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September 13, 2013
Inside the numbers
As the guy who writes a column titled "Inside The Numbers," it'd probably be strange for me to dismiss the value of previous statistics in terms of predicting future results. They don't always tell the whole story or let you know exactly what will happen, but they can help give you a good idea.
The Cy-Hawk series laughs hysterically at that notion.
Historically dominated by Iowa - the Hawkeyes own a 39-21 all-time advantage - the series has become much wackier in recent years, particularly since 2001.
Iowa has been favored to win every game since 2001, yet the two schools have split the 12 meetings.
So I'm not here to tell you what to expect on Saturday. I've given up on that after seeing a 44-41 triple-overtime battle two years ago in favor of Iowa State followed by another Cyclone victory last season, a 9-6 well whatever you want to call that game.
Instead, I'm going to take a step back and try to illustrate just how quirky this series has been.
-The team listed first was the road team (ie: Iowa was the road team in 2001)
-Rankings, when applicable, are indicative of the team's standing in the AP Top 25 entering the game
-Highlighted team name indicates winner
-The spread favored Iowa in all 12 matchups, as mentioned above. A red number indicates that Iowa did not cover the spread, while green means the opposite.
-"Total" indicates the over-under betting line given before the game, in terms of the teams' combined points. I could not find over-under data for the 2001 meeting. A red number indicates the teams went under the given total, while a green number indicates that they went over.
Iowa State beat the spread by a cumulative total of 49 points over the course of these 12 meetings, or by an average of 4.1 points per meeting. I'll be the last one to dispute that Vegas knows what it's doing when it sets betting lines, but it's pretty interesting that the favorite has only covered the spread three times in this series' last 12 meetings.
While the Hawkeyes have rarely covered the spread over the last 12 years, when they have, they've done so in a big way - by a cumulative total of 53 points, or about 17.7 points per matchup. Iowa State has been much more susceptible to big blowouts in this series than Iowa recently, with the exception of Iowa State's 23-3 victory in 2005.
Going off the last point, Iowa has cumulatively outscored Iowa State by 72 over the last 12 meetings, an average margin of victory of 6.0 points in each game. Yet Iowa has been favored by an average of 9.6 points entering the game. If there's one thing to be learn here for the future, it's to be wary of a spread greater than 3 1/2 points, though that's not much of a concern this year with most books currently showing the Hawkeyes as a 2 1/2-point favorite. The blowouts in this series sometimes seem to occur when the experts least expect it, with 2010 serving as a big exception.
These teams have finished, cumulatively, 63 points under the over-under total set for these 12 meetings, or an average of 5.7 points under per game - even including the fact that they hit the over by a whopping 40 1/2 points in 2011. Excluding that result, however, the two schools have finished under the total point line by an average of 10.4 points per meeting. That's pretty remarkable. This year's over-under is currently hovering around 47-48 points.
Now we'll take a look at the average box score from the last 12 years.
The first thing that jumped out at me was how similar the total yardage figures have been. In the last 12 meetings Iowa has averaged just 0.7 more net yards per game than Iowa State - an amazingly small discrepancy. Iowa has averaged 365.9 net yards to opponents' 335.0 yards in all of its games since 2001.
Penalties were the second thing to catch my attention. It's often assumed (usually correctly) that because Kirk Ferentz's emphasis on discipline that the Hawkeyes possess an almost inherent advantage in terms of penalties. Iowa has maintained an edge by committing fewer penalties over the last 12 meetings, but it's been by a very slim margin, especially considering that Iowa State has seen much more volatility with its head coaches during this time period.
In terms of determining a winner, few statistics appear to be more indicative than third-down conversion percentage. The teams are nearly even at 36.6 and 36.1 percent, respectively, over the last 12 meetings, but Iowa claimed a decided edge on average in its wins while Iowa State did so in its own victories. This won't surprise even the most casual football fan, but seems to be one of the biggest things to keep an eye on in this particular series.
Magic Number: 24
Something a little more telling - and not included in the chart above - is the significance of the number 24 for Iowa State under coach Paul Rhoads.
The Cyclones are 21-1 under Rhoads when allowing fewer than 24 points, but they're 3-27 when allowing 24 or more.
Iowa State's lone loss when allowing fewer than 24 points was its 14-0 defeat to then-15th-ranked Missouri in 2010.
One of the three victories when allowing 24 or more was a 52-38 final over Texas Tech in 2010. Another was the Cyclones' big 37-31 upset of then-No. 2 Oklahoma State in 2011.
And of course, the third was Iowa State's 44-41 triple-overtime win in this series just two years ago. The score was 24-24 at the end of regulation.
Just when you think you have a tell in this series, you're forced to think again.