When was the last time Iowa played a non-conference game that you actually thought would be fun to watch? Don’t say Iowa State, because if they weren’t a rival it would just be another cupcake tune up game before the conference slate starts. I’m talking about a game that, if you were a neutral fan, you would go out of your way to watch. I would argue that the last interesting non-con game the Hawkeyes played was in 2010 when they were the 9th ranked team in the country playing 24th ranked Arizona.
That was the last time Iowa has played a ranked team in the non-con. The only other power-5 team (again, don’t count the Cyclones. I refuse to refer to the Big 12’s version of Rutgers as a real P5 football program) Iowa has played in the last 8 years was Pitt, in 2011, 2014, and 2015. In that same timeframe the Hawkeyes have played FCS teams 8 different times.
To put that into perspective you can look at Iowa’s biggest conference rivals. In the last 8 years Wisconsin has played LSU, Alabama, and Arizona State. Nebraska has played Washington, UCLA, Oregon, Colorado, and Miami. Minnesota has played USC and TCU.
As far as I’m concerned, the series with Iowa State can be fired out of a giant cannon directly into the sun. They’re one of the absolute worst football programs in the country historically, and the Hawkeyes get nothing out of playing them every year. You can call it a rivalry if you want, but keep in mind Iowa and Iowa State are only rivals because state legislators in the 70’s told us they were to help build ISU’s program.
If Iowa State is the Dwight Schrute of Iowa’s dysfunctional schedule, FCS teams are the Michael Scott. There is absolutely no value in playing a team from a lower division, unless of course you actively hate your own fans and fear having any actual sense of accomplishment. The Big Ten now has rules in place prohibiting their members from playing FCS competition except for in years where they play more of their conference games on the road than at home. It is, perhaps, the only good decision Jim Delany has ever made in his entire life, as it has largely cut down on how often fans of this league have to be subjected to these games. Only two teams in the Big Ten play FCS teams this year, and the other one rhymes with Schmillinois.
“But Northern Iowa and Illinois State are elite FCS programs that are better than the bottom half of the G5 teams” some of you idiots are typing into the comments. The first reason you’re wrong is that arguing about which cupcake team is the best is like arguing about the most modest Medill grad or the skinniest person in Wisconsin. The second reason you’re wrong is that FBS teams inherently have much more depth on their roster because they have 22 more scholarships to give out. Athletic directors don’t schedule these games because they think that they’re secretly good teams that only contrarian fans know about, they schedule them because it’s an easy way to guarantee an extra home game and bowl eligibility.
Before Iowa fans come marching to my house with torches and pitchforks, keep in mind that A) I’m one of you and B) I’m right. The schedule is soft, and the athletic department gets away with it because having a 7th home game and a bowl appearance every year makes a lot of money and that’s the only criteria they’re being judged on.
I don’t care if you think UN-Omaha would be on Nebraska’s schedule every year if they moved up from D-II, or if Iowa is just trying to do UNI a solid by throwing a few bucks their way. Iowa’s football scheduling is as soft and indefensible as a punishment for Urban Meyer. You don’t have to beat your team senseless by playing Alabama or Oklahoma or Notre Dame every single year, but my god would it be so bad to have an occasional home-and-home with a consistently bowl-eligible P5 team once in a while?