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H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. Predicts: North Dakota State

And looks back at the Cyclone beatdown

Another week, another opponent... maybe this one will have a pulse, unlike ISU.

So, week two was good for the Hawks. Like, really good. Like, the biggest beatdown of Iowa State in Iowa history good. I’ll be honest, I thought H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. was playing things a little conservatively and I expected things to be a little more lopsided than the 32-22 score it was predicting. But I was not expecting 42-3. And while I want H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. to get everything right, I can’t say that I’m too upset that it was wrong in this case. Hindsight is 20/20, and at least H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. wasn’t predicting a ‘Clone win. Iowa is 2-0, and so is H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. when predicting wins and losses for the good guys; life is good.

Now, onto the nitty-gritty-down-and-dirty. H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S., like any good artificial intelligence bent on global domination and human subservience, needs to learn from history. To that end, I’ve made some changes to the engine that makes H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. run. Most notably, I’m beginning to see this Iowa team is special and unique, just like every Iowa team that came before it. What I mean by that is that each season, the Hawks will bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table. In order to capture this phenomenon, I’ve been toying with some corrections. It’s no longer good enough to just assume that every team Iowa plays will perform to their normal standards and it’s certainly not fair to assume that Iowa’s game plan has no effect on the other team’s outputs.

From now on, after every game Iowa plays, I will be looking at how Iowa affected the team it played. Did we make them throw more? Run more? Cause turnovers? In short, what sort of handicaps or advantages did Iowa impart on its opponent. I then programmed H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. to take into account these effects when it predicts scores.

And after the first two games, I believe we can start to ignore some of the data from the 2015 season. To that end, I have also begun to tell H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. to start to de-weight (my made up, technical term) the 2015 averages in favor of the results of the current season. So, for the upcoming game, H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. will essentially ignore 20% of Iowa’s and NDSU’s stats from 2015. The hope here is that between the two changes I’ve made to H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S., it will start to be more responsive to this season and to this Iowa team’s particular strengths and weaknesses. So without further ado, what did H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. have to say about Saturday’s matchup with the North Dakota State Bison?

School Iowa North Dakota State
Passing Yards 205.9 211.9
Rushing Yards 185.2 195.7
Turnovers 0.9 1.1
Penalties 5.0 6.3
Offensive Plays 65.6 69.3
First Downs 20.4 21.9
Score 33 19
Confidence 95%

H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. sees another big win for Iowa. Now, this week H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. had to make a little change to the way that it calculates scores. Because NDSU is an FCS team, its statistics are primarily racked up against other FCS competition, meaning that we would not expect NDSU to be as efficient or move the ball as well when playing against an FBS opponent like Iowa. To compensate for this, I used a technique to calculate just how much more Iowa scores against FCS foes and how much less FCS foes tend to score against Iowa. It turns out that, on average, there is an approximate 14-point difference in total, with Iowa scoring 7 points more on average and holding FCS foes to 7 fewer points. Once H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. knew this trend, it was able to adjust the scores it produced accordingly.

Now, some of you out there may be saying, “H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. is just a computer, it doesn’t understand that NDSU is THE team to beat in the FCS and they’ve won every FCS championship since 1776*.” And while it may be true that NDSU does beat some FBS teams (cough cough Iowa State cough cough), they are not exactly playing the cream of the FBS crop. In fact, NDSU’s latest FBS win came in 2014 over a team (cough cough Iowa State cough cough) that just lost to another FCS school, Northern Iowa. While the Bison have a few FBS notches on their belt, they are not exactly giant-killers, either. And there is, of course, the small fact that Iowa has never lost to an FCS or Division I-AA school.

FCS Graph
The moral of this story? Don’t sweat NDSU

If you look at the chart, you’ll notice that there is only one instance of Iowa even playing an FCS team close, and that was the fluky 2009 season opener against UNI where Iowa blocked two field goals on consecutive plays for the first and only time ever in NCAA history to hold a 17-16 lead. Since 2002, the next-closest finish was an 8-point win over UNI in the season of which we shall not speak. I would expect Iowa to pretty much exert its will on the Bison in every phase of the game. NDSU simply doesn’t have the size, talent, athleticism, or depth to stand up to Iowa at the point of attack. Once again, I think H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S is calling this one conservatively (even after adjusting the score by 14 points in Iowa’s favor). I would not be surprised to see another North Texas-like stomping on Saturday.

*This is not true, obviously. I don’t think any of you said EXACTLY those words.