Why Iowa is more likely to lose to Indiana than Iowa State, despite FPI, SP+ picks
Kirk Ferentz is in his 23rd year as the head coach at Iowa, so he knows what he and his team do well.
Starting strong isn’t often it, certainly not in the Big Ten.
Take last year: The Hawkeyes played Purdue and Northwestern close in their first 2 games, but came away winless. They never lost again.
“We’re typically a developmental team, and every day is really important to us, even in September,” Ferentz said at Big Ten Media Days.
He likes the cupcakes as much as he likes the oatmeal raisin cookie he said was the highlight of that July trip to Indy.
But even the “easy” teams can give him and the Hawks trouble in September or earlier:
- One-point wins over Northern Illinois in 2012 and Northern Iowa in 2009 — the latter needing 2 blocked kicks at the buzzer.
- A 3-point loss to those same Huskies a year later — at home.
- A2-point loss to North Dakota State in 2016.
- A 1-point loss to Central Michigan in 2012.
Now they get a Big Ten team again, one that spent a good chunk of time in the top 10 in 2020.
The Hawks have historically handled Indiana at home, averaging 42 points under Ferentz in their 6 wins, by an average of more than 18. However, Iowa has lost its conference openers against every team but Rutgers over the past 5 seasons. And the 2 years they started with wins against the Scarlet Knights? They promptly lost their second Big Ten game.
It’s clear why Ferentz’s “perfect world” does not include opening with a Big Ten game.
Despite that, Iowa is projected to beat Indiana in FPI (61.1%) and SP+ (67%).
Win or lose, Indiana will serve as a great tune-up for Iowa State, another team with quality time in last year’s top 10. Despite never winning 10 games in school history, the Cyclones are a popular pick to be a playoff team.
FPI has Iowa’s chance to win at 25.1% and SP+ says 37% — a “relative toss-up” that’s most likely a loss, even if no Hawkeyes losses are officially considered likely this year by SP+ standards.
So why do I think Iowa State is a more likely win for Iowa?
Thanks for asking. Since a 5-game skid against the Cyclones that spanned the Fry-to-Ferentz transition, the Hawkeyes are 12-5 against Iowa State.
Iowa has not lost in Ames in regulation since 2007. Of course, when you add a qualifier to a stat like that, there’s a reason. In addition to the close-and-high-scoring 3OT loss I’m omitting in the last sentence, there have been close-and-low losses (9-6 in 2012 in Iowa City) and close-and-long wins (18-17 with two rain delays in 2019 in Ames).
Ten of those 22 have been decided by 10 points or less. There’s one by 12, too (17-5 — close-and-weird is also a thing in this Cy-Hawk series). More often than not, tight games play into the Hawkeyes’ hands when teams are evenly matched. Matt Campbell has never beaten Iowa.
The gap in the rivalry has gotten closer since Ferentz took over — style points aren’t his specialty — but the Hawkeyes find a way to win more often than not — not to mention they are sitting on a 5-game winning streak.
Cyclones fans often say if the game was played later in the season, it would be a different story. It seems they think their team starts slow, too. Maybe, but the truth is there’s usually never a better time to catch Iowa than early.
College GameDay came to Ames the last time these teams met. The hype will only be higher if it happens again.
But the Hawks will have to beat the Hoosiers first — along with some of their own early-season “developmental” demons.