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Free-For-All Friday: Is 9-Win Iowa Football Good Enough?

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Hawkeye football fans are divided on whether this was a good season in Iowa City. Furthermore, what should the benchmark for a good season be?

NCAA Football: Illinois at Iowa
The stability under Ferentz has been elite. Where the wins have come from has not.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The regular season is over in college football. Hawkeye fans are divided on whether it was a good year in Iowa City or not. Now, even the most optimistic among us has seemingly turned on Kirk Ferentz, demanding more.

It’s Friday. JP and Jerry have been going back and forth all week (in far too many words) debating what makes a successful season at Iowa and whether this one should qualify. Buckle up, it’s about to be a free-for-all.

JP: So, uh, Jerry, I see you’ve been on the twitter machine a bit lately. Talking a bit about how the numbers on Hawkeye football success are a fraud, eh? Right after I post an Overreaction Monday calling out how the sustained mediocrity adds up to more than mediocrity? WHY DON’T YOU JUST @ ME BUDDY?!?!

Jerry: See, that right there is the problem with today’s society. I see fans all over touting #9WinSZN and like everyone else, I was proud of that. Iowa continues to win a lot of football games and for the most part, they provide happiness to the masses. Winning is fun. BUT! Like with anything else in life, there is more there to digest. More to look into when it comes to that magic number 9. And trust me JP, I waited. I waited and waited and waited to see if someone else would be “THAT GUY”. I waited to see if Mas Casa or Doc or any of our better numbers guys on this site or other noted Iowa Haters wanted to be the Toby Flenderson to Iowa Twitter’s Michael Scott. But nobody did.

Nobody put the cape on.

So I did.

I’m sure lots of people thought about what was in those numbers. I’m sure lots of people knew in their hearts that maybe there were a lot of empty calories. But nobody took a look at the nutritional facts.

So I did.

And what I found is, honestly, probably fine depending on how you view this program. If you think Iowa winning 9 games is good enough, I’m sure you couldn’t care less about the fact that since 2015, Iowa’s record against ineligible bowl teams (aka teams that finished the season with 6 wins or less...yes, including FCS teams) is 26-1. That’s 56% of their wins. That also means that Iowa is 20-18 against teams that are, in fact, bowl eligible. I’m sure you couldn’t care less that Iowa’s record against ranked opponents is 7-12 including a 1-4 record against ranked Wisconsin. They are 2-6 against ranked teams in the East (8-7 overall, 0-4 against Penn State). I’m sure you couldn’t care less that in that same time frame they are also 2-3 against Northwestern and 3-2 against Purdue. I’m sure you couldn’t care less that Iowa is basically a coin flip in close games (something they pride themselves in) or that their offense has failed to average 26-points in the Kirk Ferentz era despite having consistently Top-10 defenses.

But, when you take all of the beautiful things that Iowa has at their disposal and evaluate them, doesn’t that all seem a bit meh? I know we’re just plan ol’ Iowa, but as one of the best NFL developmental programs in the ENTIRE COUNTRY, a coaching staff that has more stability than Helium (that’s right, a periodic table of elements joke), all of the facilities you could dream of, cool uniforms, national television relevance and one of the greatest home environments in the Big Ten, well, 1-4 against Wisconsin just doesn’t cut it for me. And it shouldn’t for anyone else. It’s ok to hold this program to Big Ten West contending levels. I’m not saying they need to win it every year or every two years. But they should 100% go into Thanksgiving with a shot at winning the West and they should be able to win the damn thing every three-ish years (considering Wisconsin isn’t going away and Minnesota looks like it’s here to stay).

Am I really, REALLY THAT BIG OF A D-BAG for making that my basement for Iowa now? Because from some of the responses I got, it would seem like I am.

Actually, don’t answer that.

JP: I’m going to try to respond to this piece by piece, because I’m candidly in a bit of awe that I have to be the voice of optimism here.

Part 1 – Iowa is really good against bad teams and just OK against good teams

I’ll just get this part out of the way from the start: uhhhh duh?

Find me a team that doesn’t do better against the bad teams than the good ones? The very nature of the bad teams being bad and the good being good is that teams beat the bad ones more than the good ones. If they didn’t they would be flipped.

Now, aside from the fact that is mathematically has to be that was on average, there’s also the whole history of Kirk Ferentz hate. Context matters. I’m old enough (although you should never ask a woman her age) to remember a time when people were up in arms over the annual Kirk Ferentz stinker. We were always good for one game a year where we laid an egg against one of those bad teams and ultimately it cost us down the home stretch. What your excellent maths work shows is that is clearly a thing of the past. Ferentz is now owning the teams he should. We aren’t losing the annual stinker anymore.

What’s more, we’re winning the rivalry games – ALL of them – with the lone exception of Wisconsin. Is that Wisconsin record frustrating? You’re damn right. That was the whole point of OM. Our next step to raise the bar is to start doing to Wisconsin what we do to Iowa State, Nebraska, Illinois and Minnesota. We ALL want that. But that doesn’t mean what we’ve done to this point isn’t good. As I said, it’s better than good. It’s in elite (eat it Fleck) company.

Part 2 – Iowa has a bad record against the good teams from the East

Bruh, who doesn’t? For real. We are talking about some of the blue-est bluebloods in the country. Everyone has a bad record against them. And what I took from your 2-6 number is that Iowa is 2-2 against ranked teams from the East not named Penn State. Do you really think that’s bad? Really?

No wins against Penn State stinks, but that’s not some condemnation of Kirk and Company’s success. The last three losses have come down to one score and Iowa had a chance to win late. Over that same time period Iowa is 0-4 against the Nittany Lions, here’s who has been able to beat them: Pitt, #4 Michigan, #9 USC, #6 Ohio State, #24 Michigan State, #4 Ohio State, Michigan State, #5 Michigan, #16 Kentucky, #18 Minnesota and #1 Ohio State. Do you know how many of those losses came at home? One. One home loss in 4 years. MOST teams aren’t beating Penn State and basically nobody is doing it in Happy Valley (Michigan State is the lone exception, but I doubt you want to talk about turning into that dumpster fire of a program).

It would be great to beat Penn State on the regular and KF has shown he can do it, but not being able to do it shouldn’t take anything away from Iowa. Mighty Wisconsin hasn’t beaten them since 2011 and hasn’t won in Happy Valley since 2003.

Part 3 – Iowa should be contending for the West title

I would like Iowa to contend for the West title every year just like the rest of Hawkeye nation. The thing is, they have. The winner of the Iowa-Wisconsin game has won the Big Ten West every year except 2018. In the history of the championship game, exactly half of the conference has made the title game. Of those 7 teams, 4 are from the West – Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern and Nebraska. Nebraska isn’t getting back any time soon and neither is Northwestern.

Wisconsin, for its part, has been to more title games (6) than any other school in the conference. They are the benchmark we are holding ourselves to. They are the next level we want to achieve. But not already being them doesn’t make Iowa bad or even mediocre. Wisconsin has been truly elite for the better part of the last decade and a half. There is a middle ground between what they have achieved and being an average team. That’s where Iowa currently sits. We are the 2nd best program in the West and it really isn’t close.

Part 4 – Iowa should go into Thanksgiving with a shot at the West

This is completely arbitrary and based entirely on the schedule. Next year you’ll probably get your wish as Iowa won’t play their annual Black Friday game with Nebraska – they’ll take on Wisconsin during Rivalry Week. This season, had the schedule simply flipped to next year’s (not who we play, just move the Wisconsin game to the end) that’s exactly how it would have played out.

In reality, if you just flip ANY of the games Iowa played against ranked Big Ten teams not named Minnesota to the last week, it would have been in it until the last quarter of the last game of the season. When the games are played doesn’t change how successful the season was.

Part 5 – Minnesota looks like it’s here to stay

Dear God, Jerry, what are you drinking? Does PJ Fleck look better than Scott Frost right now? Yes. Is that a high bar? No. The Gophers had their best year in nearly two decades and won 10+ games for just the second time in over 100 years, but they STILL finished ranked below Iowa and couldn’t beat Kirk. They nearly lost a pair of noncom games to BAD opponents. This wasn’t an “elite” Minnesota team that is showing they are here to make noise, it’s a hype machine that played one of the easiest schedules possible and still couldn’t get the job done.

Now, be honest, did PJ Fleck lock you in his office and force you to write that?

Jerry: I feel like after all of that we’re arguing the same thing. I have never in my Hawkeye loving life discounted what Iowa has done or what they are doing. As I’ve mentioned over and over and over again, I want them to be great when they have to be great. Iowa beating crap teams is an amazing thing and I’m extremely grateful that the Ferentz stinker has been eliminated from the Iowa Lexicon (same with the Iowa stinker immediately after a bye). But if its not acceptable to hold Iowa to the bluest of blue blood program standards (something I’m clearly not doing), you’re damn right I’m going to make the bar Wisconsin.

I feel like I’m being pegged as someone that is ripping this team apart for the victories they have and I’m truly not. Iowa is in a great position as a program and everything we have (including this conversation) is because of what Kirk Ferentz has provided us. He’s built a consistent problem in the big ten.

I just wanted to provide context to #9WinSzn. Some things in there are great. But you also have to admit some things in there are also extremely frustrating. Again, I feel like I need to defend myself here, IM NOT ASKING IOWA TO BE PENN STATE.

I know that’s not going to happen. But what I am asking is for them to contend with Wisconsin, who they are 1-4 against and as you so clearly stated, are the key to the West. Why is that not ok?

For me, my goals for this team and how I choose to approach my fandom align with Kirk’s. And what is the goal for Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa teams year in and year out? It’s not win 9 games I assure you that. It’s to win a Big Ten title! Iowa has only won the West one time since the B1G Championship started and they haven’t won a single title outright since 2004. Wisconsin has three outright titles and six Championship appearances this decade.

Again, Iowa is in a tremendous spot. Kirk Ferentz got us here. Little ol’ Iowa isn’t little ol’ Iowa anymore. We earn as much as the blue bloods. Our development is on par if not better than the blue bloods. Our facilities match them. Our game day environment is right there (with Kinnick being one of the absolute worst environments to talk into as an opponent...2x at night). With all of that now in place, why settle at 9 wins!?

My cohost on SpoCo Radio says it often... Iowa wants to be the bullies of the Big Ten. But to me, that hasn’t been muttered by anyone in the program in a long, long time. But maybe they should start again. Make Iowa the Bullies again, JP!

Let’s be great!!! Let’s all want to be great!!!

And one last thing, you went to the absolute extreme once again with the PJ Fleck/Minnesota thing. When did I say they were elite? Never did I said they are here to stay. And I stick by that Minnesota under PJ Fleck will never be a push over in the Big Ten again. For a team that’s been riding the coaching carousel for a long long time, that stability (along with a step up in recruiting) in and of itself is going to allow Minnesota to hang around. They are there. They are someone you have to at least look twice at.

Aka, here to stay. Not elite, JP. But here. In the conference. With a pulse. Able to play solid big ten football. And while they did almost lose to some bad noncon opponents, they didn’t. And as we’ve discussed in this wonderful FFF, you shouldn’t be so quick to pass judgment on winning close games against meh noncon teams.

And for all I care, Minnesota can keep on winning those close games all year long for the rest of time. As long as when they play Iowa, they continue to lose that beautiful pig.

JP: Well, that’s football, I guess.