I’m not entirely sure when the trend was first spotted, but it was a couple of years ago and ever since results on the football field have stuck to it almost perfectly. Under Paul Rhoads, when Iowa State opponents are held to less than 24 points the Cyclones are 24-2 (one loss came to Missouri to cap the 2010 season by a score of 14-0 – which I still consider one of the best defensive performances I’ve ever seen from ISU – and the other was a 21-17 loss to TCU in Ames in 2013).
There’s a lot of anecdotal rationalization we could all provide to explain that but it would likely start and stop with an offense that has very rarely been explosive enough to stay in games beyond that 24 point threshold. For comparison, since 2009 the ISU offense averages 22.8 points per game…so, yeah, it starts to make sense.
In games where opponents hit the 24 point bench mark and beyond the Cyclones are just 4-36. The four wins came against Texas Tech in 2010 (52-38), Iowa in 2011 (44-41 in triple overtime), Oklahoma State in 2011 (37-31 in double overtime), and at West Virginia in 2013 (52-44 in triple overtime). The quirky and unique is that two of those games (Iowa and Oklahoma State) were tied at 24 at the end of regulation (as was the Nebraska loss in overtime in 2010 that was very nearly added to the win column).
Less divisive on the “Rule of 24” is the Cyclone offense and which side of that line they fall. In the Rhoads era when ISU notches less than 24 points, they are 7-28 and when they surpass that mark they are 21-10. There is still an obvious (and very intuitive) trend but it isn’t as magnified.
While this is fun and interesting on its own, I wanted to compare the win percentages with these scoring numbers to not just the history of ISU football (actually, just back to the late 1960’s and Johnny Majors because at some point around then comparing to the past isn’t even close to apples-to-apples) but also the rest of FBS during the Rhoads tenure.
Here are all eight Iowa State coaches back to Johnny Majors and how they fared with the “Rule of 24” (with color coded scaling to easily pick out which coach did the best/worst):
Personally, I don’t think there is much you can garner from the table other than it’s interesting…maybe. It shows that Rhoads does have the best record when opponents are held to less than 24 points and that ISU has better winning percentages as they get past the 24 point mark or hold opponents under it (obviously).
Rhoads isn’t impressive when opponents score at least 24 points in comparison to even other ISU coaches but I have to believe at least a small part of that is due to the changing times of football and the style of the Big 12 while ISU is still not likely to win most shootouts that they would get into.
I was maybe a tidbit surprised that McCarney has the best win percentage when opponents got to 24. I had zero expectations, but I am retroactively surprised.
To get closer to the point of relevancy, here is how all of FBS (ISU games are included) has done with the “Rule of 24”:
Each of the past five seasons is broken into four categories depending on how the team scored and the opponent scored and they are totaled at the bottom. Just below that you’ll see the career numbers for Rhoads and how they correlate to his peers in that same time span.
In games that the opponent gets above 24 points, Rhoads is underperforming by quite a lot in comparison to the rest of the nation with a discrepancy of nearly 17 percent in winning percentage. Even in games where ISU reaches 24 points his win percentage is eight points below that of the FBS average.
However in low scoring games where the opponent stays under 24, Rhoads coached teams win almost eight percent more often than the rest of the FBS teams. When ISU scores less than 24 points they have an ever so slight advantage of just a shade more than two percentage points in wins.
There are a lot of personal opinions and observations we could all contribute to theorize with this data. But the basic point is that Iowa State’s chances to win are dramatically increased when the opponent stays under 24 points, far more so than when the Cyclones get above 24 points. The data illustrates that pretty clearly.
This is a simple look at a simple concept that has proven to be the case rather often. It creeps in my mind all of the time even though I know it doesn’t directly choose the winner. With ISU leading 28-26 and Kansas State driving two weeks ago I thought the trend might break, but once again the “Rule of 24” stood tall.