WHO, EXACTLY, SHOULD IOWA BE PLAYING IN THEIR NON-CONFERENCE SCHEDULE?

By Mike Jones on April 12, 2017 at 10:21 am
Iowa v. Miami (OH)

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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In the age of faux outrage, the contempt shown for Iowa Football yesterday was particularly impressive. In case you missed it:

The pertinent part is that Iowa capped off its 2019 non-conference schedule by adding a home game against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders. As the press release noted, MTSU finished a respectable 8-5 last season and earned a trip to the Hawaii Bowl, where they were blasted by the Rainbow Warriors. Since joining the Conference USA in 2013, they’ve been to three bowl games and challenged for the East Division title multiple times. Like Iowa, they haven’t won a bowl game in 5+ years.

But apparently, playing MTSU is a problem. That problem was magnified when Colin Cowherd, the personification of a comment section with a microphone who couldn’t cut it at ESPN so he had to work for the Clay Travis Network cracked a joke on Twitter about the Hawkeyes paying the Blue Raiders $1.55 million to play them. Ah yes, the Iowa press release left that part out. Middle Tennessee however, was happy to point that out on their website: Iowa is paying Middle Tennessee $1.55 million to play them in 2019.

Power 5 teams paying a Group of 5 or FCS school an egregious amount of money for a non-conference game is becoming commonplace. Iowa paid Miami of Ohio $1 million to play them last season. Florida paid UMass $1.25 million in 2016. UT Chattanooga, who Alabama can’t get enough of, was paid $500 thousand in 2016 and will receive similar payment for games against LSU and Kentucky in the future. With the Big Ten going to a 9 game conference schedule, FCS schools are all but out the door and we have to be choosier about who we play.

Yes, Middle Tennessee State is a respectable opponent. But it certainly isn’t a marquee matchup and won’t be a game that national pundits are excited for. It’s also just another meh non-conference game over the next three seasons. In 2017 the Hawkeyes will play Wyoming, who actually won their division last season, and North Texas, who finished 5-7 last season but somehow played in the Heart of Dallas Bowl (and lost). In 2018 Iowa will play NIU, a team that has consistently gotten worse since beating Iowa in 2013 and UNI, who will probably have to shutter their athletic department in the next five years due to budget cuts.

Of course, the constant throughout all of this is Iowa State. Because no matter how many middling MAC or C-USA teams the Hawkeyes schedule, they still have to play, historically, one of the worst programs in college football history. They’re contractually obligated to play the Cyclones through 2021, assuming an extension isn’t signed in the next 5 years. And yeah, Iowa State is a Big 12 team, but no one (no one) respects them and the only time the Cy-Hawk game is mentioned on a national level is when Iowa craps their pants on a last second field goal or the like.

All that being said, it seems a portion of the fanbase believes that Iowa should be putting in an effort to make their non-conference schedule sexier. So I ask: Who is it exactly, Iowa should be scheduling? Alabama? LSU? Another SEC team? A Pac-12 team? Notre Dame? A few things about that attitude.

Remember last year when Oklahoma fans were bitching about being left out of the College Football Playoff despite going undefeated in conference and beating four ranked teams? Well, they lost two non-conference games: to #15 Houston and #3 Ohio State. Sure, it was nice that they scheduled those impressive games…but they lost. This isn’t NCAA basketball. You don’t get rewarded for losing against good teams on a 30+ game schedule. If you lose games, you’re going to be penalized by the CFB Committee.

Why would Iowa schedule games they’ll lose? To prove something to someone? Who? Are you seriously sitting there saying “To be a big boy you have to play with the big boys.” Iowa isn’t a big boy. Iowa isn’t Oklahoma. Why would any team, that isn’t an annual conference contender, schedule high-profile matchups against ranked teams that they’re likely to lose? Pride? To entertain you? Is losing entertaining to you? To appease a talking head on a TV screen? Do you care about what Seth Davis thinks about Iowa football?

A reminder that Kirk Ferentz considers the non-conference schedule to be the preseason. Because for Iowa, it is. When you run a developmental program, as Ferentz does, the non-conference is an opportunity to figure things out and develop players for the “regular season”, aka conference play. In 18 years at Iowa, Ferentz has only escaped the non-conference unscathed five times. Five. And Ferentz has rightfully garnered criticism on this, as a number of non-conference schedules were ruined by bad Iowa State losses.

But we’re going into year 19 of the Ferentz era. If you don’t understand by now that Ferentz isn’t looking to impress the nation with a marquee matchup against Oklahoma in Kansas City simply because he doesn’t care what you think, you’re never going to understand. It has nothing to with being “afraid” of losing. Ferentz is a pragmatist and he wants to have as much time to tinker with his team before entering conference play. To lose a game would be a step backward in that development, so why take that risk?

I’m sorry, Colin. And I’m sorry, upset fans who want Iowa to play USC just so they can have an entertaining game to watch. Winning is more important in the eyes of coaches and the College Football Playoff Committee than playing a good team and losing. If you haven’t figured out that’s exactly how Kirk Ferentz views the non-conference schedule, maybe you’re the problem.

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