Saturday night Iowa will take the field against a Penn State team ranked 10th in the current AP poll. This will be the 31st time that Iowa takes on a Top 10 opponent since Kirk Ferentz took over at Iowa in 1999. So what's the history of Iowa in games against Top 10 opponents? Let's dive in.
(NOTE: All rankings information refers to a team's ranking in the AP Poll at the time of the game.)
Let's start with some big picture data. Iowa is 9-21 in their past 30 games against Top 10 teams. Obviously, a 30% winning percentage isn't great... but we're also talking about teams against very good opponents here, given that we're looking at teams ranked in the Top 10. Pretty much all non-elite teams have poor records against Top 10 opponents (with the possible exception of Pitt, who is possessed by Panther Devil Magic when they play a highly-ranked foe). I don't know how much better or worse Iowa's 9-21 mark against Top 10 opponents is compared to other teams, although my hunch is that it's at least slightly above average.
The good news for Iowa ahead of Saturday night's game: they're 6-8 in home games against Top 10 teams under KF and 3-4 over the last decade. They've gone 2-2 in their last four home games against Top 10 opponents and were just a few seconds away from being 3-1 in those games (damn you, 2017 Penn State game). That 2-2 mark of course includes the 14-13 upset over Michigan in 2016 and the ever-enjoyable 55-24 mollywhopping of Ohio State a year later. So Iowa's recent history against Top 10 teams in Kinnick Stadium is quite good, which is nice seeing as Saturday game is also in Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa is much worse in games against Top 10 opponents away from Kinnick (2-9), which is hardly surprising. The challenge of toppling a Top 10 team is difficult enough, let alone doing so on their field. Iowa's two road wins over Top 10 teams are quite memorable, though: the 34-9 bludgeoning of Michigan in 2002 and the 21-10 comeback win over Penn State in 2009. This stat will only be relevant if Wisconsin is still ranked in the Top 10 when Iowa heads there in a month.
Iowa is also just 1-4 against Top 10 teams at neutral sites, which includes a grab bag of encounters: a loss to Kansas State at a Kickoff Classic game in Kansas City in 2000, losses in the Orange Bowl (2002) and Rose Bowl (2015), and the narrow defeat against Michigan State in the 2015 Big Ten Championship Game. The one win, of course, was the Orange Bowl after the 2009 season.
Finally, Iowa is also 3-5 against Top 10 teams in nighttime kickoffs. The three wins: the 2009 Penn State game, the 2009 Orange Bowl, and the 2016 Michigan game. The five losses: the 2003 Orange Bowl, the 2006 USC game, the 2007 Wisconsin game, the 2015 Big Ten Championship Game, and the 2017 Penn State game.
What about Iowa's record against each ranking in the Top 10?
2000: 42-13 to #1 Nebraska (Lincoln, NE)
2006: 38-17 to #1 Ohio State (Iowa City, IA)
|#2||1-2||2016: 14-13 vs #2 Michigan (Iowa City, IA)||
1999: 31-7 to #2 Penn State (Iowa City, IA)
2006: 20-6 to #2 Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI)
2008: 24-23 vs #3 Penn State (Iowa City, IA)
2017: 55-24 vs #3 Ohio State (Iowa City, IA)
2013: 34-24 to #4 Ohio State (Columbus, OH)
2017: 21-19 to #4 Penn State (Iowa City, IA)
2009: 21-10 vs #5 Penn State (Happy Valley, PA)
3010: 37-6 vs #5 Michigan State (Iowa City, IA)
1999: 42-7 to #5 Nebraska (Iowa City, IA)
2002: 38-17 to #5 USC (Orange Bowl - Miami, FL)
2015: 16-13 to #5 Michigan State (Big Ten Championship Game - Indianapolis, IN)
2015: 45-16 to #5 Stanford (Rose Bowl - Pasadena, CA)
|#6||0-1||none||2017: 38-14 to #6 Wisconsin (Madison, WI)|
|#8||1-5||2002: 34-9 vs #8 Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI)||
2000: 27-7 to #8 Kansas State (Kickoff Classic -- Kansas City, MO)
2001: 32-26 to #8 Michigan (Iowa City, IA)
2003: 19-10 to #8 Ohio State (Columbus, OH)
2005: 31-6 to #8 Ohio State (Columbus, OH)
2010: 20-17 to #8 Ohio State (Iowa City, IA)
2003: 30-27 vs #9 Michigan (Iowa City, IA)
2004: 30-7 vs #9 Wisconsin (Iowa City, IA)
2009: 24-14 vs #9 Georgia Tech (Orange Bowl - Miami, FL)
1999: 41-3 to #9 Wisconsin (Madison, WI)
2007: 17-13 to #9 Wisconsin (Madison, WI)
2009: 27-24 (OT) to #10 Ohio State (Columbus, OH)
2010: 31-30 to #10 Wisconsin (Iowa City, IA)
2016: 17-9 to #10 Wisconsin (Iowa City, IA)
Iowa has no wins against #1 ranked teams under Ferentz; outside of a game against top-ranked Nebraska in Lincoln in 2000 (Ferentz's second year in charge), the only opportunity came during Ohio State's visit to Iowa City in 2006. Their one win against a #2 ranked team came recently -- thanks to Keith Duncan against Michigan in 2016.
#3 has been a lucky number for Iowa against Top 10 opponents -- they upset Penn State in 2008 and Ohio State in 2017 for two of the most memorable wins of the KF Era at Iowa. Conversely, Iowa hasn't had good fortune against #4-ranked teams, losing at Ohio State in 2013 and dropping a heartbreaker to Penn State the last time the Nittany Lions were in Iowa City.
#5 is tied with #8 for the ranking that Iowa has played the most games against, with very mixed results. On the good side of the ledger, Iowa beat #5 Penn State in Happy Valley in 2009 and produced their most shocking annihilation of a Top 10 opponent (at least until Ohio State in 2017) against Michigan State a year later. On the bad side of the ledger, they've lost to bowl games against opponents ranked #5 (the Orange Bowl against USC and the Rose Bowl against Stanford), as well as their lone appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Under KF, Iowa's only game against a team ranked #6 came two years ago in a game against Wisconsin in Madison where Iowa's offense was historically poor. It hasn't been lucky number #7 for Iowa when it comes to Top 10 opponents; in fact, they've yet to play a team ranked #7 during Ferentz's now 21 years in charge. That means nothing, but does seem at least a little bit odd.
Iowa has played several games against teams ranked #8 -- without little to show for it. Most of those losses came earlier in Ferentz's tenure -- four of his five losses against teams ranked #8 are from 2005 or earlier -- although the one win he's secured against an 8th-ranked team is quite enjoyable: the 34-9 win over Michigan in Ann Arbor that spawned the "Bullies of the Big Ten" moniker.
Iowa's had more success against teams ranked #9 than any other Top 10 ranking, with three wins: a Kinnick-rattling win over Michigan in 2003, a Big Ten title-clinching win over Wisconsin a year later, and the Orange Bowl triumph after the 2009 season. Curiously, both losses to 9th-ranked teams came against Wisconsin teams; Iowa got mauled by Ron Dayne in 1999 and the not-that-good 2007 team played Wisconsin very tight in Madison in 2007.
Finally, in what could be an ill omen for Iowa this year, they're 0-3 against teams ranked #10. Worse, two of those three losses are among the most agonizing losses of Ferentz's tenure -- the OT loss to Ohio State in Columbus with a Big Ten title on the line and the infamous fake punt game against Wisconsin a year later.
Iowa's record versus Top 10 opponents, by team?
Iowa's been very good at claiming Top 10 Wolverine pelts; they've played Top 10 ranked Michigan teams more than any other team except Wisconsin and Ohio State and they've more than held their own against those teams, with three wins to two losses. Iowa's also done pretty well against Penn State, splitting their four games with Top 10 Penn State teams over the last 20 years. Iowa's struggled mightily against Wisconsin and Ohio State teams ranked in the Top 10, going a combined 2-11 against those very good Buckeyes and Badger squads.
Finally, here's a year-by-year breakdown of Iowa against Top 10 opposition:
|LOSS||42-7||#5 Nebraska||Iowa City, IA|
|LOSS||31-7||#2 Penn State||Iowa City, IA|
|LOSS||41-3||#9 Wisconsin||Madison, WI|
Iowa wasn't very good in 1999, Ferentz's first year in charge, but they also played a pretty brutal schedule -- six of their eleven games were against teams ranked at the time they played Iowa and three of those games were against Top 10 opponents. Even a decent Iowa team likely would have struggled with that schedule.
|LOSS||27-7||#8 Kansas State||Kansas City, MO|
|LOSS||42-13||#1 Nebraska||Lincoln, NE|
Iowa went 0-3 against Big 12 teams in 2000, including their loss to Iowa State with these two losses against two of the league's best teams.
|LOSS||32-26||#8 Michigan||Iowa City, IA|
This was the first time Iowa actually put up a good fight against a Top 10 opponent; they put a hell of a scare into a very good Michigan team in this game. This was a clear sign of the progress Iowa was making under Ferentz as they clawed their way back to respectability.
|WIN||34-9||#8 Michigan||Ann Arbor, MI|
|LOSS||38-17||#5 USC||Orange Bowl - Miami, FL|
If the loss to Michigan in 2001 had been a sign of Iowa's progress, the win over Michigan in 2002 was them blowing the door down and establishing themselves as a very good team. That was the signature win of the 2002 campaign and one of the clear high points of KF's tenure at Iowa. A win over USC in the Orange Bowl would have put a perfect bow on the incredible 2002 season, but it didn't happen.
|WIN||30-27||#9 Michigan||Iowa City, IA|
|LOSS||19-10||#8 Ohio State||Columbus, OH|
Games against Michigan went very well for Iowa in the early Aughts. Ferentz's first home win over a Top 10 team came against Michigan this year in another exciting, back-and-forth game that featured an ear-splitting Kinnick crowd. The loss to Ohio State a few weeks later was a brutal slugfest between two outstanding defenses (and shaky offenses).
|WIN||30-7||#9 Wisconsin||Iowa City, IA|
Iowa entered this weekend with a chance to claim a share of the Big Ten title; when Ohio State tripped up Michigan earlier in the day, Iowa was able to go into this game knowing that a win would get them that share of the Big Ten title. The resulting win was immensely satisfying, especially with everyone rushing the field to celebrate the title after the game.
|LOSS||31-6||#8 Ohio State||Columbus, OH|
Columbus hasn't been a very friendly place to Iowa over the last 20 years and Ohio State hasn't been a very accommodating opponent for Iowa over that span, either (aside from 2004 and 2017).
|LOSS||38-17||#1 Ohio State||Iowa City, IA|
|LOSS||20-6||#2 Michigan||Ann Arbor, MI|
Not very often that you get to play the #1 and #2 ranked teams during the course of the same season, though neither went all that well for Iowa. The build-up for the OSU game was epic; the game was a letdown from the opening kickoff. Iowa's defense kept the Michigan game from getting out of hand, but they were never really able to threaten Michigan much in that game.
|LOSS||17-13||#9 Wisconsin||Madison, WI|
Did you remember that Iowa actually led this game at halftime (10-7)? Liar.
|WIN||24-23||#3 Penn State||Iowa City, IA|
This will forever be one of the most iconic wins from Ferentz's tenure at Iowa because this one had so many things that make for a memorable game: a dramatic comeback, great individual performance, and last minute heroics.
|WIN||21-10||#5 Penn State||Happy Valley, PA|
|LOSS||27-24 (OT)||#10 Ohio State||Columbus, OH|
|WIN||24-14||#9 Georgia Tech||Orange Bowl - Miami, FL|
The only year in Ferentz's 20+ year tenure in which Iowa has managed to record two wins over Top 10 opponents -- and neither one of them came at home. The PSU win is a famous road win and the Orange Bowl win was the perfect capper on the season. The OSU loss still stings.
|LOSS||31-30||#10 Wisconsin||Iowa City, IA|
|WIN||37-6||#5 Michigan State||Iowa City, IA|
|LOSS||20-17||#8 Ohio State||Iowa City, IA|
Sequels are rarely as good as the original and 2010 was unable to live up to 2009. This season remains one of the biggest missed opportunities of the KF Era and losing two of three games against Top 10 opponents at home only underlines that. The fact that both losses came late in the game and were eminently winnable only makes them even more agonizing.
Thanks to expansion and the quirks of the Delanybot 9000, Iowa played slightly fewer games against Top 10 opponents over Ferentz's second decade in charge (14) than his first (16). This was the first of four years since 2010 in which Iowa played no Top 10 opponents.
And here was the second of four years since 2010 in which Iowa played no Top 10 opponents. Despite that more favorable schedule, Iowa still went 4-8, so things might have been even worse had this team had to play any Top 10 foes.
|LOSS||34-24||#4 Ohio State||Columbus, OH|
Iowa was game as hell in this game, but couldn't overcome Ohio State's considerable talent edge on offense.
Another year without any Top 10 foes. Once again, though, Iowa didn't exactly take advantage of the easier schedule.
|LOSS||16-13||#5 Michigan State||Big Ten Championship Game - Indianapolis, IN|
|LOSS||45-16||#5 Stanford||Rose Bowl - Pasadena, CA|
Iowa ran the regular season table at 12-0 without playing any Top 10 opponents, a strike against their schedule that was noted often by their detractors. The MSU game was a stirring, if incomplete, response to those doubters; the Stanford game was a full barrel of gasoline for the "overrated" crowd. So it goes.
|LOSS||17-9||#10 Wisconsin||Iowa City, IA|
|WIN||14-13||#2 Michigan||Iowa City, IA|
The 2016 win over Michigan arguably provides the blueprint for what Iowa hopes to do against Penn State on Saturday night. The Wisconsin game was, like so many Iowa-Wisconsin games over the last 20 years, an absolute rock fight.
|LOSS||21-19||#4 Penn State||Iowa City, IA|
|WIN||55-24||#3 Ohio State||Iowa City, IA|
|LOSS||38-14||#6 Wisconsin||Madison, WI|
The 2017 Ohio State was, hands down, the most improbably wonderful and unexpected win of Kirk Ferentz's entire tenure at Iowa and probably will remain that way until he hangs it up. You can understand how wins like the Penn State victory in 2008 or the Michigan win in 2016 happen; tight, low-scoring games with strong defense and a few key plays that break the right way for Iowa. The 2017 Ohio State game was not that; it was a bolt out of the blue. The only remotely comparable win to that is Iowa's 37-6 beatdown of Michigan State in 2010, but even that result makes more logical sense than the OSU win in 2017.
Iowa played no Top 10 teams last year. As we know, they did not make the most of that friendlier schedule.
Saturday night we'll add another game to this list; hopefully it's another win and a source of good memories for years to come.