If you missed it, check out the prior storeis in this series here:
BizMarro Math Models The October Games
Moving into the meat and potatoes of the conference season, October brings the Hawkeyes face to face with some stiff competition, as Iowa plays both Michigan and Ohio State in the same season for the first time since 2013. Let’s talk about that.
Iowa has a grand total of 30 all-time combined wins over Michigan and Ohio State, split evenly at 15 apiece. In all that time, there has been only one season in which Iowa defeated both teams, and it’s an unremarkable footnote in Hawkeye history. In 1962, Iowa’s went 4-5, with two of its wins coming in Iowa City at the expense of Michigan and Ohio State, both of which were unranked at the time. Weirdly, Iowa won both games by a score of 28-14.
In every other season in which Iowa beat one of those teams, the Hawkeyes either did not play, or lost to, the other. I’ve summarized this in a fancy chart.* Suffice it to say history does not favor the Hawkeyes in October.
Iowa All-Time Wins over Michigan and Ohio State
[*Ed. Note: There were plenty of seasons where Iowa lost to both Michigan and Ohio State in one season, which are not charted here. We’re talking about seasons where Iowa beat at least one.]
With that in mind, on to the math!
Michigan (Oct. 1, 2022)
The defending conference champions pair a brutally effective defense with a capable and punishing offense that moves the ball on the ground and does enough through the air to keep you honest. Michigan is what Iowa wants to be. On offense, the 2021 Wolverines put up (all OA) 42.13 PPG and a clip of 475.78 YPG and 6.91 YPP. By contrast, the defense was exceedingly tight, yielding an opponent-adjusted 13.47 PPG, 302 YPG, and 4.49 YPP. Yikes!
Playing at Iowa, the machine foresees the Hawkeyes holding Michigan’s offense in check, but not being able to come up with enough offense of its own to notch the win. BizMa projects 28.62 points for the Wolverines, and it is difficult to see Iowa’s offense getting to 20, much less 30. The machine has Iowa scoring just 16.97 at home. This works out to a Michigan spread advantage of +11.65, which translates in an Iowa win percentage of just 31.31%.
I’m having trouble coming up with good reasons to disagree with the outcome, though I think Iowa may show better than the data suggests. The intangibles lean Iowa. Let’s go over them.
First, the game’s at Kinnick, the place where undefeated ranked teams go to die, especially at night. The kickoff time for this game has not yet been announced, but the sun sets at 6:48 in Iowa City on October 1. Even a late afternoon start might inject Kinnick Stadium with a shot of evening mojo. This is perhaps one reason why beating Iowa State is crucial: a 4-0 Iowa is almost certainly ranked, and a battle of undefeated ranked Big 10 teams in a rematch of last year’s championship game is the kind of narrative that lands you prime television real estate.
Second, this will probably be Iowa’s first chance of the season to notch a win over a ranked opponent, and Iowa has historically played Michigan tough at home. The Wolverines are 1-5 in their last 6 visits to Iowa City. All but one of those games were won by a field goal or less (the exception is Iowa’s 8-point win in 2011). These games tend to be close and tight, and it hasn’t mattered how good the teams are. Iowa was the superior team in 2009 and escaped with a narrow 2-point victory, and undefeated Michigan lost in 2016 to an unranked Iowa team.
Third, although Iowa is clearly outgunned on the roster, you have to believe the Hawkeye coaches will have the “highlights” and score from last year’s Big 10 Championship Game in the locker room. Iowa’s pathetic showing in that game provided confirmation bias for all the flapping heads on social media about how Iowa didn’t belong. The Hawkeyes are no doubt eager to set the record straight.
My gut says Iowa acquits itself respectably but just doesn’t have enough on offense to keep up, and the defense wears down late. I think this game winds up being closer than the final score looks on paper as Iowa fails to capitalize on opportunities to take control of the game, keeping it agonizingly close for more than three quarters before Michigan bursts through a fatigued defense to make it all academic.
BzzaroMath: Iowa 16.97, Michigan 28.62 (Michigan +11.65)
BizzaroMax: Michigan 27, Iowa 17.
@Illinois (Oct. 8, 2022)
After a bruising, physical home stand against Michigan, the Hawkeyes go to Champaign to take on whatever it is BB has transformed Illinois into by the second week of October.
On paper, the Illini field an offense that is about at Iowa’s level of below average, and a defense that is plucky but not quite as impenetrable. The Illini put up an OA 23.06 PPG last year, good for 339.23 YPG and 4.98 YPP. On defense, they gave up an OA 20.17 PPG, 348.25 YPG, and 5.02 YPP. This statistical profile smells a lot like Iowa’s, just not quite as good on either side of the ball, and the home field advantage in Champaign is not overwhelming.
The machine is calling it an Iowa win, projecting 21.08 points for the Hawks to 15.49 for the Illini, giving Iowa an advantage of 5.60 points and a win percentage of 58.97%. Illinois jumped out to a 10-0 lead over Iowa in Kinnick last year, but the Iowa defense and special teams sealed the deal. Iowa’s points last year came off a 100 yard Charlie Jones kickoff return, four Caleb Shudak field goals (including an absurd 51 yarder), a Jack Campbell pick-six, and one short touchdown drive of 50 yards. This game was effectively over when Shudak’s final field goal put Iowa up 26-16 with 1:55 to play.
I hate the “sustainability” argument about winning games with defense and special teams, but there is a limit to how many times you can trot a two-legged stool out onto the field and nobody knocks it over. Purdue and Wisconsin showed us the formula: just take care of the ball. But Illinois remains a work-in-progress. BB doesn’t have all his pieces in place yet, and the Illini are probably going to be juuuust error-prone enough for Iowa to win on the road, though I think they’ll need more than a single touchdown drive.
BizarroMath: Iowa 21.08, Illinois 15.49 (Iowa +5.60)
BizarroMax: Iowa 27, Illinois 23
@Ohio State (Oct. 22, 2022)
After Illinois, the Hawkeyes are idle, and they’ll need every second of the spare week to prepare for their first trip to Columbus since 2013.
In that last matchup, the Hawkeyes were in the midst of a rehabilitation campaign after the dreadful 4-8 showing of 2012, and nobody expected a competitive matchup with the Buckeyes on the road. But we got one. If you ever need an example of what it looks like to out-coach your opponent but lose on talent, look no further. Iowa rolled out a number of previously unseen offensive formations in this game that befuddled the Buckeyes, allowing Iowa to drive the ball against Ohio State with surprising ease early on (naturally, we never saw those formations again....).
It was on defense that the Hawkeyes simply could not match up athletically. Ohio State didn’t punt the ball a single time in 2013, yet the game was tied at 24-24 going into the fourth quarter. Iowa’s defense ran out of gas chasing Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde around the Shoe all afternoon, and the Buckeyes eventually pulled away to win 34-24.
This year should be different, and not in a good way. The 2021 Buckeyes posted an absurd OA 51.14 PPG, 584 YPG, and blistering 8.47 YPP. Their defense caught a lot of shade, but it wasn’t bad, yielding OA 19.19 PPG, 350.08 YPG, and giving up just 4.91 YPP. Iowa’s offense could conceivably put up 20+ points against the Ohio State defense, but even Iowa’s championship-caliber defense will not be able to contain the Buckeye O. The algorithm projects Ohio State to lay down 38.50 points on Iowa while surrendering just 20.07. The lopsided 18.43 point advantage gives Iowa just a 20.43% chance at winning this game.
The extra week to prepare may help, but unless Iowa can find some way to hold Ohio State under 30 points, the Hawkeyes have no realistic chance of winning this game. Interestingly, the most successful defense against the Buckeyes last year was Nebraska, who held Ohio State to just 26 points. Michigan was a close second at 27. If Iowa can do as well, the Hawkeyes need to find 30 points of offense to pull off a 30-28 type of nail-biter win.
But Iowa only got to 30 or more points last year a handful of times, and it was on defensive and special teams scores (Indiana, Maryland, Illinois). If the Hawkeyes can’t turn Ohio State over or pull off some field position heroics, the machine may be right. You have to think Ohio State won’t be looking past Iowa like they did in 2017, and I am not optimistic for Woodshed 2.0: The Road Show.
BizarroMath: OSU 38.50, Iowa 20.07 (OSU +18.43)
BizarroMax: OSU 34, Iowa 17.
Side note: I’m going out to Columbus for the game. Looking for tailgating opportunities. Hit me up.
Northwestern (Oct. 28, 2022)
And finally, the Hawkeyes will most likely be returning to Iowa City licking their wounds and in need of a win when Northwestern comes to town. The absolute best thing about this game is that it is at Iowa, which means we do not have to listen to stock audio “Rawr Rarw!” cat sounds being played over the P/A at Ryan Field six times a minute.
The Wildcats were dreadful in 2021, posting just 20.81 YPG and giving up 30.95, moving 351.84 YPG while yielding 458.50, and advancing ball at a clip of 5.01 YPP while surrendering 6.47. Despite that, Iowa managed to score just 17 points on the road last year in this game.
The intangibles in that game favored Northwestern. Iowa started Alex Padilla in that game, his first career start (I think?), and it was on the road at lifeless Ryan Field. The game was even briefly interrupted by some protestors. Plus there’s Coach Fitzgerald’s oft-denied but clearly real obsession with beating Iowa.
Regardless, BizMa sees this as Iowa’s easiest win of the season, projecting the Hawkeyes to put up 34.94 to the Wildcats’ 11.71. That 23.23 point advantage works out to an 87.26% chance of victory.
Look, Iowa was better than Northwestern last year. Iowa is better than Northwestern this year. Iowa is better than Northwestern almost every year. So is almost everybody else. I also don’t really believe in Even/Odd Year Northwestern. That’s a nascent phenomenon created primarily by the lunacy of 2020. If you asterisk that season (and you should), we had a good Northwestern quad from 2015 to 2018 that stumbled into a trough they are seemingly still in. This is as bad as Northwestern has been since Fitzgerald arrived.
But it doesn’t matter. Northwestern has Pat Fitzgerald, and as long as he’s there, that team can bite anybody, any time, any week. I am highly confident he’ll get the team sorted in time for USC to know the pain of losing 17-13 at home to the Wildcats. But for now, I think Northwestern has too big a hill to climb. They’ll put up a fight, but Iowa should have this well in hand by the fourth quarter.
BizarroMath: Iowa 34.94, Northwestern 11.71 (Iowa +23.23)
BizarroMax: Iowa 27, Northwestern 6
All told, both me and the machine have the Hawkeyes going 2-2 in October. After a 3-1 September, that puts the Hawkeyes at an understandable but unimpressive 5-3 heading into the Big 10 West meat grinder. Stay tuned for the November game preview, coming soon!