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ON IOWA'S RECENT HISTORY WITH THE FCS

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A brief look back at Iowa's latest games with FCS teams and the trend developing after the 2011 season.

Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Once upon a time the athletic director at Big School U would pick up his gold-plated telephone, ask one of his three secretaries to get the Sacrificial Lamb State AD on the phone and an understanding would be reached: Sacrificial Lamb would be paid a copious amount of money to fly out to Big School, get slaughtered, take their paycheck and return to Nowheresville USA. It was how the system worked. It was a polite method for a FBS school to notch a win and a way for an FCS school to build a new recreational center that didn't require them to sell naming rights to a local cable provider.

And that's what would happen. FCS school would show up, get pantsed, take their check and go home. It's not like they didn't try. It's that they understood if they lost by 55. They understood. Then, suddenly...they didn't understand. And it wasn't like Michigan was the first FBS team to lose to an FCS school so at least they saved themselves that dishonorable mention. It was, however, a sign that anyone—even the college football Goliath that was the University of Michigan—was vulnerable from a stone slung from the David that was Appalachian State.

The majority of FBS v. FCS games go "as planned." Last year, the FBS went 100-8 against the FCS. Most of those games were absolute bloodbaths that had sportswriters from respected football towns questioning the entire FBS v. FCS exercise. Per John Feinstein's Washington Post article FBS vs. FCS games need to be limited:

Games like this have to stop. They have to stop because they are unfair — first and foremost — to the overmatched players who are publicly humiliated and beaten up playing against opponents who are much bigger, much stronger and much faster at every position.

Well, sure. But don't tell that to the eight teams that lost to FCS opponents in 2014. Or the sixteen that lost in 2013. Or the ten that lost in 2012. Specifically don't mention it to Florida, Oregon State, Colorado, Michigan, and Minnesota. They don't want to hear about humiliation when they just dropped a home game to a team from Directional Dakota. They, along with their fans want to know "What. Just. Happened?"

In Kirk Ferentz's sixteen years as head coach, he has never lost to an FCS School. That may not seem like an accomplishment but consider that in the past decade FCS schools have defeated Big Ten schools six times. For reference:

Year

FBS

FCS

Score

2006

Indiana

Southern Illinois

28-35

2006

Northwestern

New Hampshire

17-34

2007

Minnesota

NDSU

21-27

2007

Michigan

Appalachian State

32-34

2010

Minnesota

South Dakota

38-41

2011

Minnesota

NDSU

24-37

With the exception of 2009, Iowa took care of business during this timeframe, beating FCS opponents by at least three touchdowns. This included a 45-21 win over FCS Championship runner-up UNI in 2005, a 41-7 win over #3 Montana in 2006 and 20+ point wins over eventual playoff teams in 2008 Maine and 2011 Tennessee Tech.

After 2011, normalcy returned and the Big Ten took care of business in FCS games. For Iowa, something was different. To wit: it wasn't so easy to win. In review:

2012: Iowa 27, UNI 16

You might remember this game as Mark Weisman's coming out party. After rushing for over 100+ yards against NIU, Damon Bullock was tabbed as Iowa's #1 back and relied upon heavily by first-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis. You might remember some of the original play calling involving Bullock like:

bullockdavis

Bullock was ultimately injured and Greg Garmon stepped in only to also suffer a game-ending injury. Iowa led 17-13 at halftime, came out firing in the third quarter, took a 24-13 and Ferentz promptly locked down the offense. Entering the fourth quarter only up 24-16, Iowa opened up the playbook and drove to the UNI 1-yard line before settling with a Mike Meyer field goal to take a 27-16 lead. The Panthers weren't able to get anything going on offense on the next series, but they did manage to stop Iowa when it really counted. On a 4th and 1 on their own 1-yard line, UNI stuffed Weisman at the goal line and took over with 2:51 left in the game. Fortunately for Iowa there would be no Panther magic and UNI would ultimately turn the ball over on downs at Iowa's 43, ending the game.

2013: Iowa 28, Missouri State 14

The fact that it was 7-0 at halftime indicates just how bad this game was. After scoring midway through the first quarter, the offense apparently suffered the blue screen of death and wasn't able to reboot until after halftime. In the third quarter, the Hawkeyes put together a couple of quick touchdown drives and entered the fourth up 21-0. Then it went south.

Missouri State cut the lead to 14 after QB Kierra Harris pump faked and lofted a pass over Desmond King's head to Julian Burton for a 27-yard touchdown. The next drive, Jake Rudock attempted to throw a pass that could only be described as "terriawful" to C.J. Fiedorowicz and was promptly intercepted by linebacker Rique Bentley who ran it back for a touchdown. In less than a minute, the score had gone from 21-0 to 21-14.

Sensing danger, Iowa put together a solid drive and scored on the following possession, putting them up 28-14. The Bears wouldn't pack it in though. They put together a nice drive of their own, getting all the way to Iowa's 14 before Harris threw an interception to Tanner Miller in the endzone. The game was effectively over at that point.

2014: Iowa 31, UNI 23

This should still be fresh in everyone's mind so the recap will be relatively short. Basically, David Johnson does whatever he wants and terrorizes any linebacker covering/attempting to cover him. By the start of the fourth quarter Iowa is only up 24-20 and UNI has a first and goal on Iowa's ten. Fortunately for the Hawkeyes, UNI shoots themselves in the foot with some delay of game penalties and has to settle for a field goal. Iowa scores midway through the fourth, plays some solid defense and bleeds out the remainder of the clock.


From 2005-2011, Iowa was averaging a 27-point margin of victory against FCS opponents. Since 2011, the Hawkeyes are only averaging a margin of victory of 11 points. Further, every one of those contests since 2011 was a one-possession game at some point in the fourth quarter. The games have been close--far closer than they have ever been in the past.

So what is it? The quality of competition? 2012 UNI finished the season 5-6 (4-4) though they suffered a slew of injuries. 2013 Missouri State finished 5-7 (5-3). 2014 UNI went 9-5 (6-2) and lost in the second round of the FCS Playoffs to Illinois State.  While none of those teams were bad, they weren't top 5 FCS teams either. Is Davis to blame? Rudock? Ferentz? Other Ferentz? Point fingers at whomever.

Blame aside, the trend is concerning. It's particularly concerning because Iowa's season opener is against the FCS Championship runner-up Illinois State Redbirds: a team that has a former Big Ten starting quarterback in Tre Roberson, First-Team All-American Marshaun Coprich at running back and is ranked #2 in both FCS polls.

We'll get into specifics about Illinois State in the upcoming weeks. All you have to realize right now is that FCS or not, they are a very good team. Couple that fact with Iowa's disturbing trend of playing FCS teams close and you can understand why some aren't comfortable with simply shrugging it off and saying "Well, Kirk Ferentz has never lost to an FCS team so..." It's that type of attitude that can have a team and its fans in surrender cobra asking "What. Just. Happened?" as the clock strikes zero and well...you just lost to an FCS school.