Iowa is no ‘fake ID’ but it still must rethink its non-conference scheduling philosophy

IowaFakeID

Colin Cowherd was wrong, right and desperate.

This isn’t an attempt to piggy-back on his continued trolling of one of the better programs in college football. He infamously dubbed Iowa “the fake ID of college football” during Iowa’s unbeaten regular season and hasn’t stopped patting himself on the back since then.

That argument was based on two claims. One was that Iowa didn’t have NFL talent.

I actually did my own research a month ago and found that Iowa produced more NFL talent in the last decade than Michigan. Cowherd’s mocking of Iowa after it had one player selected in the 2016 NFL draft didn’t tell the full story (sure-fire draft picks Jaleel Johnson and Desmond King returned to school and Drew Ott was hosed by the NCAA). You won’t hear that claim after Iowa has five players drafted next week.

What you will hear is Cowherd continue to rant about Iowa because of its non-conference scheduling. When the Hawkeyes announced that they rounded out the 2019 slate with Middle Tennessee, Cowherd took a rare break from his LeBron James/Russell Westbrook rants to talk about his old pal, Iowa.

Power Five teams add games with opponents like Middle Tennessee State every day. If any other team in the country made that announcement, Cowherd doesn’t look up from his “LeBron will be better than MJ” argument notes.

But it was Iowa. And as annoyingly as he makes it sound, Cowherd has an argument about Iowa’s non-conference scheduling.

The reality is, Iowa hasn’t scheduled a non-conference game against a traditional power since Kirk Ferentz got to Iowa City in 1999.

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Technically, Cowherd was wrong when he argued that Iowa hasn’t played a non-conference game against a top-10 team in 20 years. The Hawkeyes were pummeled by No. 5 Nebraska (then in the Big 12) in 1999, they got waxed by No. 9 Kansas State in the 2000 season opener and they were blown out by No. 1 Nebraska four weeks later.

Ferentz didn’t put those games on the schedule. They were played in his first two seasons on the job.

Perhaps Ferentz and Co. questioned what good those games were doing. After all, Iowa was a three-win program when Ferentz arrived. It’s not uncommon for schools struggling to meet bowl eligibility to schedule lightly in non-conference play. For the better part of the last 16 years, Iowa did that.

After 2001, here’s every non-conference Power Five foe Iowa scheduled:

  • Arizona
  • Arizona State
  • Iowa State
  • Pitt
  • Syracuse

That’s it. Only two of those 26 meetings in 16 years came against a ranked non-conference foe. Those teams averaged 5.3 wins per season. Is it Iowa’s fault that those non-conference opponents usually didn’t end up looking like top-25 teams? No, but the chances certainly increase against an Oklahoma or a USC.

By the look of it, Iowa isn’t in any hurry to add a future headliner (via FBSSchedules.com):

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 10.54.36 AM

That’s right. Iowa State is Iowa’s only Power Five non-conference opponent scheduled for the next eight seasons. With the new Power Five requirement (every B1G school must face at least one Power Five team in non-conference play), Iowa is within the guidelines.

But that’s still a problem. There’s something to be said for Iowa’s bowl losing streak, most of which were blowout losses. A team like Wisconsin, with comparable talent and coaching to Iowa, is on a three-game bowl winning streak. The Badgers opened those seasons with No. 13 LSU, No. 3 Alabama and No. 5 LSU.

RELATED: Projecting the B1G’s non-conference schedules from weakest to toughest

Cowherd’s misconception was that he interpreted Iowa’s Rose Bowl/College Football Playoff angst as a desire to be considered an Ohio State or a USC. In reality, Iowa fans want something like what Wisconsin has. Contrary to what Cowherd argued, Hawkeye fans are smart enough to know that their team had one double-digit win season in the last seven seasons while Wisconsin had five.

Perhaps Iowa’s recent bowl struggles are part of the reason that Ferentz and Iowa athletic director Gary Barta are reluctant to add a legitimate non-conference opponent. After all, Iowa has a nine-game conference schedule now with three crossovers against the vaunted B1G East.

Add in the annual Cy-Hawk game, and why should Iowa adjust its scheduling philosophy?

There are a few reasons.

IowaFakeID2

The obvious one is that Iowa State is not on Iowa’s level anymore. The Cyclones finished with a winning record once in the last 11 seasons. To chalk that up as a marquee non-conference game is misleading.

The Des Moines Register‘s Chad Leistikow brought up an interesting solution to the Iowa State problem. He suggested reducing the Cy-Hawk game to once every four years. That way, Iowa could keep the rivalry alive and make sure every player experiences it once while also having freedom to schedule new headliner home-and-home or neutral site series.

(Note: Iowa and Iowa State announced the rivalry would continue through 2023 after this story was published.)

You could theoretically play Oklahoma at Soldier Field one year and at Arrowhead Stadium the next. That’s essentially the deal Wisconsin and LSU agreed to. Ask any player in the Badger locker room if their team was better for having opened the season the way it did with three straight neutral site games against traditional powers.

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Though Iowa would get a nice boost from playing in a national market, they don’t have to be neutral site games. It might even benefit Iowa more if they weren’t. Can you imagine how electric Kinnick would be for a home opener against Texas? Who bets against Iowa if that game is at night? And for the road game against Texas, Ferentz’s staff could make a couple Friday night pitstops in their favorite recruiting hotbed state.

Those are obviously just hypothetical scenarios. But in the bigger picture, the positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to scheduling quality non-conference foes.

It’s not about appeasing some national radio host with a desire to spike his plummeting ratings. It’s about putting Iowa on a national stage and getting important people to ditch their preconceived notions about the program. That helps in recruiting and in the — dare I say — playoff picture.

The clock is ticking for Iowa to change its non-conference ways. If the Hawkeyes start calling up some of college football’s traditional powers, they won’t be treated like Cinderella anymore.

REFERENCES

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

COMMENTS

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  • Iowa and the other second tier teams in the B1G have a dilemma, when to up grade their out of conference schedule without destroying their chances of being bowl eligible. Indiana is like Iowa, they are now competing in tight games with all the teams in the East [IU hasn’t been able to beat them like Iowa has now and then], will they help or hurt their programs taking on big name teams and losing to them until their rosters improve. I want to see them improve their schedules as I think it benefits them and the conference. NW is in the same situation and they schedule top teams beating them now and then; I think it helps their recruiting.

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