Prep Football

Analysis: The better 4A Iowa high school football teams got the tougher schedules for 2020

Iowa City High's Dan Sabers sees progress toward parity; Cedar Rapids Prairie's Mark Bliss sees an overwhelming slate

Iowa City High football coach Dan Sabers addresses his team during preseason football practice last year. (David Harmant
Iowa City High football coach Dan Sabers addresses his team during preseason football practice last year. (David Harmantas/Freelance)

When Dan Sabers sees the new format for Class 4A football scheduling, he sees progress.

“I certainly feel like this is a step in the right direction,” said Sabers, coach at Iowa City High. “I still have some issues and concerns, but this definitely is a good first step.”

Sabers played a role in change in big-school football, a world in which the chasm between the haves and have-nots has widened dramatically throughout the past decade.

When it was time for the Iowa High School Athletic Association to reshuffle the deck for 2020 scheduling purposes, it did away (in 4A only) with the familiar district concept and substituted a group-and-tier format based on recent success.

As a result, the top teams face far more challenging schedules than the teams that have struggled in recent years.

Take seven-time defending 4A state champion West Des Moines Dowling, for example.

Next fall, the Maroons’ nine-game regular-season schedule will feature eight teams that made the 2019 playoffs. Their nine opponents had a combined record of 70-27, for a winning percentage of .722.

West Des Moines Valley also has eight 2019 playoff teams on its schedule. Ankeny, Ankeny Centennial, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Johnston and Waukee have seven.

“Those are some schedules, man,” Sabers said. “There’s no question about that. For those schools, every Friday night is going to be a special night.”

Maybe a little too “special,” in the mind of Prairie Coach Mark Bliss.

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“We are a Tier 2 team with a Tier 1 schedule,” Bliss said. “I called and complained, but the (IHSAA) isn’t like an official. If they throw a flag incorrectly, they’re not going to pick it up.”

Prairie has only one Metro opponent — Cedar Rapids Kennedy — on its schedule along with two schools from suburban Des Moines, two from the Quad Cities, two from Dubuque, plus Cedar Falls and Iowa City Liberty.

“We put Washington, Jefferson and Linn-Mar and all of the Iowa City schools on our wish list, and Liberty is the only one we got,” Bliss said. “People don’t want to play us. I think it’s because of our unorthodox (single-wing) offense. We’re not conventional, and people don’t want to face that.

“Since we don’t play many teams from nearby, it’s going to hurt our gate, and gate receipts help us pay for our program. I just pray this doesn’t put a damper on the culture we’ve created here.”

» Here are the 2020 Iowa high school football schedules

In terms of 2019 win-loss record, Prairie’s strength of schedule is fifth-toughest in 4A at .670. That will be an extreme challenge, but the strength of schedule should boost the Hawks’ RPI to the point that a mark of 5-4 or better should push them into the playoffs.

Tier 5 and Tier 6 teams have much less challenging schedules. Des Moines North (0-9 last season) does not face any teams that reached the postseason last year, and its opponents were 21-60 (.259). Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Davenport West, Marshalltown and Ottumwa each have one 2019 playoff team on their slate.

The season is scheduled to begin Aug. 27-29.

Ranking the 2020 4A schedules, in degree of difficulty, from 1 (Dowling) to 40 (Des Moines North):

1. West Des Moines Dowling (12-1 in 2019, state champion)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 70-27 (.722)

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2019 playoff teams on schedule: 8 (Cedar Falls, West Des Moines Valley, Urbandale, Ankeny Centennial, Des Moines Roosevelt, Waukee, Bettendorf, Fort Dodge)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

2. Ankeny Centennial (8-2 in 2019, playoff qualifier)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 70-27 (.722)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 7 (Ankeny, Southeast Polk, West Des Moines Dowling, Waukee, Iowa City Liberty, Cedar Falls, West Des Moines Valley)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

3. West Des Moines Valley (12-1 in 2019, state runner-up)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 68-28 (.708)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 8 (Des Moines Roosevelt, West Des Moines Dowling, Indianola, Bettendorf, Southeast Polk, Ankeny, Waukee, Ankeny Centennial)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

4. Waukee (7-4 in 2019, quarterfinalist)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 67-29 (.698)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 7 (Southeast Polk, Ankeny, Linn-Mar, Ankeny Centennial, West Des Moines Dowling, West Des Moines Valley, Urbandale)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

5. Cedar Rapids Prairie (6-4 in 2019, playoff qualifier)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 63-31 (.670)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 7 (Bettendorf, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Iowa City Liberty, Dubuque Senior, Southeast Polk, Ankeny)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

6. Ankeny (7-4 in 2019, quarterfinalist)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 60-32 (.652)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 7 (Waukee, Ankeny Centennial, Indianola, Iowa City Liberty, Fort Dodge, West Des Moines Valley, Cedar Rapids Prairie)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

7. Johnston (5-4 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 61-33 (.649)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 7 (Urbandale, Ankeny Centennial, Southeast Polk, West Des Moines Dowling, Waukee, Ankeny, Linn-Mar)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

8. Bettendorf (9-3 in 2019, semifinalist)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 61-34 (.642)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 5 (Cedar Rapids Prairie, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Cedar Falls, West Des Moines Valley, West Des Moines Dowling)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

9. Cedar Falls (10-1 in 2019, quarterfinalist)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 60-34 (.638)

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2019 playoff teams on schedule: 6 (West Des Moines Dowling, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Bettendorf, Dubuque Senior, Ankeny Centennial, Cedar Rapids Kennedy)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

T-10. Cedar Rapids Kennedy (10-2 in 2019, semifinalist)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 54-35 (.607)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 5 (Linn-Mar, Bettendorf, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Indianola, Cedar Falls)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

T-10. Linn-Mar (6-4 in 2019, playoff qualifier)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 54-35 (.607)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 5 (Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Dubuque Senior, Waukee, Cedar Rapids Xavier, Iowa City Liberty)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: Cedar Rapids Xavier

12. Southeast Polk (7-3 in 2019, playoff qualifier)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 50-39 (.562)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 4 (Waukee, Ankeny Centennial, West Des Moines Valley, Cedar Rapids Prairie)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

13. Iowa City West (4-5 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 50-40 (.556)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 5 (Iowa City Liberty, Southeast Polk, Urbandale, Cedar Falls, Bettendorf)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

14. Pleasant Valley (4-5 in 2019)

2020 Iowa opponents’ record in 2019: 44-36 (.550)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 4 (Cedar Rapids Prairie, Dubuque Senior, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Bettendorf)

Out-of-state opponents: Moline (Ill.)

Non-4A opponents: None

15. Indianola (6-4 in 2019, playoff qualifier)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 51-42 (.548)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 5 (Norwalk, Ankeny, West Des Moines Valley, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Des Moines Roosevelt)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: Norwalk

16. Waterloo West (3-6 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 47-40 (.540)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 4 (Cedar Falls, Waukee, Fort Dodge, Indianola)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: Waterloo East

17. Sioux City East (6-3 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 47-43 (.522)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 4 (West Des Moines Valley, Sergeant Bluff-Luton, Fort Dodge, Des Moines Roosevelt)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: Sioux City Heelan, Le Mars, Sergeant Bluff-Luton

18. Muscatine (1-8 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 45-42 (.517)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 4 (Indianola, Dubuque Senior, Bettendorf, Iowa City Liberty)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

19. Urbandale (7-4 in 2019, quarterfinalist)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 45-43 (.511)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 3 (West Des Moines Dowling, Fort Dodge, Waukee)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

20. Dubuque Senior (5-5 in 2019, playoff qualifier)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 43-42 (.506)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 3 (Linn-Mar, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Cedar Falls)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

21. Fort Dodge (6-4 in 2019, playoff qualifier)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 45-44 (.506)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 3 (Ankeny, Urbandale, West Des Moines Dowling)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: Mason City, Carroll

22. Des Moines Roosevelt (6-4 in 2019, playoff qualifier)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 45-45 (.500)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 3 (West Des Moines Valley, Indianola, West Des Moines Dowling)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

23. Des Moines East (2-7 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 42-44 (.488)

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2019 playoff teams on schedule: 4 (Des Moines Roosevelt, Iowa City Liberty, Southeast Polk, Urbandale)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

24. Dubuque Hempstead (4-5 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 41-43 (.488)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 3 (Dubuque Senior, Linn-Mar, Cedar Rapids Prairie

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

25. Cedar Rapids Washington (3-6 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 42-45 (.483)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 4 (Dubuque Senior, Linn-Mar, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Southeast Polk)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

26. Davenport Central (3-6 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 40-44 (.476)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 2 (Cedar Falls, Iowa City Liberty)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

27. Council Bluffs Jefferson (3-6 in 2019)

2020 Iowa opponents’ record in 2019: 36-40 (.474)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 3 (Harlan, Glenwood, Ankeny)

Out-of-state opponents: Omaha (Neb.) South

Non-4A opponents: Harlan, Denison-Schleswig, Glenwood

28. Ames (3-6 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 40-46 (.465)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 4 (Fort Dodge, Urbandale, Ankeny Centennial, Indianola)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

29. Iowa City Liberty (7-3 in 2019, 3A playoff qualifier)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 39-47 (.453)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 4 (Ankeny, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Ankeny Centennial, Linn-Mar)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

30. Iowa City High (2-7 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 37-48 (.435)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 2 (Bettendorf, Iowa City Liberty)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

31. Des Moines Lincoln (3-6 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 36-49 (.424)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 3 (Urbandale, Southeast Polk, Des Moines Roosevelt)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

32. Cedar Rapids Jefferson (4-5 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 35-49 (.417)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 1 (Cedar Rapids Kennedy)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

33. Sioux City West (0-9 in 2019)

2020 Iowa opponents’ record in 2019: 30-44 (.405)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 2 (Glenwood, Indianola)

Out-of-state opponents: South Sioux City (Neb.)

Non-4A opponents: Glenwood, Des Moines Hoover

34. Davenport North (6-3 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 33-52 (.388)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 2 (Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Dubuque Senior)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: None

35. Council Bluffs Lincoln (3-6 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 30-54 (.357)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 2 (Des Moines Roosevelt, Urbandale)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: Denison-Schleswig, Des Moines Hoover

36. Davenport West (3-6 in 2019)

2020 Iowa opponents’ record in 2019: 28-53 (.346)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 1 (Dubuque Senior)

Out-of-state opponents: Moline (Ill.)

Non-4A opponents: None

37. Marshalltown (5-4 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 28-54 (.341)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 1 (Linn-Mar)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: Mason City, Newton, Grinnell

38. Sioux City North (1-8 in 2019)

2020 Iowa opponents’ record in 2019: 25-49 (.338)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 2 (Fort Dodge, Des Moines Roosevelt)

Out-of-state opponents: South Sioux City (Neb.)

Non-4A opponents: Des Moines Hoover

39. Ottumwa (2-7 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 24-58 (.293)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: 1 (Oskaloosa)

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: Burlington, Oskaloosa, Fairfield

40. Des Moines North (0-9 in 2019)

2020 opponents’ record in 2019: 21-60 (.259)

2019 playoff teams on schedule: None

Out-of-state opponents: None

Non-4A opponents: Des Moines Hoover, Waterloo East

Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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