What Effect Would Relegation Have Had On Past Iowa Football Seasons?

When I did my last post on Big Ten relegation, there was one factor that I didn't really tackle: the year-after-year effect the system would have if it was actually in place. In other words, what would happen next if a team actually was relegated? In my post, Indiana was relegated from the Big Ten several years in a row, which would obviously be impossible in reality -- after they were relegated once, they'd need to spend at least one year trying to get promoted back into the Big Ten. At most, a team in real life can be relegated from the same division every other year. (Such a team, if it existed, would be a perfect example of the "yo-yo team.")

Luckily, SBN's own Bill Connelly (with a little help from Jeff Sagarin's computer rankings) crunched the numbers and took a look at what might have happened to relegated teams in their new surroundings (as well as promoted teams in their new surroundings). The results are pretty fascinating -- go take a look. Granted, it's not a perfect simulation by any means -- Sagarin ratings aren't infallible and, as Bill notes, it's impossible to measure the true impact of the "butterfly effect" of relegation and promotion in terms of coach firings, player transfers, recruiting, etc. But it gives us an excellent starting point. Let's take a look at what some past Iowa seasons might have looked like under this model.

2006

We start here since this is the first year where relegated teams have been removed from their initial conference and replaced with a newly promoted team. In Iowa's case, this means a road trip to Champaign to play a bad Illinois team is replaced with a road trip to Akron to play an also-bad Akron team. Iowa beat that Illinois team and there's not much reason to think they wouldn't have also defeated that Akron team, especially since the game fell in September, before the Great Implosion Of '06 killed the season. Not a whole lot different this year.

Also, this is the last year in the simulation in which Iowa-Iowa State would be a matchup between BCS teams. Iowa State gets relegated to Conference USA at the end of this season and they spend the remainder of the simulation in the cozy confines of CUSA. What impact would this have had on the Cyclones and the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry? Well, Dan McCarney definitely still gets fired at the end of 2006, but Gene Chizik probably isn't so eager to jump to a C-USA team... which ultimately means he never spurns ISU and Jamie Pollard, meaning there's no "inconsolable" meme... damn! But Iowa probably still keeps playing Iowa State and they probably keep playing at Ames every other year (for a while) -- there are still contracts to be honored, after all. Of course, if Iowa State spends the remainder of the Aughts in C-USA, you can be sure that Iowa is negotiating hard to get the terms of their playing relationship altered in the next Iowa-Iowa State football contract. Hello, games in Ames once every 3-4 years...

2007

Akron is replaced by Central Michigan in the Big Ten. Central Michigan takes over what was in real life Illinois' schedule, which means the Fightin' LeFevours head to Kinnick Stadium for an October showdown. In real life, Iowa's win over Illinois was one of the highlights of a very forgettable season -- remember, this was the Zook team that improbably made it all the way to the Rose Bowl. Meanwhile, real life Central Michigan went 8-6 in 2007, getting annihilated by Kansas and Clemson (52-7 and 70-14, respectively) and losing twice to Purdue (45-22 and 51-48 in a Pizza Pizza Bowl rematch). They also lost by 30 to North Dakota State (fear the Bison). It's difficult to guarantee any wins for the '07 Iowa team, but Central Michigan was a definite step down from Illinois that year and at home Iowa would have had an excellent shot at a win. (Of course, we also thought the same thing about the real life season finale with Western Michigan and, um, we all know how that turned out...)

Meanwhile, there also would have been some intrigue in Iowa's Big Ten finale with Minnesota. In this model, 1-11 Minnesota is deservedly cast down to the MAC. The game with Iowa probably wouldn't have been a chance for Minnesota to save their B1G skin -- they finished 0-8 and no one else finished worse than 3-5 in the Big Ten that year -- but it would have certainly had a weird, meloncholic air about if if we'd known it would be the last time Iowa would play Minnesota for the forseeable future.

2008

Minnesota is replaced by Illinois in the Big Ten (in this model, Illinois' 2007 revival doesn't end with a trip to Pasadena, but it does get them out of the MAC). In essence, we have Central Michigan playing Illinois' real life schedule and Illinois playing Minnesota's real life schedule. This is probably advantageous for Iowa, actually -- Iowa tripped up against Illinois in real life, losing a 27-24 heartbreaker on the back of some costly turnovers and a late defensive swoon. But if they'd played them in late November instead? Iowa was downright nasty in November in 2008, while real life Illinois collapsed immediately after beating Iowa, losing three in a row and missing a bowl game. I like Iowa's odds in that game.

On the other hand, could a trip to Mount Pleasant in late October have seen Iowa football get LeFevour'd in the same way that they were Juice'd in real life? Perhaps. Central Michigan went 8-5 in real life in 2008, including losses to Georgia (56-17) and Purdue (32-25) and a win over Indiana (37-34). Dan LeFevour (the beloved "Rust Belt Tebow") was certainly dangerous enough to lead an upset if Iowa was caught napping the way they were against Illinois. (And if you really want to put on your speculation pants, you can wonder if Iowa needed that loss to Illinois to adequately prepare them to beat Penn State in glorious come-from-behind fashion the following week.)

Also, no Minnesota on the schedule in 2008 means Iowa doesn't get to close out the Metrodome. Which means there's no 55-0 and the Metrodome bathrooms aren't defiled. Which would be a travesty -- 55-0 is one of my favorite memories of the past decade. On the bright side, Lois Feldman's marriage might have survived.

2009

Buffalo joins the Big Ten, replacing the (finally) relegated Indiana. So we have Central Michigan playing real life Illinois' schedule, Illinois replaying real life Minnesota's schedule, and Buffalo playing real life Indiana's schedule. Whew. Iowa didn't play Illinois in 2009, which means they also avoid Central Michigan in 2009. That's probably a good thing since '09 saw the best incarnation of the Fightin' LeFevours -- they went 12-2, including a dramatic 29-27 win over Michigan State. Their lone losses were to Arizona (19-6) and Boston College (31-10). 2009 Iowa was pretty darn good (you might recall a little game called the Orange Bowl), so it's very possible that they would have beaten the Chippewas had they played, but it probably would have been a wild game. (Or, as we called them in 2009: "an Iowa football game.")

Speaking of wild games... the departure of Indiana means that we lose perhaps the wildest game of the 2009 season, the infamous "pinball pick-six" game where Tyler Sash and Ricky Stanzi led an improbable Iowa comeback over the Hoosiers. Losing 55-0 and "pinball pick-six"? I'm starting to not like you quite as much, relegation. Indiana is replaced by Buffalo, who frankly was not very good. In real life, they went 5-7 (3-5 in MAC play). They were wholly unsuited to be promoted to the Big Ten (much like how Turner Gill turned out to be wholly unsuited to be promoted to Kansas in real life).

Finally, Iowa's regular season finale with Minnesota is replaced by a season-ending date with Illinois. Iowa was led by a shaky-looking James Vandenberg (and an airtight defense) in that game and while '09 Illinois was scrappy, they were also pretty bad -- they went 3-9 for a reason. Iowa might not have coasted to a win, but it's likely they would have grinded out a win all the same.

2010

Look who's back? Minnesota's back (back again), replacing the relegated Buffalo. So to recap: Central Michigan is there playing real life Illinois' schedule, Illinois is playing real life Minnesota's schedule, and Minnesota is playing real life Indiana's schedule. (Yes, this is getting convoluted.) Iowa didn't play Illinois in 2010, either, as part of Jim Delany's efforts to erase the rivalry from existence, which means Iowa doesn't get to play Central Michigan in 2010. That's a shame, because real life Central Michigan went 3-9 against a MAC slate -- life got hard for the Fightin' LeFevours when there was no more LeFevour to rely on.

Illinois, meanwhile, had a nice rebound year in real-life 2010 -- they went 7-6 and won a bowl game behind a potent offense led by Nathan Scheelhaase and Mikel LeShoure. They would have given 2010 Iowa fits, I suspect, especially if we put the game at the end of the regular season. Iowa was in full-blown meltdown mode at that point. An Iowa team that lost road games to just Northwestern and Minnesota in November that year (and came a dropped touchdown pass away from losing to Indiana as well) could absolutely have dropped a road game against that Illinois team.

And speaking of Minnesota... would Iowa have fared any better against them if the game was played earlier in the season (i.e., at the time the Indiana game was played)? I have my doubts, frankly. In real life, Iowa turned in a damp squib of a performance that week anyway (see: aforementioned dropped touchdown pass by Indiana) and we know that Minnesota was capable of beating Iowa (since, um, they really did). Throw in the fact that it would have been Minnesota's first game against Iowa since 2007 and I suspect the Gophers would have been very fired up for that game. (Alternatively, maybe Iowa wouldn't have overlooked Minnesota at that point of the season, especially if it was the first game against the Gophers in several years. So many ways to speculate!)

2011

Say goodbye to one MAC team (Central Michigan, finally relegated from the Big Ten after a pretty nice 4-year run with the big boys), say hello to another MAC team (Northern Illinois). (If you're wondering what's become of Indiana, don't fret -- they've just decided they're right at home in the MAC. They never win it, but they're also not cellar dwellers there. It's a comfortable existence.) So: Northern Illinois is playing real life Illinois' schedule, Illinois is playing real life Minnesota's schedule, and Minnesota is playing real life Indiana's schedule.

Iowa didn't play Illinois in 2011, so they don't play Northern Illinois, either, which is probably a good thing -- they went 11-3 in real-life 2011 and beat the doors off several teams. Then again, they also lost to Kansas, so it's not totally far-fetched to think Iowa could have beat them if they'd played. This simulation thwarts Delany's desire to kill the Iowa-Illinois rivalry by giving Iowa a game with Illinois in late October. In real life, Iowa lost that game to Minnesota (sigh), but in our simulation Iowa gets an Illinois team that was in the midst of a six-game slide in real life. Could they have beat that Illinois team? It seems very possible, especially with Illinois so prone to self-destruction at that point.

In this simulation, Iowa plays Minnesota weak earlier than they did in real life -- and in Iowa City rather than in Minneapolis. It's still possible that they would have lost the game -- they may still have not been prepared for an onside kick and Vandenberg may have still struggled with the blitz -- but it's very possible that they might have won, too. Vandenberg was a far more comfortable quarterback in home games last year and Iowa may have been able to build up enough of an early lead that they couldn't piss it away at the end like they did in real life.

* * *

So... what have we learned from all this? Competitively speaking, Indiana and Iowa State probably really do belong in the MAC and Conference-USA. Would relegation have helped Iowa gain any more wins? Perhaps -- they might have been able to grab an extra win or two in 2011 or 2008. But 2010 might have been more unbearable than it was in real life, too.

Iowa also would have lost several great moments -- 55-0 and "pinball pick-six," for instance -- which would have been a damn shame. Would the schadenfreude of knowing those teams (Minnesota and Indiana -- as well as Iowa State) were in lesser leagues have made up for it? Maybe, maybe not. There would be some definite costs to implementing the relegation model. That said, it would also be a hell of a lot of fun and, as Bill notes in his final post, it would create a more just overall system.

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