Ferentz, Fry, Cupcakes, Data, and Anecdotal Evidence

I've noticed a rather odd meme developing on here lately, that Ferentz coached teams don't blow out their opponents.    Namely, that FCS and non-BCS schools don't get the whoopin' they deserve at the hands of the Hawkeyes.  Some of you even think that this is part of some plan to force the Hawkeyes to win close games early on so they can win close games with more on the line.  I know that  the victories over UNI and Arkansas State were too close for comfort, and that for all the W's that the 2009 Hawkeyes garnered, precious few were by large margins (lookin' at you ISU).

More on the possible origins of this notion and some evidence after the jump.

To me this seems like a lot of hand wringing over a few outliers and rooted in three different causes. The first is the tried and true "what have you done for me lately" (ooooh ooh ooh yeah).  This manifests itself in the argument that the 2009 Hawkeyes didn't sit the starters in the 4th quarter against Arkansas State or UNI, so Ferentz doesn't blow out the lesser teams on the schedule.  Following this train of thought to it's most swaggerless conclusion: the new Hawkeyes only win ugly, close games and you can never expect a blowout against inferior teams.  Keep an AED close at hand because the Heart Attack Hawkeyes are on the field. 

The second possible cause is that a compelling anecdote will trump the results of multiple events and analysis of that large(r) sample size.  This is obvious in that "P" field of which we do not speak on BHGP, and it is not limited to one ideology or party.  Cable news may be blamed for driving this, but it's been going on for longer than CNN has been in existence.  While this is a very compelling example of close calls against FCS teams under Ferentz,  this (longish clip) is an example of what we all expect to happen against FCS teams and proof that he'll keep scoring if he can. 

The third root of the Ferentz nailbiter meme is nostalgia for aviator sunglasses and form-fitting white polyester pants.  This argument goes something like this:  Fry always beat his I-AA opponents by 50 or more points and Ferentz can't or won't keep the pedal to the metal.  Yes, Fry was a gambler and would run trick plays up by a gazillion points.  That isn't Ferentz, it isn't going to be Ferentz, and if you insist that the Hawks need to be that way, well, love it or leave it Iowa #1.  This somehow contradicts cause number one, but humans are complicated animals with often contradictory thoughts.  I don't pretend to know how to reconcile these, odds are neither do you.

Since I'm rather bored tonight, I decided to go back and look at margin of victory against the supposed cupcakes that have fallen prey to (or dared to beat) the Hawkeyes since Fry started back in 1979.  I excluded all conference opponents, DI/FBS opponents, and bowl games (no 55-0 in this analysis).  Don't worry, no advanced statistics like we dealth with a few days ago, I'm just not THAT motivated tonight.

First up, overall record.   Ferentz (4-0) and Fry (3-0) are both perfect in the W column against FCS/I-AA teams.  w00t.  Ferentz (13-2, .867) has a slightly better winning percentage against "non-AQ" schools than Fry (11-2, .846).  So at least we can all agree that they both beat the teams they should beat when those teams are from FCS/I-AA or MAC-level conferences.  Ferentz has yet to beat Western Meeecheeegan in two tries and Fry lost to Hawaii and Tulsa.

What about how convincingly they beat their lower division opponents and MACrificial Lambs?  This is where the heart of the argument lies, and I think some descriptive statistics will suffice here.  Fry owns the larger single margins of victory over both I-AA and MAC-level opponents.  The 1995 Hawkeyes beat UNI by 66 and  the 1986 team beat UTEP by 62.  Ferentz's largest margins are 43 against Maine in 2008 (being nice to his former employer?) and 56 against Ball State in 2005 (who suspended the whole team the week before the game for a textbook scandal or something like that).  But those are really just anecdotes, and I think you should know how I feel about drawing conclusions from samples of N=1. 

How about the average margin of victory?  My hypothesis here was that this Ferentz lacks a killer instinct thing would be put to rest.  Kind of.  Ferentz's average FCS margin of victory is 25.5 (std dev of 18.4) while Fry's was 48.3 (std dev of 24.0)  So Fry beat the FCS teams by a larger margin than Ferentz, but there was more variation in his margin than there was in Ferentz's.  And only one of the FCS teams on Fry's schedule even has football any more (Bonus points for telling me who Iowa shellacked by 58 in 1985 without cheating).  When it comes to FCS/I-AA opponents, advantage Fry.  [Dealing with such small samples isn't really moving us too far beyond anecdotes, but this should show that Ferentz will beat up on FCS teams if given the opportunity.  If you exclude UNI 2009, the gap between the two coaches shrinks.]

Moving on to MACrifical lambs and average margin of victory. Ferentz's 23.3 (std dev of 17.9) is again a smaller average margin of victory than Fry's 32.7 (std dev of 19.6).  So here they both had similar amounts of variation as both won nailbiters against teams of this level and both blew some teams out.  I'm going to say that MAC-level opposition is a push.  Yes, Fry's margin is larger, but the difference is less than 10 points, not the nearly 23 point difference for FCS opponents.  Basically, this margin is one end around wide receiver pass by the second team in the 4th quarter.  Style points if you will.

As far as the "new era Hawkeyes" not steamrolling these teams?  There might be something to that.  Iowa's last 5 games against MACrificial Lambs have seen a 4-1 record with three of the wins by less than two touchdowns.  However, Fry had a similar stretch from 1988 to 1993.  He went 3-1 with a 1 point and 8 point win in that total.  The point here is that we may just be witnessing a period where Iowa isn't blowing out the MACrificial Lambs.  At this point, we can't say if this will continue or not.  In Fry's case, it did not.  He went 4-1 against his next 5 MAC-level opponents winning by 31, 38, 38, and 38 while losing by 7.  I'm going to say that the preponderance of evidence points to Ferentz being a coach who would like to win comfortably and use his non-con schedule as a preseason to get his backups some experience without the pressure of having to replace an injured starter with a conference title on the line.

If you've made it this far, congratulations.  I have killed some time at work tonight, and thank you for sticking with it until the end.

Unless otherwise expressly indicated by BHGP editors, this FanPost is strictly the viewpoint of the author and is not endorsed by BHGP in any way.

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