clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Offseason Debate: Iowa Football’s Dream Non-Conference Opponent

Hawkeye fans have long said the Iowa State game limits the ability to schedule meaningful non-conference games. Is that about to change?

NCAA Football: Stanford at Notre Dame
Notre Dame is a nationally recognized brand. Are they the best possible non-conference opponent?
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a tale as old as time: it’s the offseason and news is slow. What else is new? Well, potentially the Iowa football schedule. Well, not new like “new this year,” new, but you know, new in 2022. Maybe. Probably not, but maybe.

What, exactly, am I talking about?

Last week rumors started to swirl about the possibility of the Big Ten going back to an 8-game conference schedule for football beginning in 2022. Those were rooted in some comments made by Nebraska Athletics Director Bill Moos.

Now, before everyone gets too excited, it’s worth noting that Moos didn’t say anything explicitly, but he did hint at some scheduling changes coming and perhaps the Big Ten no longer beating up on itself so bad. While I would normally blow off anything said by a Nebraska affiliate as hot air, Moos has a bit of a point on the Big Ten beating up on itself.

Iowa fans, more than just about everyone, should know all about that. It was the Hawkeyes after all, that bludgeoned Ohio State’s playoff dreams to death with Josh Jackson interceptions and touchdowns from damn near every player on the offense (and almost a long snapper to boot) in their 55-24 woodshed-ing of the Buckeyes last fall.

If we know anything about Jim Delaney, it’s that the only thing he cares about as much as making money it’s keeping Ohio State (and to a lesser extent Michigan and Penn State) happy. Getting shut out of the playoff after an embarrassing loss to Iowa in an extra cross-division game does not make Ohio State happy.

But beyond just Ohio State, the math of recent history seems to be in favor of not punishing your conference members with an extra game, at least until the rest of the world does the same.

That’s a pretty remarkable argument for the Big Ten at least considering an 8-game conference schedule until the rest of college football moves to 9 games. So it makes some sense to consider the move.

But before Iowa fans get too excited about the prospect of dropping that cross-division game against Rutgers and replacing it with some dream of a neutral site game against a power 5 school, there’s been some cold water thrown on the news.

Despite the denial, I think this is a worthwhile topic. Why? Well, not because it’s actually worthwhile, but because it is the offseason and damn it we need something to talk about.

What better than a classic bar room topic like the best mythical non-conference game additions to the Iowa football schedule IF the Big Ten ever went back to 8 games in the conference?

So let’s dive in with my top 5.

5. Missouri

I know, I know, this wasn’t nearly as exciting as you all had hoped. But listen, Missouri is in that vaunted conference of world-beaters known as the SEC. Beating an SEC team in the non-conference can go a long way to at least limiting the complaints about strength of schedule (they’re on Bama’s schedule too, you know) and can help up the reputation of the program and the conference.

Not only that, but Missouri is a border state (see, I paid attention in geography - or grew up 10 minutes from the border, whatever). There’s no vicious rivalry there the same way there is with Wisconsin or Minnesota or Nebraska (for our Hawkeye brethren that have to put up with their fanbase in the west) or uh Illinois? But we share a border and they fought with the South so why not stir up some rivalry?

Perhaps most importantly, Iowa has made a concerted effort to recruit Missouri heavily for some time. St. Louis and Kansas City are both relative hotbeds of talent (they aren’t Texas or Florida, but there are as many or more division 1 players from those two metros than the state of Iowa almost every year) and getting a game in front of some of those prospects would do wonders.

Put me down for a neutral site game in Arrowhead in early September. I also hear there’s a stadium available every weekend for the foreseeable future in St. Louis.

4. Miami (FL, duh)

Hey, now this name has a little more cachet, am I right? But honestly, I’m not here for the cachet. I’m here for the recruiting.

South Florida is not a relative hotbed of talent, it’s a quite literal one. The place is crawling with top end talent. More than enough to feed the big dogs in the state of Florida, the top end SEC and ACC schools and have plenty left over for little old Iowa.

That’s why the Hawkeye staff has made an effort to recruit the area. Sure the relationship has been a little on again off again, but it’s certainly in on again mode right now. The addition of WR coach Kelton Copeland, who hails from the area, demonstrates that fact. And playing a non-conference game against a marquee opponent from the state would do a lot to get the Iowa brand in front of some really talented players who might never otherwise consider the Hawkeyes.

Add to that the alumni base Iowa has in Florida and I think there are some compelling options for a “neutral site” game in a place like Tampa/St. Pete.

Recruits, alumni, sunshine.

Sign. Me. Up.

(Note: I would take Florida or Florida State as well.)

3. Georgia

Catching on to the theme here yet? Georgia checks all the boxes.

Brand name school? Check.
Big time conference? Check.
Recruiting hotbed the staff is focusing on? Check.
Solid alumni base? Check

I don’t know what other boxes you have, but those are the ones that matter.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But JP, Georgia just played in the national championship game - they would destroy Iowa.”

Maybe. But we’re talking about 2022 at the earliest. The Georgia of last season will not be the Georgia of 2022. Iowa may well be the same Iowa if KF is still in charge. If he’s not, I tend to think the Hawkeyes will be better not worse.

And it’s not like Georgia has been some incredible juggernaut for all of eternity. In 2016, they finished 8-5 and 3rd in their own division. Same thing in 2013 (with a pair of 10-3 2nd place finishes in 2014 and 2015). They even dipped below .500 in 2010.

Bottom line? As good as Kirby Smart is and as blue-bloody as Georgia may be, it should at least be a game where the benefits out-weigh the potential costs.

2. Texas

Everything I just said about Georgia holds true for Texas, but amplified. Granted, the recruiting efforts for Iowa seems to have shifted more into Georgia than Texas, but nobody can dispute just how incredibly fertile the recruiting grounds of Texas are.

What’s more, the headliner in the state (the Longhorns) have fallen on hard times. A game against Texas is incredibly winnable. While that may change to some extent over the next 4 years as Tom Herman works to get that program back to what they once were, I think it’s safe to say the dynamics in that state have changed.

Texas A&M is a big lure for talent in a way they never were before they joined the SEC. Ditto TCU without the conference change. And we’re at a point now where it’s been almost a decade since Texas had a 10-win season. This generation of recruits was raised on a different Longhorn legacy than generations past.

Maybe you can convince Texas to come to Arrowhead or somewhere like the Super Dome or the new Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta, but I doubt you lure them too far out of the south. So settle for a game at Jerry World. As long as we aren’t headed to the Pacific time zone I’m not terribly worries about the Hawkeyes travelling.

1. Notre Dame

And there it is.

This is the only one listed here that’s not in the south (go ahead and question Missouri’s southern-ness - I’ve been there). That’s due to the natural recruiting needs typically filled in the south. But Notre Dame sits in Indiana, where Iowa has made a major effort of late to build some connections.

Beyond that, Notre Dame is perhaps the most national brand program in the country. Love them or hate them (let’s be honest, you hate them), everybody knows them and a ton of people watch them.

Much like Texas, Notre Dame’s name carries a lot more weight than it’s football team of late. Despite continuing to be a force on the recruiting trail, the Fighting Irish have only won 10 games 5 times in the last 25 years (Kirk Ferentz has as many 10-win seasons in the last 16 years). So there’s a good chance at a victory on a national stage.

And unlike most of the others on my list, Notre Dame offers the possibility of a TON of Iowa fans making it to the game (if they can afford the tickets, that is). Being from the north, Notre Dame is far more likely to schedule a game within driving distance of Iowa. Places like the Fields Wrigley and Soldier would be on the table. Same for Lucas Oil in Indy.

It really is a great option if the opportunity were to ever arise.

That’s my list. Who’s on yours?

Don’t give me that “we want Bama!” BS. Nobody actually wants Bama. Not if they know what’s good for them. Besides, Saban has lost to KF every time they’ve ever coached against one another and I don’t think Kirk’s is about to let that change.

Anyone else?