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Five years ago, 15-point favorite Iowa lost 22-21 at Minnesota midway through the 2011 football season.
The next week, instead of trying to write something that would be forever celebrated as The Great American Essay, I did a deep dive into the chasing of arcane statistics.
It had seemed to me the Hawkeyes had lost an unusual number of times when they were big favorites over the years, and I wanted to see if they were any worse at that than the average bear.
Thanks to the stats stuffed in the 2011 Phil Steele’s College Football Preview (talk about arcane), I could see how all college teams did as double-digit favorites since the start of the 2006 season.
My suspicion was confirmed, and then some. Iowa had 19 wins and nine losses as a favorite of 10 or more points from 2006 through that week in 2011. No other Big Ten team had more than three losses as a double-digit pick in that time. Wisconsin was 31-0, Penn State 29-0.
Well, doing that once in a lifetime was once too much, to be frank. But since The Great American Essay never jumped off my keyboard, here I am back in that rabbit hole. So let’s proceed.
But first, I have to share a portion of an email from someone who attended Saturday’s game.
I was sitting right next to a guy whose water bottle made it onto the field. He was so mad he started crying. I tried not to make eye contact.
Throwing a water bottle onto the field? Well, it’s cheaper and easier than therapy. But long-term, therapy is a better investment.
Anyway, the fallout from the Hawkeyes’ 38-31 loss to Northwestern Saturday afternoon as an 11-point (or 11.5, or 12 depending on where one shopped in Las Vegas Saturday morning) favorite didn’t exactly have Hawkeyeville salsa-dancing that night.
I started thinking about that strange old stat, and updated my data Saturday night while watching Clemson and Louisville play big-boy football.
Since 2011, Iowa has added four more losses when favored by 10-plus points since 2011. There was Central Michigan in 2012, Iowa State in 2014. And two of the Hawkeyes’ last three games, the home losses against North Dakota State and Northwestern.
All told, Iowa is 35-13 as a double-digit favorite since the start of the 2006 season for a winning percentage of .729. The next-worst is Northwestern’s 21-4 (. 840) and Minnesota’s 16-3 (. 842). Nebraska has the second-most losses as double-digit favorites since ’06 with seven. But that’s accompanied by 50 wins.
Ohio State is 83-4, Wisconsin 63-2, Michigan 48-1, Penn State 44-1 … you get the idea.
In fairness, Kirk Ferentz’s 1999-2005 Iowa teams were 18-0 when double-digit favorites. Which is pretty much what you’re supposed to be when you’re favored by that much.
This seemed like a dead-and-buried discussion topic after Iowa rolled to 12 straight wins last season and beat four teams that were underdogs of 10+ points. But the old refrain you heard a lot before last season is back. Namely, Iowa plays to the level of its opposition.
In the case of North Dakota State, that might not be a bad thing. Rutgers and Northwestern? NG. Not good.
Speaking of NG ... anyone in the stands who would throw a water bottle on the field would be a double-digit underdog against a door knob.