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The View From the Cheap Seats: Saving Private Brian

Can Iowa average 25 ppg, and should it really matter?

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

In little less than 2 weeks the Iowa Hawkeye football team will take the field in Iowa City against the Utah State Aggies and officially begin what has been routinely mocked as “The Quest for 325”. This, of course, is in reference to the rider placed in his contract after last season requiring that Iowa score a minimum of 25 points per game, on average, during the 2023 season or his time as Iowa’s Offensive Coordinator might come to an end.

Before I begin, I want to include a small piece of the transcript from the initial press conference held by Beth Goetz, Iowa’s interim Athletic Director (as of August 1st)regarding our beleaguered and much pilloried Offensive Coordinator:

Regarding Brian Ferentz’s contract, is the contract provision still in place, the 25 points per game?


So if he doesn’t get 25 points per game —

BETH GOETZ: Let me lead with this: his goal, and I know because I’ve sat down with him, I’ve sat down with Kirk, and really the goal of every coach that we have here is to win games. I’m 100 percent convinced I was going into those conversations, I was going out, that their focus is on how do we win football games and how do we develop these young men.

As we look at those types of things, just like we would in any sport, you’re going to evaluate a season at the end and see how you did. But the goal is to win along the way, and I’ve won some ugly games as a coach and I never gave any of them back.

I have to admit, I was impressed by her ability to simultaneously double down and waffle on this subject, but my overall first impression is that she’s a huge get for the University and we should all be pretty optimistic about the future of the Iowa Athletic Department.

Now, let’s get to the point. What does it mean for the Iowa Hawkeye football team to average 25 points per game? Well, first, I want to issue a blanket reminder that the offense is not on the hook for that total, it is a composite statistic that includes points scored by the Defense (safeties, scoop and scores, pick sixes, etc…), and Special Teams (extra points, field goals, punt/kickoff returns TDs). If you’re reading this article, you’re probably aware of the prowess, and prolificity, of Iowa’s special Teams, especially when it comes to kickers.

Time for a History Lesson…

Let’s start with some high-level stats (I’m going to keep this little dive into Hawkeye football history confined to the seasons since Brian Ferentz became the Offensive Coordinator, just to maintain some perspective):


Total Points Scored: 1,919

Offensive points scored: 1,207

Offensive % of scoring: 62.9%

In Brian Ferentz’s 6 seasons as the OC, Defense and Special teams have provided 37.1% of all the points scored by the Iowa football team. Phil Parker and LeVar Woods do not get enough credit, seriously.

Now, let’s get a little more detailed and look at the season by season breakdowns:

Iowa Hawkeyes Scoring 2017-2022

Year  Total Points  Offensive Points  Offense %  D & S/T% 
Year  Total Points  Offensive Points  Offense %  D & S/T% 
2017  367  264  71.9  28.1 
2018  405  277  68.4  31.6 
2019  335  198  59.1  40.9 
2020  254  168  66.1  33.9 
2021  328  184  56.1  43.9 
2022  230  116  50.4  49.6 

Now, I’ve been told recently that one year does not make a trend, and I couldn’t agree more. However, we’re not talking about one year here, we’re talking about 6, and with the exception of the absolute insanity that was the 2020 college football season, there’s a pretty definite downward trend in offensive production during Brian’s tenure as the OC. That trend bottomed out in 2021 with the 131st ranked offense in the NCAA, and a near 50/50 split with the DS/T in terms of production.

It doesn’t take a sophisticated football mind to see that something is rotten in the stadium of Kinnick. Now, before you get your hackles up, I’m not here to put the blame squarely on Brian Ferentz. There are a lot of problems here and plenty of blame to go around, some for players, some for the coaches, and some for just plain bad luck, but I think it is fair to say that someone with the last name Ferentz shoulders the lion’s share.

325 Points doesn’t seem like a lot…

You’re right, it doesn’t, and there are many teams that eclipse that number every year. In fact, 33 FBS teams had offenses that scored 325+ points in 2022. But you know as well as I do that a Kirk Ferentz led team isn’t going to score 35+ points per game, nor is he going to needlessly run up the score against the overmatched teams that come into Kinnick for a payday in Weeks 1 & 3. So what, you might ask, would it look like for the Offense to average 25 points per game?

Well, let’s take 2017 as our baseline. In 2017 the offense scored 44 touchdowns (264 points). The defense chipped in with 4 tds and a safety (26 points), and Miguel Recinos kicked 44 extra points and made 11 FGs for a total of 77 points. Here’s how that averages out:

Offense – 20.31 ppg

Defense – 2.00 ppg

Special Teams – 5.92 ppg

Now, you could say that the credit for extra points should go to the unit that got the touchdown, and I can see that argument (though I disagree with it), but for the sake of argument, let’s look at how that influences the numbers:

Offense – 23.69 ppg

Defense – 2.31 ppg

Special Teams – 2.54 ppg

That certainly makes a difference, but even with a team full of playmakers (Akrum Wadley, Noah Fant, TJ Hockenson, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, and a few more), a team that hung half a hundred on tOSU, even with generous statistical interpretations, didn’t have an offense that averaged 25 points per game. That team also went 8-5 with close losses to Penn State (21-19), Michigan State (17-10), Northwestern (17-10) and not so close losses to Wisconsin and Purdue. The best offense we’ve seen in the last 6 years finished their season on December 27th with a win over Boston College in New York City.

The offense would have needed to score 11 additional touchdowns to break the 25 ppg mark (3 more if you’re generous enough to give them the XP credit) in 2017. 55 tds is what it takes for an offense to average 25 ppg over 13 games, last year the offense scored 19. In 2021 they scored 29. Does the 2023 team have a shot to score 55 touchdowns, maybe, but that’s a tall order for most offenses, let alone for an offense under Kirk Ferentz.

What’s your point?

My real point is this: the “Quest for 325” is not, and should not be, a real thing. The number of points a team scores is nowhere near as relevant as the number of games a team wins, and this team has won a lot of games under Kirk Ferentz, 186 to be exact. That’s 7.75 wins per season over 25 seasons, and there are a lot of college football programs that would love to have an average win total over 7.5 every year. Hell, there are programs inside the B1G that would kill for that kind of consistency (Rutgers, Northwestern, and Indiana to name a few). Let’s be honest, if this team wins 12 games and only averages 24 ppg, the calls for BF’s ouster are going to die down.

We are a very fortunate fanbase and I’ll always be the first to admit it. But I have to ask, why does this program always have such a hard time reaching its ceiling? Why hasn’t Iowa been able to break through and win the B1G outright since 2002? When I look back at some of the truly great teams that have played in Iowa City, I’m always left wondering what could have been.

In 2019 Iowa went 10-3 with losses to Michigan (10-3), Penn State (17-12) and Wisconsin (24-22). That team scored 25.8 ppg (335 total points), but 87 of those points came off the foot of Keith Duncan. Keith Duncan kicked 29 FGs in 2019 (3 short of the all time single season NCAA record). What if 5 of those FGs had been touchdowns? Do we beat UM, PSU, and UW? Is that team 12-0 and playing for the B1G championship? Is that team a CFP contender? We’ll never know, and that’s where it always seems to end, with more questions than answers.

Kirk Ferentz is a conservative coach, always has been, always will be. I’m grateful that he’s been the head coach of this team for 25 years. We’re lucky to have had that kind of continuity through a fairly tumultuous two decades for the game of college football and at times I think we, as fans, need to step back and be a bit clearer headed when it comes to evaluating his career at Iowa.

But, and it’s a big but, are we not allowed to expect more? It’s great that Iowa is one of 8 teams with 10 consecutive winning seasons. It’s great that we’re one of 6 teams to have won 8 or more games every season since 2015. But what I really want to know is why Iowa fans (unlike the fans of the other schools on a list that includes Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State to name a few) are expected to be happy just to be on the list? Are we wrong to hope that our place kicker won’t be our #1 scorer 76% of the time (all but 6 years out of 25 under KF)? Is it wrong of us to expect a little more in return for the $586K KF has earned per win over the last decade?

I grew up watching Iowa sports, dreamed of playing sports for Iowa, and I have a degree from the University of Iowa. I don’t think I’m wrong to think that Iowa’s alumni, fans, and booster deserve more, and no, I don’t think we should be happy to be on the list, we should want, and expect, more.

So, as I sit on my couch on September 2ndand watch this promising team of young men take the field for the first time, I’ll be hoping for more than just a seat at the table. I’ll be hoping for more than just another year of being the little school that could. I’ll be hoping for more than more proof that Iowa is a developmental program that turns unheralded prospects into NFL talent. I’ll be hoping for the kind of season that goes beyond what we’ve come to expect (and oftentimes grudgingly accept), and maybe, just maybe, this year we’ll finally get it. Honestly, I can’t think of a better way for Kirk Ferentz to get his 200th win at Iowa.

As always, GO HAWKS!