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August 21, 2014

Inside the numbers

With a favorable schedule and a team getting some praise but still generally flying below the radar, Iowa seems poised for a classic Kirk Ferentz "overachieving" season.

Yes, it's the old "Kirk Ferentz Teams Aren't Good When They're Supposed To Be And Are Good When They're Not Supposed To Be" narrative.

Iowa fans have observed - some not so fondly - that often times Ferentz-coached teams seem to either grossly outperform or under-perform their expectations. It's a narrative that's picked up enough steam to be recognized nationally, too.

But is it really just a narrative?

I decided to look at some data and try to determine how much truth there is behind this. I used AP preseason votes as the primary independent variable and wins as my dependent variable.

Using the AP poll is just a personal preference as means of gauging expectations. Obviously, they aren't the end-all, be-all determinants of how a football team should perform. But I believe the AP preseason poll provides a solid baseline to use.

If you're unfamiliar with how the AP poll works, voters rank teams 1-25. The team they rank No. 1 receives 25 points, No. 2 receives 24, No. 3 receives 23, and so on. Sixty voters currently take part, so a "perfect" score would award a team 1,500 points, though there have been fewer voters in the past.

I chose to get rid of Ferentz's first two seasons because with records of 1-10 and 3-9, they're extreme outliers compared to the rest of his tenure. Whether that's irresponsible of me in this case, I'm not sure. However, when you look at Ferentz's track record, a one-win team is clearly an outlier considering he's averaged 7.2 wins per season over 15 years. You can make a case that I should have included the 2000 squad - which went 3-9 - but I chose not to because Iowa was still in heavy rebuilding mode, unlike in 2012 when the Hawkeyes were 4-8.






















































In five of these seasons, the team was ranked in the preseason AP Poll:

2004: No. 19

2005: No. 11

2006: No. 16

2009: No. 22

2010: No. 9

Iowa achieved a mean of 8.4 wins in those seasons and a median average of eight wins.

Here are the big impressions I came away with:

•There's a generally solid floor for success in the seasons in which Iowa receives no votes in the preseason poll. The Hawkeyes went bowling in four of those six seasons, and also played in the postseason in years in which they received eight and 19 points, respectively - virtually none. Then, of course, there was 2007 and 2012, where the team got no preseason love and proceeded to justify that lack of admiration with poor play.

•By the same token, the best seasons under Ferentz have generally come with fewer votes in the preseason. Of Ferentz's seven seasons with at least eight wins, four of those teams received no preseason votes. Two of Ferentz's 10-win teams didn't receive any votes.

•This might shock you (since it's sometimes difficult to tell on the internet, this is me being sarcastic) but the chart suggests 2005 and 2010 were Ferentz's most disappointing seasons. 2006 is not far behind, either. 2012 was just all-around bad.

•Three of Ferentz's best four seasons by win total came despite little fanfare coming into the year (2002, 2003, 2009 - I consider a No. 22 ranking as not constituting too much ballyhoo). 2004 is the only exception among KF's 10-win campaigns, but even that year Iowa was only ranked 19th preseason - not necessarily indicative of a team expected to win 10 games.

•That said, 2004 is arguably the only season in which Ferentz's team came in with a good deal of hype and actually lived up to it.

•Joni Mitchell (and Cinderella) were right - you truly don't know what you got till it's gone. No one would have argued against 2002-2004 being Ferentz's best three-year run, but when you see those seasons displayed in terms of victories on a scatter plot, it really shows how dominant Iowa was in that period. It's hard to win 10 games in college football, let alone in three straight years. By my count, only eight teams enter the 2014 season having won at least 10 games in each of the past three years: Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Northern Illinois, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina and Stanford. It's difficult to see Ferentz - or maybe even Iowa in general - ever accomplishing this feat again.

Closing thoughts

The data seems to suggest that this idea that Iowa teams outperform low expectations and regularly fail to meet high expectations under Ferentz is both true and false at the same time. His best squads do generally seem to come out of nowhere - at least in terms of the national perspective. But at the same time, two of his best teams ever - 2004 and 2009 - were ranked in the preseason, albeit not extremely high in the poll.

So what does this season hold? Iowa accumulated a modest 68 points in this year's preseason poll. The data leads us to believe that this is a good omen for Iowa fans, but we can't be so sure quite yet.

You can follow Jordan Garretson on Twitter here - @jordangarretson.


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