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Picking Iowa Football’s Future Non-Conference Opponents

A nine-game conference schedule and an annual rivalry game against ISU gives Iowa every incentive to schedule the rest of it’s non-conference schedule conservatively. If it ever wants to change that, here are some suggestions for where to start.

INSIGHTBOWL Photo by Shane Keyser/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Iowa football has one of the most difficult schedules in the country in 2020, and at least one analyst ranks them has having a tougher slate of games than any other program in the upcoming season. With a loaded schedule in one of the nation’s most difficult conferences and a non-conference matchup against a resurgent Iowa State team, it’s tough to look at Iowa’s upcoming contests and find many guaranteed wins.

The Hawkeyes definitely do not need to do anything to make their schedule more difficult in 2020, but what about in future years? The Hawkeyes have their schedules set through the 2024 season, but might there be opportunities down the road for Iowa to schedule games against comparable opponents which could draw some national interest and raise a contending team’s profile early in the season? There are certainly downsides to scheduling difficult non-conference opponents but, as a fan, isn’t it honestly easier to get pumped for a non-conference game against Pittsburgh or Arizona than a game against South Dakota State or any directional Michigan school?

Iowa’s scheduling practices are not likely to change anytime soon for better or worse. A nine-game conference schedule and an annual rivalry game against ISU gives Iowa every incentive to schedule the rest of it’s non-conference schedule conservatively. If it ever wants to change that, here are some suggestions of where to start.

Notre Dame: Iowa hasn’t faced off against the Golden Domers since 1968, but the two teams have played several momentous games over their 24-game series. Iowa’s first matchup against Notre Dame came in 1921 when the Hawkeyes’ 10-7 victory helped spark an undefeated national championship season, and their next game was decided by a Nile Kinnick touchdown which secured an upset victory over the #3 Fighting Irish. After the 1939 contest, Iowa and Notre Dame met regularly up until 1968, when the 5th-ranked Irish blasted the Hawkeyes 51-28 to give them their 4th straight win in the series.

The Hawkeyes were habitual bottom dwellers when their series against Notre Dame ended, while the Irish were a perennial national championship contender; it didn’t make much sense for the series to continue at that point. But the Iowa and Notre Dame programs are currently in comparable spots having won the same number of games over the past five seasons (47), and while Notre Dame can boast a national recruiting profile and a recent appearance in the college football playoff, the two schools would be able to provide an even match for one another in most years.

The two programs also have one outstanding score to settle that justifies a resumption of this series, dating back to a 14-14 tie that occurred in their 1953 matchup. Notre Dame managed to find the end zone in the waning seconds of both the first half and the fourth quarter to secure the tie, but Irish coach Frank Leahy deployed an…interesting clock management strategy on these drives, having Notre Dame players fake injuries to stop the clock. Iowa coach Forest Evashevski was famously quoted as saying, “When the Great Scorer comes to write our name, He won’t write whether we won or lost but whether you got robbed at Notre Dame.” Fans of both sides have been robbed of this series for far too long.

UCLA: The Hawkeyes and Bruins have met nine times between 1938-1986, with the Bruins claiming victory in seven of these matches, including their 45-28 win over Iowa in the 1986 Rose Bowl, a loss which still desperately needs to be avenged. But both of Iowa’s wins over UCLA were classics worth remembering as well. Iowa’s 1974 triumph over Dick Vermeil’s 12th-ranked Bruins snapped a 12-game losing streak for the Hawkeyes and was a rare ray of light during the tumultuous 1970s, while the 1981 win over a #6 UCLA team served as one of Hayden Fry’s first signature victories.

UCLA hasn’t been the class of the Pac-12 of late, but if one-time offensive genius Chip Kelly can guide the Bruins back to respectability, a game against Iowa could help to elevate the Hawks’ national profile while giving Iowa some much-needed exposure to California recruits. One request to Gary Barta if this series ever does resume: don’t schedule a night game on the west coast. Recent history suggests the Hawkeyes need their beauty sleep.

Kansas State: This choice made even more sense when former Iowa offensive coordinator Bill Snyder was the head man in Manhattan, but the cultural similarities between the two teams still make this potential rivalry a no-brainer. Lunch-pail programs that rely heavily on finding overlooked recruits and developing them into stars? Check. Run-heavy offenses? Check. Reputations for fielding hard-nosed defenses? Check? Penchants for pulling upsets against ranked teams at home? Check. Having an athletic director foolish enough to schedule a game against North Dakota State? Check, unfortunately.

Iowa and Kansas State have played each other shockingly few times, and none of the prior six matches were particularly close, with Iowa winning five games by two touchdowns or more and the #8 Wildcats easily handling Iowa 27-7 in their last meeting in 2000. However, if K-State can remain competitive in its post-Snyder years, they could make an excellent non-conference opponent for Iowa and could help ignite a midwestern rivalry that never really got off the ground.

Miami: No, not Miami of Ohio. THE Miami. While the U may have lost some of the luster it had through the 80s-90s and into the early 2000s, the Hurricanes remain one of the most recognizable brands in college football, and a trip to Miami would give Iowa excellent exposure to an important recruiting hotbed while also preparing players for a potential bowl trip to Florida. Furthermore, Iowa could really use a win against Miami. There is no team that Iowa played more times and never beaten than the Hurricanes, who are 4-0 against the black and gold. Finally, the matchup between Iowa, one of college football’s greatest offensive line factories, against the Miami defensive line would be amazing to watch. The U has a long history of producing elite defensive linemen like Vince Wilfork, Warren Sapp, and Ted Hendricks, and star pass rusher Gregory Rousseau appears destined to join their ranks. Watching Iowa’s front five battle the Hurricane pass rush would be must-watch television.

Missouri: The Hawkeyes and the Tigers have one of the strangest non-rivalries in college football. Iowa played Missouri seven times between 1902-1910, then waited 100 YEARS before playing them again – and that game (the Insight Bowl) wasn’t even scheduled!

What accounts for this century-long break? According to an article in the Columbia Tribune, the series was marred by several unfortunate incidents, including:

· Hawkeye players being “struck with canes and fists” after Missouri fans stormed the field during the middle of the game in 1894

· Missouri fans chanting “kill the Negro” in 1896 at Iowa’s star running back Frank Holbrook, who also happened to be the first African American player to suit up for the Hawkeyes

· Missouri players punching a referee at halftime of the 1896 contest before later insisting that the referee be replaced mid-game, only to forfeit and stage a walk-out after their demand was ignored

· Missouri refusing to take the field in 1910 unless Iowa’s black tackle Archie Alexander remained in Iowa City

Hawkeye coach Jesse Hawley vowed after the 1910 game that Iowa would not play Missouri again as long as he coached the team, and the self-imposed ban lingered long after Hawley departed Iowa City. While Iowa did schedule annual games against Missouri from 2005-08, the Tigers backed out, citing the need to “soften their schedule,” leaving Iowa scrambling to find suitable non-conference opponents to replace them. When Iowa and Missouri finally met again in 2010, the game turned out to be one of the most entertaining bowl games Iowa has played in years.

The two schools are separated by less than 200 miles. Here’s hoping fans don’t have to wait another century to see them play again.