Nebraska has had a nightmare season, causing some fans to call for the firing of first year coach Mike Riley. In contrast, Iowa has already clinched the Big Ten West and has cracked the top four of the college football playoff committee rankings.
However, my number favor Nebraska against Iowa on Friday. Let me explain.
Nebraska’s poor record in close games
Nebraska has lost 5 games by a total of 13 points. Randomness plays a huge role in a team’s record in close games, and this year’s Cornhuskers are a perfect example.
In their first game, BYU beat Nebraska on a hail mary pass in the final seconds. They had a 0-5 record in games decided by a touchdown or less heading into the Michigan State game.
Then Nebraska’s luck turned against Michigan State. The refs ruled that a receiver had been pushed out of bounds, which allowed him to legally catch the game winning touchdown. Nebraska scored a big upset over the Spartans.
Nebraska is a much better team than their 5-6 record suggests.
Iowa isn’t as good as 11-0 suggests
On the other hand, Iowa came into this season with low expectations. They received no votes in either the preseason AP or Coaches poll. This might seem irrelevant this late in the season, but the higher ranked team in the preseason Coaches poll has won 59.9% of bowl games since 2005. They are remarkable predictors of team strength.
In addition, Iowa has had 11 more take aways than give aways this season. Randomness plays a large role in turnovers, and the Hawkeyes are unlikely to continue to average +1 in turnover margin per game. QB C.J. Beathard has throw interceptions on 1% on his pass attempts, a number that will regress to the college football average of 3%.
Nebraska has a 53% win probability over Iowa
Nebraska will test Iowa this Saturday. Iowa is the better team, but my numbers favor Nebraska by a point due to home field advantage. The markets favor Iowa by a point, down from two points earlier this week. Both metrics imply a close game that Iowa must win to preserve its playoff hopes.