Iowa lost to North Dakota State this past weekend. Yes, the five-time defending FCS champion Bison; the team that has beaten the last six FBS opponents it has played.
The Bison (read bi-zon) have made a name for themselves as a team not to be scheduled if an FBS team values its season. Some folks have long been saying that teams should avoid the Bison altogether, for fear of people mocking them for being the latest team to fall in their destructive past. But, for the Iowa Hawkeyes in 2016, any hopes of somehow preventing that has failed, leaving us to look ahead to the rest of the season. But what can we learn about the previous teams that fell to the Bison, and what could that possibly tell us about Iowa?
Let’s look at the previous losses.
Before this season, the Bison had beaten their last five-straight FBS opponents, which included: 2010 Kansas, 2011 Minnesota, 2012 Colorado State, 2013 Kansas State, and 2014 Iowa State.
Just looking at this list of teams should tell you one thing: none of them were very good. The combined records of those five teams in the year that they lost to NDSU is 20-61. Three of those teams won three or less games in their respective seasons, and only one (Kansas State) made it to a bowl game.
Which leads us to an interesting question: what if NDSU consistently beats the FBS teams it plays because they simply aren’t very good?
“That’s such a stupid thing to say, Iowa was ranked 15th in the AP Poll and is still ranked and they went undefeated in the regular season a year ago, I can’t believe this guy gets paid to write this stuff” says the huffy Iowa fan reading this. But it raises the possibility that Iowa, a team that went undefeated in the regular season a year ago (but lost in the Big Ten championship and got blown out in the Rose Bowl) isn’t very good.
Iowa could be fine.
Beyond what they did a season ago, the Hawkeyes have plenty going in their favor. C.J. Beathard, who quietly became one of the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten last season, has returned, along with arguably the best defensive back in the country, Desmond King. In fact, most of the Hawkeyes’ key contributors returned, which makes the idea of going from 12-2 to sub-.500 seem almost laughable. And yet here we are, wondering how good they’ll be because of a loss to an FCS team.
I mentioned the one outlier in the previous string of FBS fodder, Kansas State, making it to a bowl game. The Wildcats ended their season at 8-5, despite a 2-4 start to the season and losing to all but one of the ranked opponents they played. This was also the season after the Wildcats went 11-2, won the Big XII conference, and were a game away from the national championship. This is pretty similar to the Hawkeyes this season, and could mean that everything is fine, well, as fine as an 8-5 season is when everything is said and done. And according to Kirk Ferentz’s new contract, 8-5 is perfectly respectable.
The Hawkeyes also benefit from a.) playing in the Big Ten West divison and b.) only playing one of the ranked teams from the Big Ten east. The schedule is incredibly beneficial, with arguably the four toughest games, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Nebraska, all being at home. Outside of those…well, there’s no reason to think the Hawkeyes can’t win the rest and maybe steal at least one of those three that they’ll be the underdog in.
But what happens if they slip up?
The stats for the teams that lost to NDSU…
Well, they aren’t so great. Of the five teams before Iowa to lose to NDSU, their average total offense ranking in the country was 98th, and their defensive ranking was 80th. To make things worse, if you remove the one bowl team from that and recalculate, the total offense is 104th and the defense 93rd. And while it’s easy to think that none of those teams had the returning to talent that the Hawkeyes do, there’s also no denying that those teams were all very, very bad.
This has nothing to do then, at this point, with how good NDSU is, because make no mistake, they’re a very good FCS team. Despite how good of a team NDSU is and how many times they beat FBS teams, the fact remains that most of the teams they beat just usually aren’t that good. (This is also because most top-tier teams are not at all willing to schedule the Bison.)
This is probably nothing…but it could be something.
This loss means nothing as far as Iowa’s conference championship hopes are concerned. The Hawkeyes could win the rest of their games, make the Big Ten championship, and potentially find themselves in the Rose Bowl yet again. This could certainly happen.
But Iowa also has a lot of talent, and a coaching staff that they’ve had for several years and just locked up for several more. This loss should not have happened to one of the fifteen best teams in the country. So if Iowa is now falling, where do they land?