Things to keep an eye on as Kirk Ferentz's team progresses through spring camp. James Kramer/The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Colin Cowherd blasted Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa football program’s scheduling practices again this week.
I know what you’re thinking: This is dog-attacks-mailman kind of news.
And I know the argument that Cowherd is desperate to boost his sagging ratings at Fox Sports is somewhere in your mind, too.
But, putting his annual swipes at the Hawkeye program aside, does he have a point?
Cowherd teed up Ferentz on his Wednesday national show for dialing “1-800-CREAM-PUFF every year.” The four-minute rant was in response to news that the Hawkeyes were adding a home game against Conference USA’s Middle Tennessee State to complete a 2019 nonconference lineup that already included Miami of Ohio and Iowa State.
“You’re the same fan base that demands I include you in Rose Bowl talk, but you’ve lost five straight bowl games,” Cowherd continued. “And do you know why you’ve lost five straight? Not easy to do. Because you get into bowls you didn’t earn, because you’re the fake ID of college football.”
That comment might sting Hawkeye fans because there’s an uncomfortable dose of reality there.
They know Iowa’s five straight bowl losses — to Oklahoma, LSU, Tennessee, Stanford and Florida — have mostly been one-sided.
At some point, Iowa must show — beyond being invited — that it belongs in those big-stage games. The last three bowls have been especially ugly, and that’s not coincidentally been the stretch in which Cowherd has lined up the Hawkeyes in his ratings-starved crosshairs.
Let’s look at one hypothetical: Suppose Iowa had played at BCS-bound Oklahoma instead of a would-be 2-10 Iowa State in the second game of the 2015 season. If that’s the schedule, does Iowa still get invited to the Rose Bowl?
Not if Oklahoma had beaten Iowa. The 12-1 Hawkeyes got to Pasadena by one spot, over 11-1 Ohio State, in that year’s College Football Playoff rankings. The 11-2 Hawkeyes probably don’t.
Looking back, as much as it might offer pain, Ohio State would have given Stanford a better game than Iowa did. Hawkeye fans have to begrudgingly give a point to Cowherd there.
But that’s where his successful arguments ended.
Part of his patronizing rant claimed that, “in 20 years, Iowa has never scheduled one out-of-conference game of a top-20 program.”
An easy fact-check shows that Iowa has faced five top-20 opponents in non-conference play under Ferentz: No. 5 Nebraska in 1999; No. 8 Kansas State and No. 1 Nebraska in 2000; No. 16 Arizona State in 2003; and No. 18 Arizona in 2010.
Cowherd also went on to praise Alabama for its scheduling practices. And, yes, although the Crimson Tide have played a big-name nonconference opponent in each of the last five years (Michigan, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wisconsin and USC), they’ve also scheduled three opponents from the 1-800-CREAM-PUFF directory in each of those seasons as well.
Yet, by comparison, only three times in Ferentz’s 18 years has Iowa scheduled more than two opponents that would fall under the Power-Five label (2002, 2012 and 2013).
So give Ferentz some credit there — Iowa’s schedule isn’t as bad as a one-sided blowhard’s contention; it’s scheduled reputable-albeit-not-elite opponents in Pittsburgh (four times) and Arizona, Arizona State and Syracuse (twice each). And that doesn't include Iowa playing the same Big 12 Conference opponent for 40 consecutive years.
Therein lies the problem that Cowherd almost identified, but didn't: Without action soon, Iowa's nonconference schedule is going to get stale, if it isn't already. And if Iowa wants to gain respectability in the increasingly important CFP rankings (which matter when big-dollar New Year's Six games are doled out), a philosophical adjustment is needed.
So to finish this analysis with the hopes of finding a win-win solution, let’s size up the elephant in the room: Iowa State.
Some Hawkeye fans want to see that game played every year; some would be thrilled to see it go away forever.
The Cy-Hawk series is signed through the 2021 season. And the Big Ten has officially transitioned to nine-game conference schedules (unlike Alabama and the rest of the Southeastern Conference schools, which play eight).
That arrangement puts Iowa in a box.
It wouldn't be smart to replace a Middle Tennessee with an Oklahoma, thus signing away a home game every other year while simultaneously winding up with 11 Power Five opponents out of 12 while your SEC counterparts play nine out of 12.
Perhaps in the next few years, under coach Matt Campbell, the Cyclones will become a good football program and lend more strength and credibility to Iowa's nonconference schedule. But that can't be blindly counted upon.
The best solution, if I’m Ferentz and athletics director Gary Barta?
Starting with the 2022 season, make a concerted scheduling commitment to play Iowa State twice every four years and find a different Power Five, name program — say, Arkansas or Oklahoma or (gasp) Notre Dame — to establish a two-game, home-and-home series.
That way, both Iowa and Iowa State get a guaranteed, lucrative home sellout from each other once every four years, the Cy-Hawk rivalry remains alive and well, and the once-every-four-years Oklahoma or Arkansas games at Kinnick would be a lock to sell out, too.
If Iowa State isn't keen on a twice-every-four-years agreement? Don't sign a thing, and come back to the bargaining table in a few years.
Either way, Hawkeye fans and season ticket-holders — a lot of whom are weary of the repetitive scheduling formula — would get some much-needed variety and more bang for their bucks.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.
Future Iowa schedules:
September: 2: vs. Wyoming; 9: At Iowa State; 16: vs. North Texas; 23: vs. Penn State; 30: at Michigan State
October: 7: vs. Illinois; 14: BYE; 21: at Northwestern; 28: vs. Minnesota
November: 4: vs. Ohio State; 11: at Wisconsin; 18: vs. Purdue; 24: at Nebraska
September: 1: vs. Northern Illinois; 8: vs. Iowa State; 15: vs. Northern Iowa; 22: vs. Wisconsin; 29: BYE.
October: 6: at Minnesota; 13: at Indiana; 20: vs. Maryland; 27: at Penn State.
November: 3: at Purdue; 10: vs. Northwestern; 17: at Illinois; 23: vs. Nebraska.
August: 31: vs. Miami of Ohio.
September: 7: vs. Rutgers; 14: at Iowa State; 21: BYE; 28: vs. Middle Tennessee State.
October: 5: at Michigan; 12: vs. Penn State; 19: vs. Purdue; 26: at Northwestern.
November: 2: BYE; 9: at Wisconsin; 16: vs. Minnesota; 23: vs. Illinois; 29: at Nebraska.
Note: Big Ten schedules have not been released beyond 2019; Iowa has Northern Illinois lined up in 2020; the Iowa-Iowa State series is signed through 2021.