Well, well, well. You thought I gave up on doing this after the Ohio State game last year.
Bizarro Max is back with some BizarroMath to cut past media bias and legacy lifts and find the truth in the numbers.
Do you know how you win football games? You score more points than the other team. That’s what matters when the clock runs out: the scoreboard. Here at BizarroMath University, that’s all we care about. Not who you already beat, not who you already played, not record, not star rankings, not head coaches, not prior glory. Points. How many can you score, and how many do you surrender?
In 2013, I created a predictive model for Iowa football games which has matured over the years into what I now call BizarroMath. If you’d like to look at the numbers yourself, visit the official BizarroMath web site. If you want to know how it works, check out the FAQ section, which contains a small amount of unhelpful information.
But right now you don’t care about that. You want numbers.
Let’s set the table. Leaving out non-FBS games, Iowa finished 2022 with an average of 18.36 ppg scored (from all sources, including defensive scores). After adjusting for Iowa’s opponent strength, the Hawkeyes put up an opponent-adjusted 24.64 points per game. Yardage was also anemic, at 263.45 raw, 308.18 opponent-adjusted. Gross. But that defense, man. 15.45 ppg raw, 12.29 ppg adjusted.
The offense can’t possibly be that bad in 2023, but the defense also can’t possibly be that good. Can it? We’ll find out soon. But for now, the BizarroMath system doesn’t make offseason adjustments (yet), so the model I’m rolling out in this post can be thought of as a hypothetical “what would 2022 Iowa do against the 2023 schedule?”
Utah State (Sep. 2, 2023)
This is not an awesome Utah State team. The Aggies play in the Mountain West and lost a bowl game last year to go 6-7, which is only slightly better than going 5-7 and not playing in one at all. There are no good wins on the 2022 Aggie record. They beat only beat two teams with winning records, 10-3 Air Force and 7-5 San Jose State.
The Machine thinks BF is going to kick off the season with a screaming start by putting up 35+ against the Aggies, and the defense is going to make this game at a laughter with less than 10 points yielded. I’m on board with the computer’s absurd 92.26% chance of victory, and I think it’s even more lopsided. Utah State fielded the 106th worst defense last year, giving up an average of 31.2 ppg against Mountain West offenses. Iowa’s offense is still going to be well below average, but there is no better chance on the schedule to puff those stats. I look for at least one defensive or special teams score and maybe a late garbage time touchdown.
The Machine Says: IA 36, Utah State 10
BizarroMax Says: IA 42, Utah State 13
@Iowa State (Sep. 9, 2023)
Iowa State’s offense was comparable to Iowa’s last year, which is bad. And their defense was good, too, though not quite on par with Iowa’s. It was special teams that let the Cyclones down. A kicker was likely the margin between Iowa State going bowling and going nowhere. That problem seems to have gotten better in the offseason, but Iowa’s roster has been strengthened substantially, whereas the Cyclones’ roster has been shredded by the gambling issues, a fact the computer doesn’t know.
My math has ISU winning, but, even playing in Ames, I’m having trouble seeing that happening this year. The Iowa offense might not light the field on fire, but the defense ought to be able to contain whatever shambling horror show Matt Campbell manages to assemble by kickoff. Look for game 2 of the McNamera era (which we can just call the McNamERA) to pad the numbers a bit more as Iowa’s defense tacks on some scoring and sets up short fields.
The Machine Says: ISU 13, IA 9
BizarroMax Says: IA 31, ISU 3
Western Michigan (Sep. 16, 2023)
The Broncos were bad last year. They put up 37 points in a win over Ball State, and 44 against hapless New Hampshire, and then never scored more than 23 points for the rest of the season. This one’s on shutout alert, but the second team defense might cough up some garbage time points. Western Michigan is a bit better on defense, but the Hawkeyes’ recruiting advantage ought to prove decisive here, especially if Iowa’s offense line is even 25% of what the coaching staff would like us to believe. There’s no reason to sweat this one. Enjoy several Swarm beers before conference play kicks off in Happy Valley.
The Machine Says: IA 29, WMI 3
BizarroMax Says: IA 27, WMI 7
@Penn State (Sep. 23, 2023)
I have been lukewarm on Penn State for quite some time. I think the Lions are chronically overrated and I simply do not see what everybody else loves so much about HC James Franklin, who seems to invent new ways to lose winnable games. But the drumbeat of pundits predicting an elite Penn State team this year is hard to ignore, and they’re much smarter than me.
The math also has their back. The Lions put up a scorching 39.53 ppg adjusted last year, while giving up an opponent-adjusted 13.59. That’s nuts, and BizarroMath thinks it’s just too much for Iowa to handle, favoring the Lions by 12.22 and giving Iowa just a 30.4% chance of winning. I’m afraid I have to side with the ghost in the machine on this one. Iowa opens conference play with a big wet fart, though I can see Iowa tacking on a late score to make it respectable.
The Machine Says: PSU 24, IA 13
BizarroMax Says: PSU 24, IA 20
Michigan State (Sep. 30, 2023)
I know almost nothing about MSU, other than I thought it was absurd to give Mel Tucker that nutty contract after one season. The standard deviation of a sample size of 1 is problematic. The Spartans of 2022 were odd. In terms of raw numbers, they scored 24.42 ppg and gave up 27.42. Those are losing numbers. But they were better than their record. Opponent-adjusted, the Spartans scored 30.39 ppg and gave up just 23.42. This tells me they played a tough schedule last year, and they might be a tougher out than they look on paper.
Coming off a loss at Penn State, the Hawks will be looking to get back on top and I foresee this the same way as the machine: an Iowa win by a comfortable margin, but I think the game is probably close in the 4th quarter until the Hawks tack on a score to put it out of reach.
The Machine Says: IA 24, MSU 14
BizarroMax Says: IA 23, MSU 13
Purdue (Oct. 7, 2023)
Coming off a Big 10 West Division Championship, Purdue is a bit of a mystery in 2023. Significant roster churn and a new coaching staff leave us wondering whether Purdue’s penchant for finding and exploiting soft spots in Iowa’s secondary will continue. Like Michigan State, in raw numbers, the Boilermakers were upside in 2022, scoring just 25.75 ppg while giving up 26.67. But, after adjusting for opponent strength, the flips to a respective +10 in favor of the offense, which put up OA 33.31 ppg to the defense’s 23.73. But the differential just isn’t big enough, as the machine thinks Iowa will hold the Choo Choos in check at Kinnick and do just enough on offense to win the last great battle against our most hated rival. But, if Iowa is destined for greatness in 2023, this is the time in the season when it should all start to click, and I’m calling for a convincing tune-up before hitting the road to play Wisconsin.
The Machine Says: IA 24, PUR 17
BizarroMax Says: IA 33, PUR 10
@Wisconsin (Oct. 14, 2023)
Wisconsin’s cut off jean shorts are bedazzled with rhinestone question marks. How will the Badgers marry its power run game to an Air Raid-esque offense? Will it really be that different, or will we just see the game open a bit downfield? If you’ve read me over the last few years, you know that I think the foundation of the House that Barry Built has been crumbling for years. And, I don’t think Luke Fickell has the answer at this point in the season.
I look for 2023 Wisconsin to sputter and gasp in fits and starts like a tired jalopy, finding its feet and cruising every once in a while only to jerk to an abrupt halt. Regardless, the algorithm has this one as a toss-up, with the Badgers slightly favored by a half-point at home. Look, Wisconsin won’t be bad - they, like Iowa, are almost never flat out bad. But I think the whole will be less than the sum of its parts at this point in the season, and the New Badgers won’t gel until after Iowa leaves town and takes the bull with it.
The Machine Says: WI 18, IA 17
BizarroMax Says: IA 21, WI 17
Minnesota (Oct. 21, 2023)
Minnesota was, like every other Iowa opponent, a better offense paired with a worse defense. The 2022 Edition of the Gilded Rodents put up an OA 28.09 ppg and gave up just 15.10. The math makes this one basically a wash, and the Gophers are about a 2.7 point underdog in Kinnick, which is darn close to the inferred home field advantage in Iowa City. That means this is a coin flip on a neutral field.
But it’s not on a neutral field. It’s on our field, on those filthy vermin haven’t won a game in Iowa City since William Jefferson Clinton was President of These United States. And they aren’t winning one this year.
The Machine Says: IA 16, MN 13
BizarroMax Says: IA 28, MN 10
@Northwestern (Nov. 4, 2023)
This game is a laugher and there’s no reason to waste much time on it, but do note this: despite the widespread belief that the Wildcats might not win a conference game this year, my math gives Northwestern a puncher’s chance at a bowl game (26.04%), and gives the ‘Cats a 50/50 shot at going 5-7 or better. They aren’t favored in any of their games other than Rutgers and UTEP, but they aren’t completely out of any of them, either, except for Penn State. It’s a testament to the mediocrity of the division, I suppose. But Iowa’s playstyle is well-suited to get through a game like this in an unnecessarily stressful, unremarkable fashion. I see the Hawks getting to 14 points and then just sitting on the Wildcats and farting for 2 and a half quarters.
The Machine Says: IA 21, NWU 14
BizarroMax Says: IA 17, NW 7
Rutgers (Nov. 11, 2023)
Why do we have to play this game? No offense, Scarlet Knights, I’ve run into a few of you, you’re good folks, but there’s just no sizzle here, though I do enjoy the Iowa-Rutgers basketball games.
Rutgers will be, at best, on the bad side of mediocre, and barring some untimely injuries and/or weird run of freakish turnovers, I don’t see a way the Hawks don’t win, but this game could be the last hurdle before Iowa faces off against Illinois for the Division title the following week. As such, this matchup has shades of Purdue 2015, and I think it might actually wind up being irritatingly close for the first half and maybe until the third quarter. But eventually Iowa makes a couple of plays that give it enough of a lead that the team can lean on Parker’s Pack, and the final score is perhaps not reflective of the competitiveness of the game.
The Machine Says: IA 27, RUT 6
BizarroMax Says: IA 30, RUT 10
Illinois (Nov. 18, 2023)
This is it. The game that decides the West.
In 2022, the Illini put up 24.91 ppg raw, 31.00 adjusted, and gave up just 13.36 ppg raw, 12.07 adjusted. Those defensive numbers are Iowa-like. The offensive numbers are better than Iowa’s, but not actually by that much. These teams are the Spiderman meme, pointing back at each other. “You!” “No, YOU!” The gap between these teams has been tight for several years now. And we saw that on the field last year, with both squads being basically evenly matched, and a handful of plays and close calls by the zebras ultimately deciding the winner.
The same is likely to be the case this year, but I think Illinois has more roster questions than Iowa, and the game is in Iowa City, so I’m saying advantage: Hawkeyes. And I love the math’s score prediction. The Hawks with a tuddy, two kicks, and a safety? That’s a very Illinois-Iowa final score. Approved!
The Machine Says: IA 15, ILL 13
BizarroMax Says: IA 15, ILL 13
@Nebraska (Nov. 24, 2023)
In my calculus, the Division has been decided by this point. Iowa is sitting at 10-1 and I’ve got Illinois at 9-2, so this is an exhibition game. If Iowa was playing Nebraska early in the season, I’d tip my hat to the Hawks and think no more of it, but if the Matt Ruhl Experience is going to blossom, the branches should be budding by now. There’s also something to the idea of momentum. Nebraska hasn’t won its last game of the season in a long time, and maybe the offseason positivity around the program carries some momentum over into 2023.
Anyway, Nebraska’s win last year was a bit of an aberration, but one thing has been consistent: the Cornhuskers can score on Iowa’s defense. Scott Frost never beat the Hawkeyes, but he also never scored less than 20 points against them. Last year was more of the same, with Iowa’s defense giving up 24. In any other year of the last decade, that still would have been enough of a defensive performance to give the Hawkeyes the win. In the ten prior seasons from 2013 to 2022, the lowest point total Iowa managed against Nebraska was 26.
But here’s the bottom line. Nebraska has never beaten a ranked Iowa team (in their defense, they haven’t played many). At 10-1, Iowa would be ranked heading to Lincoln. I do expect this Nebraska team to be much more fundamentally sound, but the cultural rebuild Nebraska needs is a multi-year project. Neither me nor the math can see the Cornhuskers repeating last year’s gutty win, but I do think Nebraska keeps it close and forces Iowa to make some offensive plays down the stretch to put this one away.
The Machine Says: IA 23, NEB 13
BizarroMax Says: IA 30, NEB 27
Look, I know folks are excited about a new quarterback, but let’s be realistic here. Iowa’s path through the West looks reasonably clear not just because Iowa has some exciting new players, but because the schedule lines up pretty well and there are so many question marks elsewhere. Four of the seven teams in the Division have new coaches. Northwestern is in a tailspin. Purdue and Wisconsin are inscrutable. Nebraska is always dangerous. Illinois isn’t a cupcake anymore. I’m glad we get Minnesota at home.
Is Iowa really going 11-1? Not likely. There’s too many close games here. My season analysis says the chances of 11-1 are just 2.02%. The most likely outcome is 8-4 and, if that doesn’t happen, 7-5 is more likely than 9-3. But in this whacky final year of the B1G West, 9-3 just might be enough to get it done.