with himself after dropping a potential 67-yard touchdown from quarterback Nate Stanley on the season’s third play. After the Iowa State game, he said he needed to help the team out more.

“If we see somebody having a hard time, we go and help him out,” said Stanley, one of Iowa’s permanent team captains. “That’s a part of being a team, and being a leader on the team. He’s doing a great job at fighting through the things that might not be going so well, and it’s the same for the whole offense.”

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Noah Fant on handling adversity, offense finding its footing late Dargan Southard, msouthard@gannett.com

Fant (6-foot-5, 241 pounds) is a major mismatch against Northern Iowa. None of the starters in the Panthers’ back seven is taller than 6-1.

He’s primed to break out.

Normally, I’d be concerned about an Iowa letdown after an emotional win. But I think the Hawkeyes — especially Fant — have a lot to prove this Saturday.

I’ve got Fant scoring two touchdowns, including a long one, and the Hawkeye offense getting untracked under the Kinnick Stadium lights. Don’t be surprised if the defense gets into the end zone, too, for the first time this season. And the Hawkeyes will be 3-0 entering the Sept. 22 showdown with sixth-ranked Wisconsin.

Prediction: Iowa 38, Northern Iowa 10

Speaking of needed bounce-backs … I reluctantly present Saturday’s batch of Big Ten Conference games after going a laughable 2-8 last week against the spread.

Kent State (1-1) at No. 10 Penn State (2-0)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., Fox Sports 1

Vegas line: Penn State by 35

Prediction: The Nittany Lions turned a shaky 7-6 late-second-quarter lead into a 51-6 rout at Pittsburgh last week. Impressive. Yet when you subtract sack yardage, they nearly gave up 300 yards rushing. Odd. It's still hard to know what to make of Penn State. With Big Ten play on deck, winning by more than five touchdowns seems like a tall ask. Penn State 42, Kent State 13

Rutgers (1-1) at Kansas (1-1)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., Fox Sports Midwest

Vegas line: Kansas by 3

Prediction: The Jayhawks just snapped a 46-game road losing streak by winning at Central Michigan. That’s good. But they also lost at home to Nichols State to open the season. That's bad. The Scarlet Knights won by double digits on the road against the Big Ten’s worst program (Illinois) last year; no reason they can’t do the same to the worst of the Big 12. Rutgers 24, Kansas 14

Ball State (1-1) at Indiana (2-0)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., Big Ten Network

Vegas line: Indiana by 14

Prediction: So far, Indiana’s season is working out beautifully. Two nice wins, including one last week against Virginia, are in the books. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey has been excellent and efficient. And now the Hoosiers catch Ball State the week after it expended a lot of fight in a 24-16 loss at Notre Dame. Indiana 30, Ball State 13

Temple (0-2) at Maryland (2-0)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., Big Ten Network

Vegas line: Maryland by 16

Prediction: It’s time to take notice of Maryland, which followed up a season-opening shocker of Texas by rushing for 444 yards against Bowling Green. That Oct. 20 game at Kinnick Stadium suddenly looks a lot tougher for Iowa. The Terrapins seem due for a letdown; but maybe they’re just better than anyone expected. Maryland 38, Temple 21

Troy (1-1) at Nebraska (0-1)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., Big Ten Network

Vegas line: Nebraska by 11½  

Prediction: Huskers coach Scott Frost said whether he plays talented freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez (knee) is a game-time decision. Nebraska needs Martinez healthy long-term, not necessarily this week. The Huskers had an impressive seven sacks despite a 33-28 season-opening loss to Colorado. Nebraska 34, Troy 21

BYU (1-1) at No. 6 Wisconsin (2-0)

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., ABC

Vegas line: Wisconsin by 22

Prediction: Brigham Young is already battle-tested — having split against a pair of Pac-12 opponents (beat Arizona; lost to California). There's also a revenge factor after the Cougars were routed by 34 by the Badgers last year in Provo. The Badgers should probably give running back Jonathan Taylor a lighter afternoon after he lugged the ball 33 times (for some reason) last week against New Mexico … and with Iowa on deck. Wisconsin 28, BYU 13

SMU (0-2) at No. 22 Michigan (1-1)

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Vegas line: Michigan by 35½

Prediction: Maybe that first half at Notre Dame was an anomaly. The Wolverines’ expected dominant defense hasn’t given up a touchdown since. Shea Patterson looks like the real deal at quarterback. This should be a mismatch in every area. The question is, will the Wolverines let off the gas with the Big Ten opener vs. Nebraska on deck? Michigan 42, SMU 9

Miami of Ohio (0-2) at Minnesota (2-0)

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Vegas line: Minnesota by 13

Prediction: It’s been a pretty good start to 2018 for P.J. Fleck. His freshman quarterback, Zach Annexstad, has managed the offense. His defense has been salty. And a solid home win against Fresno State is in the books. But the Gophers did lose top running back Rodney Smith for the season, which will leave a mark. Minnesota 24, Miami of Ohio 14

South Florida (2-0) vs. Illinois (2-0) in Chicago

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Vegas line: South Florida by 10

Prediction: Illinois coach Lovie Smith returns to Soldier Field, where he once led the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl. The Illini are suddenly dogged with injuries. Receiver Mike Dudek is again lost for the season with a knee injury; and quarterback A.J. Bush’s status is uncertain. Things could quickly spiral out of control against USF’s fast-paced attack. South Florida 35, Illinois 21

Missouri (2-0) at Purdue (0-2)

Time, TV: 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Vegas line: Missouri by 6

Prediction: This game was a pick ‘em to open the season. Now, the Boilermakers are staggered after a home loss to Eastern Michigan … in which they rushed for 341 yards and averaged 8.1 yards per carry. Missouri has a future pro prospect in Drew Lock at quarterback. But some better discipline can help Purdue gets the train on track; the Tigers have Georgia to worry about next week. Purdue 28, Missouri 27

Akron (1-0) at Northwestern (1-1)

Time, TV: 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Vegas line: Northwestern by 21½  

Prediction: The Wildcats had their typical September stinker, falling at home to Duke by two touchdowns last Saturday. Clayton Thorson (after ACL surgery) just doesn’t have the mobility he needs to make this an explosive Northwestern team. With a bye on deck to get Thorson's knee extra rest, maybe Pat Fitzgerald lets backup T.J. Green wing the ball around a little more at Ryan Field. Northwestern 27, Akron 10.

No. 4 Ohio State (2-0) vs. No. 14 TCU (2-0) in Arlington, Texas

Time, TV: 7 p.m., ABC

Vegas line: Ohio State by 12½  

Prediction: The Buckeyes’ third and final game without suspended coach Urban Meyer will be their most challenging. Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins is putting up video-game numbers and already a Heisman Trophy candidate. But TCU has an excellent coach in Gary Patterson and is 9-3 in its last 12 against the spread as an underdog. Ohio State 31, TCU 23

Leistikow's ledger

Last week: 2-8 against the spread (6-2 straight up)

Season: 5-13 ATS (12-6 SU)

2017 record: 53-41-1 ATS (73-23 SU)

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.

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