Each week during the season the Hawkeye Headquarters staff will predict the outcome of the Iowa football game.

Blake Hornstein (6-4): Close your eyes for a moment. It’s August, we’re all making our predictions for the Hawkeyes season. Most of us thought Cade McNamara, Erick All, Luke Lachey and Kaleb Johnson would spearhead this offense from the basement of college football to at least ground level.

Maybe some of us were still pessimistic because no matter who lined up on the field, Brian Ferentz would ruin the product. Or that the defense wouldn’t be as good, or that the other flashy coaching changes in the West would bypass Kirk Ferentz’s 1980s-esque approach.

But I can tell you one thing that all of those people would’ve agreed on: Every Hawkeyes fan would be satisfied with a trip back to Indianapolis and a second Big Ten West championship in the last three years.

However, as often the case — the universe has a sense of humor. McNamara, Lachey and All are all on the shelf for the season. Kaleb Johnson hasn’t taken a sophomore leap. The offense hasn’t gotten any better — in fact it’s actually worse.

But, the defense is once again outstanding. The punting is great. Iowa’s won eight football games and the goal that you all considered the standard is here for the taking.

However, this year has been anything but easy. With two games to play and only one win needed to claim the division, an Illinois team that has surged late in the season presents a unique challenge.

Losing Cooper DeJean hurts big time, and Iowa fans are well aware of what the product on the field looks like without him.

Gut feeling — this team has earned the right to go to Indy. But we’ll have to wait another week.

Prediction: Illinois 17, Iowa 7

Ryan Jaster (8-2): It’s only fitting that Iowa and Illinois play for the last time in years the same week the Bison Bridge seemingly died.

The only hurdle greater than bringing a national park to the Iowa-Illinois border would be getting another trophy added to the Hawkeyes’ schedule, but that didn’t stop me from advocating for the Bison Bridge Trophy.

What could have been a yearly border battle yields to Minnesota (righteous), Wisconsin (acceptable) and Nebraska (ridiculous) in the protected rivalries of the new Big Ten.

The Hawkeyes lead the Gophers 44-43-2 and Huskers 8-4 in trophy games, but trail the Badgers 10-8.

Illinois is a worthy rival that rarely gets its due – in football, anyway – leading Iowa 39-37-2 in the overall series. In last week’s edition of good trivia, I shared that Rutgers had never won against Iowa. I’ve now covered both Knights-Hawkeyes games in Kinnick Stadium and Rutgers still hasn’t even *scored* there. This week’s trivial tidbit: Illinois hasn’t won in Iowa since 1999. That’s all the way back in the 20th century on the sacred timeline… and it was also Kirk Ferentz’s first season as head coach.

There’s an alternate-universe future of the Quad Cities where “Space-launch debris rains down on first football game played on bridge preserving herd of bison” is a headline nationally and on Hawkeye Headquarters. But some people have no vision.

Someone who does once said, “It’s impossible. But don’t let that stop you.”

Such is the mission the Hawkeyes face. If you picked 10 players at the beginning of the season that Iowa couldn’t afford to lose, Cade McNamara, Luke Lachey, Erick All, Noah Shannon and Cooper DeJean probably would have made most lists. And they’re all gone. 

Win the Big Ten West under those circumstances? Sounds impossible. But the Hawkeyes aren’t letting that stop them — they’re 8-2.

Beat Illinois and they’re in. That’s easier said than done, as everyone saw last season in a 9-6 loss. The Hawkeyes were just a replay reversal away from stealing a win from the jaws of defeat. That sounds familiar.

It was one of only two three-point losses to Illinois in the past 20 years. Iowa is 13-2 in that span, which includes a five-year break from 2009-2013. And, support it or not, these Hawkeyes are the No. 16 team in the country.

The Totally Irrelevant Prediction doesn’t think the Illini can beat them, calling for a 19-11 Hawkeyes win that features a safety and a 5-0 halftime lead. Five is also the Hawkologist’s prognosis on the 6-point pain index. Because nothing is easy the rest of the way, but that doesn’t mean Iowa’s going to stop.

Here’s a look at what others from near and far expect, starting with the weather from Our Quad Cities Weather’s Tyler Ryan:

David Eickholt: This game is a coin flip, but so has almost every other Iowa game this season with all of the injuries. The Hawkeyes will need to throw the ball and get Kaleb Brown involved in the passing game to stretch out the defenses. I’m fully anticipating Bret Bielema to stack the box against Iowa and force Deacon Hill to beat them through the air. 

The Hawkeyes will also have to rally around Cooper DeJean’s injury. I’ll be interested to see how many times Deshaun Lee matches up against Isaiah Williams, who has been one of the best receivers in the conference this season. 

Phil Parker’s defensive line will have to generate pressure on Luke Altmyer and force him to make some bad decisions and get that early momentum. 

If Iowa can’t slow down Williams or get pressure on Altmyer, it could be a frustrating day for the Hawkeye defense. There haven’t been many of those. I’m keeping a close eye on linebacker Nick Jackson being a bit more aggressive on the blitzes in this one. 

With it being Iowa’s senior day and having the special teams advantage, specifically at punter, I’m going to give Kirk Ferentz and his group the slight edge. 

Iowa 16, Illinois 13

CBS Sports
Dennis Dodd: Iowa
Tom Fornelli: Illinois
Chip Patterson: Iowa
Barrett Sallee: Iowa
Shehan Jeyarajah: Iowa
David Cobb: Iowa
Jerry Palm: Iowa

Bill Connelly: Iowa 25, Illinois 12

Athlon Sports
Steven Lassan: Iowa
Joe Vitale: Iowa
Luke Easterling: Iowa

Bleacher Report
David Kenyon: 
Iowa 14, Illinois 9

USA Today
Scooby Axson:
Jace Evans: Iowa
Paul Myerberg: Iowa
Erick Smith: Iowa
Eddie Timanus: Iowa
Dan Wolken: Iowa

For more Hawkeyes football coverage, follow @BlakeHornTV and @HawkeyeHQ on Twitter and FacebookYou can find Hawkeye Headquarters at HawkeyeHQ.com all season.

Iowa players take the field prior to kickoff against Rutgers in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Bryon Houlgrave)