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Bizarre, yet totally understandable, spread for Iowa-Ohio State
With the betting line at 29 points, Hawkeyes haven’t been this big an underdog in a Big Ten game this century
This may seem like pouring a pound of salt into an open wound, but it’s too bizarre to ignore.
Iowa, third in the nation in scoring defense and seventh in total defense, is a 29-point underdog at Ohio State Saturday. That is the widest point spread of any game in college football this week.
This isn’t Arkansas State or Toledo or Rutgers coming to the Horseshoe. It’s Iowa, the 2021 Big Ten West champion, a team with 20 wins in its last 30 conference games, a team that’s 3-3 instead of 1-5 or 0-6. It’s a program of accomplishment and stature.
It’s a team that hadn’t been an underdog by more than 11 points since 2017.
Not since Kirk Ferentz’s second Hawkeyes team, the 2000 squad, has Iowa been an underdog by so many points. This cannot be right. Right?
Oh, it’s right, baby. In fact, it’s a number that got bet up after sportsbooks installed the Buckeyes as 28-point picks on Sunday.
Iowa hasn’t been this big an underdog to a Big Ten opponent in this century. Over half the reason for this happening now is Ohio State has delivered beating after beating to its six previous opponents, none of whom can be found in or near the Top 25 today.
The Buckeyes curb-stomped Wisconsin, 52-21. They pummeled Michigan State, 49-20. It’s who they are. It’s what they do.
The rest of the explanation, of course, rests with the Hawkeyes’ offense. History teaches us you can’t be ranked last in the nation in total offense and have expectations of matching Ohio State yard for yard and score for score.
Actually, any random 7-year-old can tell you that.
Nonetheless, I’m here to try to spin this into something hopeful for those fearing a football version of Bears vs. Salmon. So let’s give this the old college try.
OK, the last two times Iowa was as much as a 20-point underdog, it won. Let that swirl around your mind for a moment.
The last time Iowa was as much as a 21-point underdog, it defeated Michigan 14-13 in 2016. The Hawkeyes passed for 66 yards, but still won. Eight Iowa players who made tackles in that game are in the NFL today. Defense wins. A lot of times, anyway.
The last time the Hawkeyes were as much as 18-point dogs, they won by 31. It was 2017. The score was 55-24. The opponent was Ohio State. You’ve probably heard about it. It got a lot of attention in these parts, and in Ohio as well.
That concludes the warm, fuzzy part of this essay.
The two aforementioned games were in Iowa City, you see. The last time Iowa won when it was a road underdog of 20 or more points was, well, never.
Of course, the Hawkeyes haven’t been this big an underdog anywhere since they were 41.5-point dogs at Nebraska in 2000.
That’s right, young people. There was a time in which Nebraska was like Ohio State of the present, a football machine with no time or pity for teams like, well, the Nebraska of today.
Coming off a 1-10 season in 1999, Kirk Ferentz’s first as Iowa’s coach, the Hawkeyes went to Lincoln and lost by only 42-13. Things have changed, and the Hawkeyes will put a seven-game winning streak against the Huskers on the line when they meet on Black Friday.
Perhaps a spot in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl or Duke’s Mayo Bowl will be at stake, too.
In the meantime, you’re probably setting your hopes a wee bit high if you’re believing Iowa can return from Columbus with its second-straight whopper of an upset over Ohio State.
The biggest underdog to win a game this season was Middle Tennessee, a 25.5-point dog at Miami (Fla.). A 23-point home favorite lost at home to Georgia Southern. That would be, ahem, Nebraska.
This year’s dogs of 26 points or more are 0-107 straight-up. Teams that were 27- to 30-point dogs have an average losing margin of 31 points.
According to teamrankings.com, 27- to 30-point dogs since 2003 have won 21 times and lost 604. That means the favorite won 99 2/3 percent of those games.
OK, Iowa fans. Say it in unison, say it loud, and say it like you mean it.
“So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”
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