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IOWA CITY — Much of the scrutiny swirled around No. 9 Iowa's unbeaten streak has centered on the Hawkeyes' schedule.
To date, Iowa's resume is strong. The Hawkeyes (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) are the nation's only team with victories over three bowl-eligible teams and two took place on the road. But going forward, Iowa's overall strength-of-schedule will become a focal point in a national debate over the College Football Playoff.
The Hawkeyes' final four regular-season opponents include Indiana (4-4), Minnesota (4-4), Purdue (2-6) and Nebraska (3-6). Combined, they are 3-14 in Big Ten action. Outside of Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1) and Northwestern (6-2, 2-2), all of Iowa's Big Ten opponents currently have losing records in league play.
But that's not Iowa's fault, either. When the Big Ten added Maryland and Rutgers for the 2014 season, it scrapped the competitively balanced Legends and Leaders divisions for a geographical East-West split. All future league schedules were moot, including Iowa's initial 2015 slate that included games against Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Northwestern, Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois and Purdue.
'That sort of caused some re-calibration,' said Mark Rudner, the Big Ten's senior associate commissioner for television administration.
With an eight-game schedule, each Big Ten team automatically played six games within its division. The two cross-divisional games were chosen at random, Rudner said.
In this two-year cycle, there's only one Big Ten crossover game involving two high-profile teams — Michigan State-Nebraska. Newcomers Maryland and Rutgers drew crossover games against a combination of Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska, while none of those West Division teams face Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State.
'There was no real strategy, other than most things that we do in scheduling are done randomly by lot,' Rudner said. 'That seems to be the fairest.
'At no time were we instructed to create sort of crossovers based on brands. 'Here are the brands in the East and here are the brands in the West, and we need to make sure everybody's got one or two or three over a certain period of time.' It was, 'Give us a schedule, do it randomly, and that's what we'll live with.''
Even if Rudner wanted to match crossover games by prowess, it would have been a guessing game. When the 2015 schedule was unveiled May 16, 2013, neither Michigan State (8-0, 4-0) nor Iowa had a winning regular season in 2012. Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin all were eight-win teams. New member Rutgers was 9-4 in the old Big East Conference.
'Things change. Teams change. The balance of 'Who's good, who's not good,' that changes over time,' Rudner said.
As for Maryland and Rutgers, Rudner said there was no requirement for them to face higher profile opponents in their first two seasons. Rudner said avoiding title game rematches or delaying marketable games for its next media rights contract was not an intent of the 2014-15 schedule, he said.
'There was no request or no mandate or anything like that from any of our athletic directors or from TV or from the institutions as well to create scheduling that indoctrinated or initiated new members into the conference,' Rudner said.
'There was no consideration given to withholding games to further the media rights agreements.'
Next year, the Big Ten debuts a nine-game schedule that ensures all football players play every league team at least once over a three-year period. As for Iowa's schedule this year, consider Minnesota won eight games last year and Nebraska won nine. Both were rated ahead of the Hawkeyes in a preseason sportswriters' poll entering the season. So changes are just a part of the football landscape.
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