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Examining Iowa’s (in)ability to control their divisional destiny in November

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It’s happened once and oh what a season that was

NCAA Football: Iowa at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten divisions have existed for a decade now and, as it stands, the month of October has been cruel to the Iowa Hawkeyes in their quest to playing in the Big Ten Championship. They’ve done it just once, after the 12-0 2015 regular season. But you already knew that.

What you may not have known is just how often Iowa puts themselves out of divisional contention before the calendar even turns to November. “Divisional contention” is a bit of a broad term, considering if things just went their way over those last four games, maybe they could. But early season losses regularly doom the Iowa Hawkeyes and have led to the black mark of just one division win since they began 10 seasons ago.

Below is an analysis of where Iowa stood on November 1 of each season since divisions took over and how long they had control of their destiny into November.

all data from sports-ref “Schedules & Results” tab for respective years (e.g: 2020)

2011

Record: 2-2
Standings: 4th

Michigan, MSU & Nebraska were tied at 3-1 and Iowa had games against each of them over the course of the next month. Iowa beat Michigan and lost to Michigan State in the following weeks, where they ceded control of their destiny. Sparty won out and the Hawks finished 4-4, good for a 4th place finish.

Verdict: Controlled until November 12

2012

Record: 2-2
Standings: 4th

Michigan & Nebraska were tied at 3-1 while Northwestern was at 3-2 with a win over Iowa locked up. Iowa was absolutely in the thick of it but didn’t have control of their own destiny considering the tiebreaker Northwestern had over them. We know how the rest of 2012 played out (6 straight losses), which is horrifying to know considering Iowa is not out of the thick of the Big Ten race at present.

Verdict: Out of control

2013

November 1st record: 2-2
Standings: 4th

Michigan State was 4-0 with the win over Iowa. Did win 3 of their final 4 Big Ten games, good for their best finish as a Legend (2nd).

Verdict: Out of control

2014

Record: 2-1
Standings: T-3rd

The Hawks were one of 4 one-loss teams before the November 1 games were played, with Iowa’s loss coming at Maryland in their first year of Big Ten football. Classic.

Still, the season was all in front of the Hawkeyes with their fellow one-loss-mates being rivals Minnesota, Nebraska, & Wisconsin. They beat Northwestern in their 11/1 tilt, as Nebraska and Wisconsin also won. Iowa famously dropped 3 of their next 4 and entered the 2015 offseason trophy-less.

It is funny the lesson carried over from 2014 is to have a filled trophy case.

Verdict: Controlled until November 8

2015

Record: 4-0
Standings: 1st

The most important thing about being 4-0 was the game-in-hand against Wisconsin, which meant Iowa would have to lose two games to have the West out of their control. The Hawks kept winning and finished two games clear of second place (Northwestern & Wisconsin at 6-2).

Verdict: Full control

2016

Record: 3-2
Standings: T-2nd (four way)

Though the Hawkeyes lost to both Northwestern & Wisconsin, they still had a game ahead with first place Nebraska. A path was there but they didn’t have control of it on 11/1. No matter, a 24-point loss to PSU after a bye (gosh, that sounds familiar), set them way back in a divisional race Wisconsin would lock up by virtue of Iowa’s Black Friday win over Nebraska.

Verdict: Out of control

2017

Record: 2-3
Standings: 4th

Pretty clearly out of Iowa’s control at this point. Wisconsin won going away. Iowa finished tied for 3rd, 5 games back.

Verdict: Out of control

2018

Record: 3-2
Standings: T-2nd

At 3-2 with losses to Wisconsin (also 3-2) & Penn State, Iowa had control with a game against 5-1 Northwestern looming a couple weeks away. The problem: Iowa couldn’t get past Purdue and added insult to injury with a loss to the Wildcats the following week.

Verdict: Controlled until November 3

2019

Record: 3-2
Standings: T-2nd

Another spot where Iowa was within striking distance without being in control (thank 5-0 Minnesota for that). The Hawkeyes gave up any chance they had in an early November loss to Wisconsin. Beat Minnesota, tho

Verdict: Out of control

2020

Record: 0-2
Standings: T-5th

No doubt, the lack of control here is much a fortune of playing the team who would ultimately win the division (Northwestern) within their first two games of the pandemic-shortened season. Still, how much does it say that even when two conference games are played before November, Iowa still cannot enter the month with control of their divisional fortunes?

Iowa ultimately did what they needed to do - win out - but only got one of the 3 required Northwestern losses.

Verdict: Out of control

2021

Record: 3-2
Standings: T-2nd

Sure, the Hawkeyes are tied for second and there is absolutely a path to their winning a division but they need additional losses from Purdue (likely with OSU & MSU on the schedule) and Wisconsin (not out of question but an absolutely weak slate down the stretch).

It’s a tough place to be three weeks after a 6-0 record & #2 ranking in the country.

Verdict: Out of control


It’s the 7th time in 11 seasons where Iowa enters November with the inability to win the division by virtue of their own success. Only once, 2015, have they controlled their destiny past the second game of the month.

The Hawkeyes have so rarely controlled their destiny in November that the additional heartache of losing a division in the final games of the season does not add any extra frustration than those losses might on their own. These September & October losses have allowed for Iowa to “reset their expectations” below a divisional title. Often that just means building towards very rewarding, but also very niche, wins against Nebraska into bowl season.

And, to be clear, the Hawkeyes have found success in November. They’re 9-1 over the last two seasons & 20-7 since 2015. Yet their inability to make these games relevant on a consistent basis lead to much of the frustration currently felt by the fanbase.

As a result, Iowa’s contention in the West, and by definition the Big Ten, once again remains reliant on outcomes outside of their control as the calendar turns to November.