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PROJECTING THE 2014 IOWA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

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Last time we looked at the projected ratings and rankings for the upcoming season. This time, let's look at how the actual season could play out.

Byron Hetzler-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 campaign is the season when the already misleadingly-named Big Ten conference expands from twelve to fourteen teams. Technically, this already happened on July 1st, but the upcoming season is the first time we will see the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights face off against actual Big Ten teams on the gridiron. The additions of Maryland and Rutgers haven't had a huge effect on every team in the conference, but one team that it has had an effect on for the upcoming season is Iowa. That's because with Maryland and Rutgers now needing to be figured into the scheduling, Iowa all of the sudden has a fall slate that is devoid of traditional and recent Big Ten powerhouses in Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, and Michigan State. Instead, the Hawkeyes find themselves playing less-heralded teams like Illinois, Maryland, and Purdue. Looking at this schedule, it's hard not to get a little excited for the possibilities. Even if Iowa only projects as a preseason true talent 7-5 team by THOR+, this schedule makes it a real possibility that their actual record will be better. But how much better could it be?

Last time I gave you the projected ratings and rankings for each team for the 2014 season. Those are helpful to get an idea of what we think the true talent level of each team is, but to ground this a little more in what could actually happen on the field, I wanted to look at the entire Big Ten season. What I did then, was simulate the entire season for each Big Ten team 1000 times based on the THOR+ projections. I then kept track of how often each team finished the season with a certain number of total wins and conference wins. This should help give us an idea of how the 2014 season could play out.

Keep in mind again, that these projections are conservative. That means there is not much distance between each team in the projections. The difference between being a top 25 team and falling outside the top 50 is only 7 percentage points right now. That gap will grow as the season plays out. For instance, in 2013 the difference from falling within the top 25 and falling outside the top 50 was 13 percentage points. That will happen again in 2014. This is especially something to keep in mind for the Big Ten. As you can see on the chart in my last post, the entire conference is clustered pretty tightly, with the exception of lowly Purdue. That means, right now, the projections feel that each team has a fairly decent shot to beat each other. As that gap grows during the season, the pre-game odds will reflect that.

Before I get to the results of the thousand simulations, here's what the final conference standings would look like if each team won every game that they are favored in, according to THOR+:

East Wins Losses Win% Conference Wins Conference Losses Conference Win%
Ohio State 10 2 0.833 6 2 0.750
Michigan 8 4 0.667 5 3 0.625
Michigan State 8 4 0.667 5 3 0.625
Indiana 6 6 0.500 4 4 0.500
Penn State 7 5 0.583 4 4 0.500
Maryland 6 6 0.500 3 5 0.375
Rutgers 4 8 0.333 2 6 0.250
Total 49 35 0.583 29 27 0.518

West Wins Losses Win% Conference Wins Conference Losses Conference Win%
Wisconsin 10 2 0.833 7 1 0.875
Iowa 8 4 0.667 5 3 0.625
Nebraska 7 5 0.583 4 4 0.500
Illinois 7 5 0.583 4 4 0.500
Northwestern 7 5 0.583 4 4 0.500
Minnesota 6 6 0.500 3 5 0.375
Purdue 3 9 0.250 0 8 0.000
Total 48 36 0.571 27 29 0.482

That scenario sees a Big Ten Championship game of Ohio State and Wisconsin. And that certainly seems believable, but the odds of the season playing out exactly like that are microscopic. That scenario means that each team would win every game they are favored in, whether they are a 51% favorite or a 99% favorite. There's no way every team is going to win every game they are favored in. That just doesn't happen. And if it did, well, we wouldn't need to play the actual games. But that's where the simulation becomes helpful. Looking at the season 1000 times allows us to see the various possible outcomes for every team, and allows us to envision scenarios that are more likely to happen than others. So here are the season totals in chart form:

2014 Big Ten Projected Wins

The first tab shows total wins, and the second tab shows conference wins. You can also switch between teams by using the drop down menu at the bottom. Now, here are the same results in table format. Each team is in order from highest preseason THOR+ rating to lowest. First, total wins:

Wins 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Ohio State 0.00% 0.00% 0.90% 3.30% 7.71% 13.81% 21.72% 23.82% 18.72% 7.81% 1.90% 0.30%
Wisconsin 0.00% 0.00% 0.10% 1.10% 3.30% 9.70% 20.70% 26.60% 21.30% 13.10% 3.90% 0.20%
Michigan 0.00% 0.00% 0.20% 2.20% 5.20% 18.70% 23.90% 24.00% 16.90% 6.50% 2.30% 0.10%
Michigan State 0.10% 0.10% 1.00% 2.70% 9.50% 20.40% 24.60% 21.50% 13.20% 6.10% 0.80% 0.00%
Iowa 0.00% 0.00% 1.10% 4.40% 10.60% 18.90% 24.20% 23.20% 11.10% 5.70% 0.70% 0.10%
Nebraska 0.00% 0.10% 1.70% 4.61% 11.42% 17.54% 28.16% 20.94% 10.82% 3.81% 0.90% 0.00%
Maryland 0.00% 0.40% 3.40% 9.10% 20.40% 25.20% 22.00% 11.90% 6.30% 0.90% 0.40% 0.00%
Indiana 0.00% 0.40% 3.30% 9.30% 16.80% 23.80% 24.70% 14.20% 5.50% 1.50% 0.50% 0.00%
Rutgers 0.00% 0.40% 3.90% 9.20% 18.90% 24.00% 21.50% 15.50% 4.30% 1.70% 0.50% 0.10%
Illinois 0.00% 0.10% 1.30% 5.70% 15.70% 23.50% 24.60% 17.70% 7.90% 2.80% 0.70% 0.00%
Minnesota 0.00% 0.50% 2.50% 5.70% 15.90% 25.20% 23.60% 17.70% 6.80% 1.70% 0.40% 0.00%
Penn State 0.10% 0.70% 3.40% 9.40% 19.30% 24.20% 22.90% 13.60% 5.50% 0.80% 0.10% 0.00%
Northwestern 0.00% 1.50% 3.40% 8.21% 20.52% 24.62% 21.52% 13.81% 5.61% 0.70% 0.10% 0.00%
Purdue 0.70% 2.20% 10.30% 20.70% 25.00% 25.10% 11.10% 4.20% 0.70% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%

And here are conference wins:

Conference Wins 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Ohio State 0.00% 0.70% 3.60% 12.51% 23.52% 28.13% 23.12% 6.91% 1.50%
Wisconsin 0.00% 0.40% 1.70% 9.30% 21.50% 32.30% 22.80% 10.10% 1.90%
Michigan 0.00% 0.80% 3.10% 15.90% 27.30% 27.90% 18.30% 5.80% 0.90%
Michigan State 0.30% 1.10% 7.00% 16.20% 27.00% 26.00% 16.50% 5.40% 0.50%
Iowa 0.10% 2.10% 8.20% 19.10% 26.90% 25.60% 14.30% 3.10% 0.60%
Nebraska 0.40% 1.80% 8.00% 18.90% 30.10% 25.00% 11.10% 4.20% 0.50%
Maryland 0.30% 5.30% 12.90% 26.30% 29.90% 17.40% 6.30% 1.30% 0.30%
Indiana 0.00% 2.40% 11.62% 23.15% 30.26% 20.34% 9.62% 2.40% 0.20%
Rutgers 0.70% 4.70% 14.30% 26.80% 28.20% 17.70% 5.60% 1.50% 0.50%
Illinois 0.00% 2.40% 12.20% 24.00% 30.30% 21.40% 7.10% 2.30% 0.30%
Minnesota 0.60% 3.20% 12.20% 23.50% 31.50% 20.20% 7.20% 1.50% 0.10%
Penn State 0.80% 4.40% 14.20% 28.80% 29.90% 16.00% 5.40% 0.50% 0.00%
Northwestern 1.00% 4.00% 14.50% 27.50% 25.80% 19.10% 6.90% 1.20% 0.00%
Purdue 2.60% 14.61% 30.03% 29.93% 16.32% 5.61% 0.90% 0.00% 0.00%

For the sake of keeping this post shorter than it could be, I'm just going to focus on Iowa. Here are their projected odds for winning each game, according to THOR+:

Date Home Team Home Win% Away Team Away Win% Projected Outcome
30-Aug Iowa 99.00% UNI 1.00% Win
6-Sep Iowa 70.48% Ball State 29.52% Win
13-Sep Iowa 71.55% Iowa State 28.45% Win
20-Sep Pittsburgh 55.75% Iowa 44.25% Loss
27-Sep Purdue 43.49% Iowa 56.51% Win
11-Oct Iowa 66.13% Indiana 33.87% Win
18-Oct Maryland 60.60% Iowa 39.40% Loss
1-Nov Iowa 70.68% Northwestern 29.32% Win
8-Nov Minnesota 58.57% Iowa 41.43% Loss
15-Nov Illinois 59.46% Iowa 40.54% Loss
22-Nov Iowa 55.43% Wisconsin 44.57% Win
28-Nov Iowa 63.73% Nebraska 36.27% Win

*Note: Because UNI is an FCS team, I don't keep data on them. So while I fully remember the 2009 UNI game, I am still choosing to use 99% as the win percentage for Iowa against the Panthers. I use the same odds for all FBS vs. FCS match ups. However, I definitely admit there is an argument to be made that UNI has better odds of winning than 1%.

Because most of the Big Ten is fairly clustered together in the preseason projections, THOR+ still sees a decent possibility that the 2014 Iowa Hawkeyes win only 7 games. However, because the schedule sees them missing three of the top four projected teams in the conference, THOR+ also sees an almost equal chance of them winning 8 games. 6 wins was the third most-likely outcome and 9 was fourth. As for conference wins, we see that Iowa mainly came away with 4-5 Big Ten wins each time a simulation was run. So the conservative preseason projections have Iowa finishing the season 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the conference, or 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the conference about 50% of the time.

There are two things to consider here. First, it's that Iowa is projected by THOR+ to be the 33rd best team in the nation this year. If they finish the season there, their final THOR+ rating will be closer to 115 instead of the preseason projection of 111. If that's the case, then THOR+ will see them as closer to a true talent 8 win team. If they do finish the season with a projected 111 THOR+, then they would be seen as closer to a 7 win team and somewhere around the 46th best team in the country. That matters for how we think Iowa will do this season. If we think they are closer to the 33rd best team in the country, then we see an 8 win team, with a schedule that may allow for 9 or 10. If we see a team that is closer to that 111 THOR+, and consequently that #46 ranking, then we see Iowa as a true talent 7 win team, with the chance to get to 8 or 9. That's a big deal. That one win can be the difference between a New Year's Day bowl and a New Year's Eve bowl.

Another thing to consider, is also the chance that teams like Illinois and Minnesota (and others) won't be quite as good as projected. Both teams are projected to be just outside the national top 50 and THOR+ sees both teams winning, on average, 6-7 games in a majority of the simulations. Both teams are currently favored at home against Iowa, and both have the ability to beat Iowa on the road. With that being said, if these teams end up being worse than projected, Iowa may be able to really take advantage of missing Ohio State and both Michigans this year. Of course, if any of these teams fall short of their projections, they are still likely to be around average, and average teams are still not teams Iowa can afford to take lightly.

Basically what I'm saying is, the 2014 season is an important one for Iowa. On the one hand, I think all of us realize that this team is still young, unproven, and probably still a year away from being as good as they can potentially be. However, on the other hand, we all know how waiting for next year, a year where the team has what seems like an infinite amount of talent returning, can blow up in our faces when the actual season comes around. We saw it play out on the football field in 2010 and on the basketball court last season. It is maddening to experience, and depressing to look back on. And this season is especially difficult to shrug off and just say that Iowa is still one year away, if only because of their schedule. One glance at my giant, sweaty Brandon Scherff schedule poster and it's hard not to get my hopes up for the 2014 season.

Of course, we all know we should also be cautious about how optimistic we get. After all, Iowa under Kirk Ferentz is notorious for playing to their opponent's level. They aren't going to get blown out by the big dogs of college football, but they also aren't real likely to pull a Hayden Fry, in which they run up the score on their opponent and then tell the opposing coach, "I hope we didn't hurt any of your boys." Iowa under Ferentz likes to play in close games, and it doesn't matter whether the particular game should be close or not. The plan seems to be to get a decent lead and then run the clock out by pounding the ball down the opponent's throat. That strategy works when they can run said ball down said opponent's throat. And that strategy allows for blowouts when Iowa has the personnel. For example, when Iowa has a running back like Shonn Greene, there's a possibility for something like the 2008 Indiana or Wisconsin games to happen. But when Iowa doesn't have a Shonn Greene, the best case scenario, is we get something like the 2010 Orange Bowl; a game where Iowa pretty much dominated Georgia Tech, but still needed a last minute Brandon Wegher touchdown to cap a 10 point victory. The worst case scenario that comes from this philosophy, of course, is Iowa losing to a team that it has no business losing to.

Pat wrote something the other day that pigeonholed how I feel about this upcoming season:

"This is still Iowa. If the team doesn't have the ability to win close games, they'll lose games to bad teams. It's happened many, many times before."

In other words, an easier than average schedule does very little for Iowa if they can't win close games. Winning close games is important to all teams; even to the Oregons of college football, who dazzle us with their ability to put points on the board at an alarming rate. Close games are the difference between Oregon competing for a national championship or a Rose Bowl birth. These games are even more important to Iowa because they play in so many of them. So rather than having one or two close games that take you from national championship talk, in the case of Oregon, to Rose Bowl talk. Close games for Iowa in 2014 can mean the difference between a BCS bowl and a trip to Detroit. So take a look at the odds on the schedule above, and even if you don't agree with them 100%, just keep in mind that no game on this schedule is guaranteed.

The 2014 season, like all seasons for Iowa, hinges on the close games. If Ferentz and Co. can win them, this could be a special season. If they can't, we are all probably going to be really pissed off. And it's all because of the damn schedule.