Sports wagering analyst and ESPN College GameDay producer Chris “The Bear” Fallica has arrived for the biggest Cy-Hawk game in the rivalry’s history.
And, in less than 24 hours, tens of thousands of college football fans are going to join him as No. 9 Iowa State hosts No. 10 Iowa.
Iowa bettors watch The Bear for analysis and odds segments throughout ESPN’s popular on-campus college football preview show. ESPN College GameDay airs 8-11 a.m. Saturday from Reiman Plaza near Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. The game itself kicks off at 3:36 p.m. Saturday on ABC. The game also can be streamed on ESPN3.
PlayIA had a chance to talk Fallica, aka, The Bear, by phone as he arrived Thursday night for the Cy-Hawk game.
Q&A with The Bear highlights:
- The Bear likes the Iowa State Cyclones to both win at and cover the point spread.
- He thinks oddsmakers haven’t caught up to better defenses in college football. He suggests the Cy-Hawk under at .
- Rose Bowl for the Iowa Hawkeyes? College Football Playoff for the Cyclones? The Bear explores the upsides.
More on Monday:
PlayIA looks at how The Bear’s picks held up. He takes us through his game-prediction process, and talks about life on the road with College GameDay.
Editor’s note: Answers were lightly edited where needed for clarity.
PlayIA: Bear, we did see on ESPN.com that you like the Cyclones to win and cover against Iowa. Could you take us through your thoughts about the matchup?
The Bear: I think there was a lot of overreaction to last week and how poor Iowa State played and how good the Iowa defense was in the opener. I think it’s dangerous to make assumptions off of one game. You look at the circumstances of both teams.
Iowa State had had an FCS opponent (Northern Iowa) with this big game looming in the background. And people who follow Iowa State would know that they have struggled in season openers against the lesser competition for a few years running now. At least they did get by and won.
And, on the flip, you’ve got Iowa, who was playing a Big Ten Conference game against a team who had a great season last year when the quarterback wasn’t banged up. (Indiana starting QB Michael Penix Jr. tore the ACL in his right knee back in November.)
Defensively (Iowa) played great, but it’s just hard to imagine Iowa getting two pick-sixes again to really help their offense. For Iowa to win the game, (quarterback) Spencer Petras is going to have to play a heck of a lot better than he did in the opener. I think 13-of-27 for 145 yards isn’t going to cut it Saturday.
I just think what (Iowa State coach Matt) Campbell and (defensive coordinator Jon) Heacock have done with that defense … they’ve allowed just 16 points in the second half over the last six games. I think, at some point, they’re going to win one of these games. It just feels like this is the year that they’re finally going to break through and get that win.
PlayIA: You touched on defense a little bit. The over/under at Caesars is 46. That’s lower than most totals this weekend. Bear, do you expect a higher-scoring game?
The Bear: No, this feels more like an under.
Iowa’s defense is going to play well. It’s not like (Iowa State quarterback) Brock Purdy and that offense is going to go out and throw the ball all over the field against a really good secondary like the Hawkeyes have.
But, at the same time, I think one of the season themes we’ve seen so far is: Defenses are kind of emerging and under is kind of the way to go. I forget the number off the top of my head, but I think last week — in games that had at least one FBS team — the under was like 33-10, or something like that.
I think there are a lot of reasons for that. Last year, so many of these defenses couldn’t hit in practice. And, the schedule was so off. There were no fans and no crowd noise in the stands to really help them make it more difficult for opposing quarterbacks to check off at the line of scrimmage.
We probably have another week or two of that available to us before these Vegas numbers start adjusting — with the over/under coming down more. But under does feel right. I can see this being like a 23-13 type of game or 27-17 — something in that realm.
PlayIA: Talking about college football playoff odds and season win totals, what is Iowa’s realistic ceiling based on their roster and schedule?
The Bear: I think it’s certainly the Big Ten Championship game. That was something I felt before the season started.
But, at the same time, I thought Wisconsin was more apt to have a bounce-back season and get there. I don’t want to jump to a conclusion in Week 1. But, I did see a lot of the same problems Wisconsin had last year carry over this year’s opener (vs. Penn State). There’s something about (Badgers quarterback) Graham Mertz where it seems like there’s like a disconnect there.
And I’m not so sure that Iowa isn’t the best team in the Big Ten West. I mean, you’re literally talking about a team last year that very easily could have been undefeated. The two games they lost were certainly games that they had every single chance in the world to win. And, to finish the year the way they did was great.
I think that defense is always going to keep them in games. Their offensive line is always going to give them an opportunity to run the ball, control the clock and play the style of games that coach (Kirk) Ferentz likes. The way that program has been built is one wave of upperclassmen leave, the next ones in the pipeline take over and they just continue on.
I certainly think Iowa is definitely in the mix for the Big Ten West. There’s certainly a chance to reach the Big Ten championship. And if you do that, you probably — at worst — have a spot in the Rose Bowl.
PlayIA: Same question about Iowa State, Bear: What is their realistic ceiling based on the roster and schedule?
The Bear: Their ceiling is Big 12 champions. And, depending on what happens nationally, maybe a spot in the College Football Playoff.
I think people are a year behind on Iowa State. If they are to reach their goals, they have to win Saturday. Iowa State would probably have to beat Oklahoma twice (to still have a shot at the College Football Playoff) if they were to lose on Saturday. The Cyclones would have to beat the Sooners in the regular season and then they’d have to beat them again (in the Big 12 Championship game).
I think if the Cyclones were going to lose in the regular season and then win the Big 12 with losses (to Iowa and at Oklahoma) — that’ll be interesting to see. The College Football Playoff committee really hasn’t shown an affinity to put two-loss teams in — even though there have been instances where teams like Penn State, Stanford and Georgia have had two losses and had an opportunity to get in.
But I think it’s all there for Iowa State. I think they are a legitimate contender in the Big 12. And I think they have an excellent chance to get back to the Big 12 Championship game and win it this time.
I think the 2021 season started right after the Fiesta Bowl last year, with everyone on the team essentially deciding to come back and Matt Campbell staying and turning away offers to leave. Everything that is building for this year started then. I think they have a special group and I think they have a great chance to win this league and make it into — if not the New Year’s Six again — maybe get that good spot in the playoffs.
PlayIA: So if Iowans are thinking big, who still has the best shot to still reach the College Football Playoff with a loss?
The Bear: I would say both?
Ohio State is such a big favorite in the Big Ten. Iowa will kind of be up against it to beat the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship game. But if they lose this game (in Ames), it certainly doesn’t affect their ability to get to the Big 10 Championship game.
If they were to work through their schedule, win the Big Ten championship, beat Ohio State and finish 12-1, there’s a really good chance they’re going to be in.
And the same thing goes for Iowa State. If they were to lose this game, you’re going to have two shots at Oklahoma.
I guess now that I’m talking it out with you, for the loser of this game, I think Iowa has a better chance of winning out than Iowa State would. That’s just because Iowa State would have to beat Oklahoma twice in order to get to the playoff.