ClassyHistory Looks at Iowa's Recent Climb to the Top of the Non-Conference "Mountain"

By Tom Clos on September 24, 2021 at 5:53 pm
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© Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The last time Iowa lost a non-conference game was a 30-3 loss to Florida in the 2017 Outback Bowl. Since then the Hawkeyes have won 14 straight games against schools outside of the Big Ten, a current streak that stretches all the way back to the beginning of the 2017 season.

*It should be noted that Iowa didn't play any non-conference games last season.

The Hawkeyes have been dominant on both sides of the ball during the streak, outscoring opponents 447-206—in other words they're scoring an average of 31.9 points per game while allowing just 14.7.

While this streak's gauntlet will never be confused with a late aughts SEC West schedule, keeping this run going has been far from an easy task for the Hawkeyes. Half of the 14 games in this stretch (7) have come against Power Five opponents while the other seven contests have featured a potpourri of schools from leagues such as the MAC, Mountain West, and Conference USA.

Iowa has defeated an opponent from each of the other power-five conferences in this span—Boston College (ACC), Iowa State (Big 12), Mississippi State (SEC), and Southern California (Pac-12)—outscoring them by a combined margin of 205-144. Even more impressive, 2017's 44-41 OT win over the Cyclones was the only time during this stretch that a non-conference Power Five opponent scored more than 24 points against the Hawkeyes.

This non-conference win streak also runs concurrent with the program's ongoing three-game bowl winning streak and coincidentally (or not) that loss to the Gators was also the final game of Greg Davis' tenure as offensive coordinator. Do with that what you will.

The other seven wins came against lesser competition, and though those wins are expected at a program like Iowa, they should not be completely overlooked. For starters, a 2018 win over Northern Iowa was the only victory in the streak over an FCS foe and we all know what a pain in the ass the Panthers can be each time they enter Kinnick Stadium. It's also important to recall that there was a time, not too long ago, when the Hawkeyes would periodically play down and/or lose to lesser competition—primarily teams from the MAC (i.e., 2007 Western Michigan, 2012 Central Michigan, 2013 Northern Illinois, 2014 Ball State).

But Iowa has outscored non-Power Five opponents (not counting FCS UNI) 204-48 during the streak, leaving no doubt in the outcome of each game.

So much like how Kirk Ferentz has taken a lot of the hand-wringing anxiety out of the Cy-Hawk game with his dominance of Iowa State, he's largely made these apparent non-conference tune up games just that which is something that should not go unnoticed when his career is etched in stone.

Prior to this streak, the Hawkeyes' longest out of conference winning streak under Ferentz was an eight gamer running from the end of the 2008 campaign through the beginning of the 2010 schedule. That streak ended with a 34-27 upset loss at #24 Arizona. This streak, however, should run through at least the rest of this regular season as a pretty bad Colorado State team wobbles into Iowa City on Saturday.

Kings of the Mountain

Though this is the Hawkeyes' first meeting with Rams, Iowa is 8-1-1 all-time against current Mountain West Conference members, the lone blemishes being a 13-13 tie against Air Force in 1958 and a 27-23 defeat at Hawaii in 1988. Since falling in Aloha Stadium, the Hawkeyes have won three straight meetings against Mountain West opponents, starting with a 53-10 blowout of the Rainbow Warriors three years later thanks to 103 yards and a touchdown on four receptions(!) from Danan Hughes.

Ironically, the Hawkeyes’ 14 non-conference game win streak started with their last game against a Mountain West Conference opponent, a 24-3 victory over Wyoming to open the 2017 season.

Nate Stanley threw for three touchdowns in his first career start while the Iowa defense only allowed 59 rushing yards and shut down much-ballyhooed Cowboys' quarterback Josh Allen. The Hawkeyes swarmed Allen all afternoon, picking him off twice and sacking him three times while holding him out of the end zone. 

The most memorable moment of the day undoubtedly though was Wyoming punter Jaylon Watson's infamous whiff on a punt attempt late in the first half. Stanley threw a 27-yard touchdown to Noah Fant on the next play and, from there, the game was just about over.

The only other time a Mountain West foe lined up across from Iowa in the last 30 years was in 2002 when Utah State visited Kinnick Stadium one week following the Hawkeyes’ disheartening collapse against Iowa State.

The eventual Big Ten Champions took out their frustrations on the then-independent Aggies, rolling for 300 yards (on 49 carries!) and three touchdowns on the ground in a 48-7 whitewashing. Jermelle Lewis ran for 109 yards and a score on only nine carries (12.1 yards per carry) while Brad Banks threw and ran for a touchdown in tallying 250 all-purpose yards. Lewis' 74-yard untouched scamper early in the third quarter blew the game open and ended the competitive portion of the proceedings.

Less than two minutes later Sean Considine blocked a Utah State punt attempt and Mike Follett recovered it in the end zone, stretching the Hawkeyes' lead to 38-7. The Iowa defense provided the final highlight of the afternoon, forcing an errant backwards lateral that was eventually recovered by Jared Clauss in the end zone and further adding insult to a disastrous day for the Aggies in Iowa City.  

This Saturday, the Rams, much like most of Iowa’s last 14 non-conference opponents, shouldn’t pose much of a threat as the #5 Hawkeyes round into form before the rest of the conference season kicks off next week at Maryland. While this doesn’t quite feel like a “pick your score”-type of game (because #hashtag Iowa) it should still be relatively free and easy 60 minutes of football in Iowa City.

And if you can, I suggest you savor this final tune-up game, because, for as impressive as Iowa’s non-conference dominance has been over the last five seasons, the Hawkeyes are still missing a trip to Indianapolis during that span. That HAS to change this season and the next step toward that goal begins on a short turnaround next week in College Park, MD.


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