Soon-to-change Big Ten landscape could mean Hawkeyes have ‘their opportunity’ in 2023

Jul. 28, 2023 1:54 PM
INDIANAPOLIS — When Kirk Ferentz took the stage in the northwest corner of Lucas Oil Stadium on Wednesday as part of the Big Ten’s football media days, he was “excited about our football team.”
Illinois’ Bret Bielema, likewise, is in the midst of a “very exciting time in our program right now.”
Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, too, is “really excited about the 2023 season.” Wisconsin’s Luke Fickell expressed confidence the Badgers “will have an opportunity to play for a championship.” Nebraska’s Matt Rhule? Yes, he unsurprisingly likes his team, too.
Each coach proclaimed the platitudes literally a few feet from the Big Ten’s division and conference title trophies.
The figurative proximity to the hardware glistening under the Lucas Oil Stadium lights seemed shorter for Ferentz than some of his peers, though, in part because of the current state of the Big Ten.
Four of Iowa’s six peers in the Big Ten West — Wisconsin, Nebraska. Purdue and Northwestern — have either first-year or interim head coaches in 2023.
It is no secret first-year head coaches have often struggled to be competitive immediately, especially in a top-heavy conference like the Big Ten.
Since 2000, coaches have gone 135-224 in Big Ten play in their first full seasons in the conference, according to a Gazette analysis of College Football Reference data. That equates to a .376 winning percentage.
Even when including nonconference games, coaches have gone 231-266 (.465) overall in their first full seasons.
Six first-year head coaches won at least 10 games during the 23-year span, and all six were from Ohio State, Michigan or Wisconsin.
For every case like 2019 Ryan Day at Ohio State (13-1, 9-0) or 2006 Bret Bielema at Wisconsin (12-1, 7-1), there are cases like 2007 Tim Brewster at Minnesota (1-11, 0-8) or 2013 Darrell Hazell at Purdue (1-11, 0-8).
Regardless of coaching longevity, the Big Ten also has a shifting landscape that can impact Iowa’s Big Ten championship aspirations.
USC and UCLA, two teams ranked in last year’s College Football Playoff poll, will join the conference in 2024.
“Everybody you play is going to be good,” Indiana Coach Tom Allen said.
The east-west divisions will cease to exist. Instead of two division champions meeting in the title game, the top two teams in the soon-to-be 16-member conference will meet in Indianapolis.
That’s reason to celebrate for some schools, like Indiana.
“You're going to see equitable schedules where teams are going to be playing teams more equally across the conference, which I think is a great thing,” Allen said. “That excites me.”
The Hoosiers have needed to play Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State — the only three Big Ten programs to end the season in the top five of the College Football Playoff rankings since 2016 — every year.
"Historically speaking, they’ve been three of the top 10 programs for a long, long time,” Allen said. “They’re tough to beat.”
But the change is not necessarily news to celebrate for Iowa and the rest of the Big Ten West. The “equitable” schedules will likely result in a harder path for them to the Big Ten championship game than in recent years.
A trip to Indianapolis, starting in 2024, will require Iowa to be better than at least three of the following four teams: Ohio State, Michigan, USC and UCLA. All four finished in 18th or higher in the final CFP poll, and three of the four were in the top 10.
Ferentz is not focused on the looming challenge, however.
“We just want to win every game,” Ferentz said. “That’s what we’ll focus on. So whatever our schedule ends up being — we'll try to figure out how to win this one, get to the next one.”
The circumstances around the rest of the Big Ten could, of course, become a moot point if Iowa does not improve its offense from last year’s subpar marks. The same goes for if the defense or special teams were to take an uncharacteristic setback in 2023.
“I feel like we've made the right steps,” Ferentz said of the offense. “Time will tell. Like everything else we do, time will tell.”
But if Ferentz’s prediction proves accurate, Iowa also has the benefit of avoiding Ohio State and Michigan in its Big Ten East crossover games.
“They've got Purdue schedule from a year ago,” CBS Sports analyst Gary Danielson said, referencing last year’s Big Ten West champion.
All those factors make 2023 not just an opportunity for the Hawkeyes.
“This is their opportunity,” Danielson said.

Latest Player Notes

How a Wisconsin legend got his German protégé into Badgers pro day

Mar 15, 2024 Marlon Werthmann put his life on hold for the opportunity in front of him Friday at the McClain Center.Werthmann ...

Why former Wisconsin football running back Braelon Allen didn't run the 40 at pro day

Mar 15, 2024 Braelon Allen’s sweat covered his shirt and dripped off his beard as he approached a group of reporters Friday.The ...

How can UW recruit its best class ever? It starts with these five prospects

By Andy Yamashita Seattle Times staff reporter Jedd Fisch has lofty recruiting goals at Washington. He didn’t waste any ...

Texas football kicks off spring practice Tuesday. We answer 24 questions for the 2024 team

Things certainly look fresh for the 2024 college football season, especially on the Texas campus.There’s a new conference ...

College Football Playoff: Conferences solve their differences (for now) and agree on general framework for 2026 and beyond

The FBS conferences and Notre Dame agreed on Friday to continue the College Football Playoff beyond the 2025 season, signing ...

Ball security, leadership key as Aztecs look to identify starting quarterback

San Diego State seemingly auditions a new starting quarterback on an annual basis.In the past 12 years, the Aztecs have opened ...

Results and more: A look at what happened at Penn State football’s Pro Day inside Holuba Hall

Most of those at Penn State’s Pro Day Friday were relatively quiet throughout the afternoon’s workouts, but there was one ...

Defense dominates first two weeks of Oregon State spring practice as Beavers ready for 2-week breather

CORVALLIS – Oregon State hit the break of spring practices Saturday, not exactly the midpoint but a good place to assess ...

Dillon Gabriel to have similar input, autonomy as Bo Nix had in Oregon’s offense

Published Mar. 16, 2024, 6:26 p.m.By James CrepeaEUGENE — Dillon Gabriel will have much of the same autonomy as Bo Nix did ...

Two transfers, one underclassman who impressed in Missouri football's spring game

With that, spring camp’s a wrap.Missouri football held its Black & Gold spring game Saturday in front of a healthy crowd ...
See More Player Notes