Ferentzian Statistics: A Statistical Analysis of Kirk Ferentz versus the rest of the Big 10

[Edited on Oct 26, 2012 -- I found a few errors I wanted to correct for clarity's sake. I left the original text in place and added editor's comments as necessary. Otherwise, I did not update anything to include the PSU loss this past weekend. Perhaps at the end of each season it makes sense to re-post something like this to assess our good Captain Kirk. - HISTL]

It's no secret I'm a Ferentzphile. I like our head coach, I like his curmudgeonly ways, his conservative approach, and the gravitas and gentlemanly decorum he brings to the program. I like Punting Is Winning. In the wake of Ferentz's 100th Hawkeye win, I present for you not Statistical InFerentzes, but rather, Ferentzian Statistics. Enjoy!

I am writing this the week of October 15 [ed. 10/26/12], shortly after the Michigan State win, an uncommon "close game" win for Ferentz. As such, the statistics presented are as of that week. Some of these are off slightly, as not all of these teams make their statistics available in an easy-to-parse format. For example, I didn't have season-by-season breakdowns for Indiana, so I just summed up win/loss totals for their coaches since 1973, rather than manually counting wins from 1975 for the third chart below.

I'm also generally omitting Nebraska from these statistics, since I'm largely comparing Ferentz, and Iowa, to other Big 10 teams. I'm also ignoring "vacated" records. The purpose here is to compare against actual performance on the field.

A Healthy Dose of Perspective

First, some historical perspective. I think we sometimes forget that Iowa football has been historically unremarkable. Iowa's all time record is 597-524-39, for a winning percentage of .531 [this should be 0.515, my prior calculation omitted the ties -histl]. Compared to other Big 10 teams, that's good enough for 8th place [actually, if you calculate including ties for all times, it moves us up to 7th, just ahead of Purdue -histl]. Among Big 10 programs with an overall winning record, Iowa is [second to] dead last, managing to stay ahead of only [Purdue and] the three Big 10 teams with a net losing record: Illinois, Indiana, and Northwestern. Not really the company we consider ourselves to keep, is it? The chart below summarizes the Big 10 historically. Click to biggify.


There are basically four "tiers" to the Big 10, with only Penn State not neatly fitting into one. Michigan and Ohio State are clearly a full head and shoulders better than anybody else, as no other team is anywhere near an overall 0.700 record. There's a clear second tier consisting of Michigan State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Penn State is sandwiched almost equally between these two tiers, but bear in mind that Penn State's record here is mostly not against Big 10 competition. Whether that is related to PSU's straddling, I don't know, but it's an interesting phenomenon. The third tier consists of Iowa, Illinois, and Purdue, and then Northwestern and Indiana round out the Big 10's cellar.

But consider the chart on the right. As middling as Iowa has been in the regular season, the bowl games are just the opposite. Iowa's 14-11 post-season record, with a winning percentage of .538, is good enough for third in the conference, behind just Penn State (21-15-2) and, oddly enough, Purdue (9-7). Remarkably, every other Big 10 team has an overall losing post-season record, including vaunted powerhouses Michigan and Ohio State. Weird, huh?

There are historical reasons that may explain the bowl game weirdness. First, the Big Ten didn't allow post-season play at all until after World War II. Second, the Big 10 didn't allow teams to participate in anything other than the Rose Bowl until the 1970's. Thus, Iowa went to a grand total of two bowl games (and won them both) prior to Hayden Fry's arrival. That in turn means that the vast majority of Iowa's bowl record was earned by Ferentz and Fry. As will be discussed in the Fry-Ferentz comparison follow up post to this, the credit for keeping Iowa's head above water here goes largely to Kirk. While Iowa has been able to feast upon mid-tier opponents from other conferences, powerhouses like Michigan and Ohio State have had to play a large portion of their post-season schedule against the Pac-10 champion.

So, how does Ferentz stack up to the Big 10 historically? With his 100th win, Coach Ferentz is 100-69 at Iowa, for a winning percentage of .591. This is, historically, considerably better than Iowa has performed, and much better than most of the Big 10. Coach Ferentz's 0.591 record is significantly better than the overall records of all but the Big 10's elite squads: Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State and, statistically speaking, Ferentz is basically in a dead tie with Michigan State [this is only true if you ignore MSU's ties; including ties in MSU's win percentage, Ferentz pulls way ahead of the Spartans (0.592 vs. 0.547)]. Further, Coach Ferentz's bowl record, 6-4, gives him a post-season winning percentage of 0.600, good enough for #1 overall in the Big 10.


The Times, They Are A-Changing

There's weirdness in those numbers. Penn State, Iowa, and Purdue are the only Big 10 squads with winning bowl records? Bwuah?

Part of the reason for this is that these are overall figures that don't account for modern conditions. For one, they include downright prehistorical football eras that predate the forward pass, when field goals were 4 points and touchdowns were 5, and when a "season" of football could be ten games long one year and five games long the next. Also, the composition of the Big 10 has itself changed dramatically. Before World War II, the Big 10 included the University of Chicago, but not Michigan State. Penn State joined in 1993 and Nebraska just last year. As such, most of Penn State's overall record is not against a Big 10 slate and virtually none of Nebraska's is (which is why I left the Cornhuskers out of this exercise).

As discussed, the state of post-season play has also changed dramatically. The Big 10 didn't allow bowl game participation until 1945, and didn't allow teams to go to any but the Rose Bowl until 1974. This impacts the records. For example, in 1960 the Hawkeyes shared the Big 10 title with Minnesota and were declared national champions by four different publications, including Sagarin. Yet, Iowa did not go to a bowl game that year and the University itself does not even claim the national championship title.

Thus, perhaps it makes more sense to examine the Big 10's modern history, which I define as 1975 to present -- the Bowl Game Era. This also removes the vast majority of Penn State's pre-Big 10 record from the statistics, which normalizes Penn State's stats against the rest of the Big 10 significantly, though not completely. It also removes all of the Big 10 games against the University of Chicago, and roots us in the modern bowl era, where the SEC is king.

As such, I've performed the same calculations and comparisons as above using only 1975 to present. However, this also cuts off most of Iowa's history, which is generally wretched, so that actually raises the bar for our good coach Ferentz, he's playing mostly against Hayden's record, which is daunting.

So what do we find?


Kirk Ferentz has outperformed every Big 10 program except Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State during the modern bowl era. We also some shifting in the tiers. The Tier 1 Big 10 teams have clearly been OSU, Michigan, and Penn State. But Iowa has not only leaped up from the third to the second tier since 1975, but Iowa is the frontrunner of that tier by a decent margin, moving from 8th [7th, actually] overall in the Big 10 to 4th, a massive jump. The second tier is now, in order, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. Beyond that, we're into teams with a net losing record. The third tier is arguably Purdue, Minnesota, and Illinois, with Indiana and Northwestern remaining bottom-feeders. If you compare the tiers, Iowa and Minnesota have basically switched places. The second tier overall has Minnesota, and the third tier has Iowa. But Minnesota's play in the last 35 years has been so terrible, and Iowa's has been so spectacular, that Iowa has leaped to the front of the second tier, and Minnesota has dropped to the middle of the third. Nobody else has moved significantly enough to jump tiers, except perhaps for Penn State clearly establishing itself in the top.

I find that fascinating, and it may play significantly into the psychological and emotional dynamics of the Iowa-Minnesota rivalry. Consider that again -- in the last 35 years of play, every Big 10 team has basically lived up to the same general level of play of the last century, despite how much things have changed -- de-segregation, rule changes, system changes, scheduling changes, coaching changes -- none of it has mattered significantly except to two teams: Iowa and Minnesota, who switched places. Next time you're wondering why Minnesota has such a hard-on for us, this is why. Iowa stole the Gophers' seat at the dance when the Gophers got up to take a piss, we've never given it back, and Goldie is pretty cranky from having to stand all this time..

The other interesting fact is that Ferentz has a better record at Iowa than does Iowa itself. This is a little counter-intuitive, but you have to remember the time period captured. Hayden Fry arrived in 1979 and finished 143-89-6 at Iowa, for a winning percentage of almost exactly .600 (.60084, if you care). That's a bit better than Ferentz, reflecting our instincts that Fry was the better game day coach. But, the pre-Ferentz era in this calculation is also dragged down by including the late 1970's, which were horrible. When you temper Fry's years with the late 1970's, you wind up somewhere just south of the Kirk Ferentz era at Iowa.

That's about all I have for this edition. If you enjoyed this post, please let me know in the comments. These are very time-consuming to put together but I'm happy to do more if people enjoy them. There are some interesting statistics in comparing Fry and Ferentz and in examining the Big 10's performance against other conferences that I'd love to delve into.

Thanks for reading!

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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