The Iowa Hawkeyes know who they are, stay the course and certainly have had some big success doing things the way Kirk Ferentz demands. However, the college football recruiting landscape is changing and it appears the Hawkeyes have a problem with that.
At least that is one way to take what new offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz had to say in a radio interview yesterday. He spoke on the ‘Hawk Central’ program at Des Moines station KXNO 1460 and had a lot to say about “recruiting rivals” on the trail in today’s landscape.
The younger Ferentz’s biggest concern appears to be that schools like Iowa State, Minnesota and Nebraska are throwing out offers like candy.
“What has sped things up (in recruiting) in our state, especially, is the guys in Ames and then the new guys in Minneapolis seem to have no problem really throwing early things out,” Ferentz, 34, said, referring to scholarship offers. “And what I’ve learned – certainly about the guys in Ames, and I think we’ll find this about the guys in Minneapolis — what does an offer really mean? I can tell you this much: If the University of Iowa offers you a scholarship and you commit to us, we intend to sign you.”
There certainly is some truth to that, but it also plays a lot in to very different strategies and situations.
As Alex Halsted pointed out on Twitter, geographical need and program strength play a key role in how recruiting goes.
These were the Top-11 total offers in 2017 from Power 5s. You can argue that at least five are simply needed from a geographical standpoint. pic.twitter.com/tUQzYgFirF
— Alex Halsted (@AlexHalsted) May 4, 2017
Here’s a look at how the 2017 recruiting cycle broke down inside the Big Ten:
Some have asked, so here are last year's totals. Half of the Big Ten offered more than 250 kids in last year's recruiting cycle. pic.twitter.com/mhzl43aSda
— Alex Halsted (@AlexHalsted) May 4, 2017
It is pretty clear that Iowa doesn’t like handing out offers like candy, so Ferentz is truthful about that. But, that doesn’t mean he’s right about the “tactics” others are using either.
Iowa State and Nebraska have a much wider national footprint in their recruiting efforts and they have to. They Cyclones play in a conference dominated by teams in Texas and Oklahoma. They also are second in their own state usually when it comes to the top talent in Iowa. Therefore, recruiting in Texas and nationally simply makes sense for the Cyclones and Matt Campbell.
Offering kids from far away reaches and building relationships with them early seems to be the strategy at work for the Cyclones and Huskers — and for the latter that seems to be working in a big way as of late.
After all, Nebraska is the No. 11 class going currently according to 247Sports. The Huskers are pulling in some of the better talent from the West Coast as we speak in the 2018 recruiting cycle.
That’s the point for the Huskers though, they have to be early and in the mix from the beginning with these kids. Otherwise, Nebraska will find itself doing what got Bo Pelini in trouble — picking up what is left over instead of playing with the big boys.
That is very much unlike Iowa who tends to slow play and trust long evaluation periods.
As for the Cyclones, they haven’t been afraid to step up the recruiting game earlier in the process with in-state kids. It’s all part of their strategy to know what they have at home and begin to branch out from there. Matt Campbell needs to establish a better foothold in the state, and it seems as if the earlier process Campbell is willing to go through has rattled the Hawkeyes assistants.
“I think you have to look no further than in-state, to see there were a lot of offers in the 2018 class that went out very early out of Ames,” said Ferentz on ‘Hawk Central.’ And I’m not sure all those guys were able to commit to them if they wanted to, because some of those guys have since gone other places.”
This is where Ferentz comes off as a bit of sour grapes, and who can blame him? Losing what has been a firm grip on the top talent in the state of Iowa would be horrific to the Hawkeyes program. So is seeing the rival to your West and North suddenly pop up with top recruiting classes nationally.
Oh oh, someone is coming for your spot in the Big Ten West hierarchy.
Iowa has gone much the same route as a school like Wisconsin — concentrating efforts at home and finding the top skill position players from places like Florida and Texas. They just do their process slower, and any outside disruption to that process could lead to lesser opportunities for the Hawkeyes.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with the way Iowa likes to do things, especially when they hit on evaluations of players like Desmond King and other later finds. But, with the new recruiting rules in place for the upcoming class and beyond, Iowa is going to have to start playing things faster or they’ll get left in the dust.
Kids in the 2019 recruiting class are going to be able to get on campuses next spring as juniors, and they’ll be able to sign early for the second year in a row.
What is done is done in the 2018 cycle. Iowa can’t speed things up even if they wanted to, but they can either adapt to the changing landscape or sit back and complain about it. If they do the latter, Iowa is going to get left in the dust of much more aggressive recruiters.
Gone are the days of slow-playing offers and recruiting as a whole. Even Wisconsin knows that, and that should be all the evidence Iowa needs to stop whining and start figuring out how to navigate this new landscape.
It doesn’t mean throwing out offers willy-nilly, but it does mean getting more aggressive with the kids they do want and getting to them faster in the recruiting cycle.
Early Big Ten results remind us why bowl season matters
Don’t tell Iowa, Michigan State and Purdue that their bowl games and wins were meaningless, because they sure weren’t.
Bowl season is usually a cruel, cruel mistress to the Big Ten. Let’s just say hopes always start high and results crash fans of the teams in the conference back down to earth quickly.
There are a myriad of reasons and excuses often given, and some of them are valid (or at least used to be). Examples usually include the fact that 90 percent of the games are played well outside of the Big Ten footprint and the old reliable of huge disparities in caliber of opponents (addressed a bit by the last change in bowl alignment).
So, as the 2017-18 bowl season got underway it was hard to expect much from the Big Ten. After all, the conference teams managed to go just 3-7 last year and only one of those three wins was very meaningful (Wisconsin over Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl).
Then the games were played and we here in Big Ten country have been reminded just how meaningful bowl season really is.
Purdue not only got to a bowl game, but it won its bowl game against another offense-first team in Arizona. Sophomore quarterback Elijah Sindelar overcame injury and threw for nearly 400 yards (396 to be exact) and four touchdowns, while running back D.J. Knox had 101 yards on 11 carries.
If you believe bowl games don’t matter, just talk to anyone on the Purdue or Arizona sidelines following that game. Going 7-6 in season one under Jeff Brohm was huge, but most importantly it sets new expectations for the program’s floor going forward.
When is the last time there were anything but dreadful expectations surrounding the Purdue football program? If anything, that should tell you just how meaningful bowl games are.
But, it was just Purdue’s three-point win out in the Foster Farms Bowl that showcased the importance of winning so-called meaningless bowl games.
Michigan State not only rebounded from a 3-9 season to go 9-3, but it just beat a fellow top 25 program in Washington State. Sure, you can point to Luke Falk being out of the game, but the Spartans looked like the Spartans that climbed their way to the College Football Playoff just two years ago again.
Dantonio’s crew pounded the ball down the throat of Wazzu’s smaller defensive line and that led to LJ Scott putting up 110 yards on just 18 carries. Meanwhile, the Spartans defense held the Cougars high-scoring offense to just 17 points in the 42-17 win in the Holiday Bowl.
Think MSU will be overlooked by bowl games in the future again?
Even Iowa, who had the most maddening up and down season of any Big Ten team, pulled off a win in the opening game for a Big Ten team this bowl season.
It wasn’t always pretty, but in a matchup of two 7-5 teams, what else would you expect? Most importantly, the game showed that Iowa could win a close game against a quality defense. For a team full of young players at key positions, it’s a win that builds momentum heading in to the offseason.
All three wins set up increase expectations for next season and there’s nothing better than expecting quality football and increased competition within the Big Ten at all.
Of course, the rest of the Big Ten teams in bowl games have some huge matchups to play in.
It’s a nice start to reversing the trend of horrible bowl seasons for the conference, but there’s a lot of work still to be done for the rest of the conference. With three teams in New Year’s Six bowl games, winning them puts the conference at the forefront of the offseason discussion and as much as we hate to admit it — perception is reality these days in the college football world.
That was the lesson we were supposed to take away from the College Football Playoff committee’s selection of Alabama over an actual conference champion, right?
With a snub from the College Football Playoff committee this season, a huge turnaround in bowl game results would mean a whole lot to the reputation – fair or not – of the conference going forward.
Let’s see if the early momentum can be maintained by the big dogs of the B1G.
Iowa goes as Nate Stanley goes, and where that leads no one knows
Nate Stanley was awesome against Ohio State, against other quality defenses? Not so much in 2017.
Iowa has two impressive wins on its record in 2017, beating both Iowa State (pre-Oklahoma and TCU wins) and Ohio State. Nate Stanley tossed 5 touchdown passes in each of those games — coincidence much?
Despite that, the Hawkeyes are just 6-3 in his first season as a starter, perhaps another not-so-shocking revelation either.
Stanley had himself one heck of a game on the biggest stage of the season for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Five touchdown passes, 226 yards and 64 percent of passes completed led Iowa to a stunning 55-27 win over the previously No. 7-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
He also completed 27 of 41 passes for a season-high 333 yards and 5 touchdowns against Iowa State in Week 2.
All of that is well and good, but then there is the Nate Stanley that showed up…or rather, didn’t show up against two of the best defenses the Big Ten has to offer in 2017.
In a loss at home to Penn State, Stanley was just 13 of 22 for 191 yards and two touchdowns. He also followed that up by going 16 of 31 for just 197 yards and no touchdowns against Michigan State the next week.
That MSU game also saw Stanley fumble inside the Spartans 10-yard line just as it appeared Iowa was going to make it a one-score game. Instead, Michigan State recovered a really strange fumble and held on to a 17-7 lead.
But, the good news is he didn’t throw an interception in any of those games. In fact, Stanley has thrown just four interceptions all season long.
Once again, the flip side of that great news is that three of his four interceptions have come in the last four games.
Which version of Nate Stanley will show up against Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall?
The home-state product was not a priority for the Badgers back in the short-lived Gary Anderson era. Instead, Anderson was all-in on finding a dual-threat quarterback capable of giving the Badgers the run-pass option he desperately wanted in transitioning the Badgers offense.
Stanley didn’t and doesn’t fit that bill at all. Yet, the Badgers had a D1 quarterback in their back yard and Anderson chose to ignore him. Stanley’s former high school head coach, Joe LaBuda, of Menomonie High School, put the situation rather bluntly.
“The only reason he’s not a Badger,” LaBuda said, “is Gary Andersen.”
No matter the situation on the recruiting trail, and the motivation it might give to Stanley, the fact remains that what he will see across the field is easily his biggest challenge to date.
He’ll face arguably the best of the Big Ten’s defenses this weekend, as the Hawkeyes take on bitter rival Wisconsin.
Stanley has faced big challenges before and in Big Ten play he’s come up with one big performance and two losses. Despite the early setbacks to Penn State and Michigan State, Stanley hasn’t let it get to him and that is a credit to his ability to face adversity head-on.
“The biggest thing I’ve said all along is I’ve been most impressed with how he’s handled the bumps,” said Kirk Ferentz at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “When things go wrong, it doesn’t seem to rock his world.”
On Saturday he’ll face a defense that specializes in rocking quarterback’s worlds. Wisconsin is second in the Big Ten with 31 sacks and have racked up a Big Ten-best 14 interceptions. Four of those 14 interceptions have been returned for touchdowns, a total that also leads the Big Ten.
Can Stanley avoid the big hits and the mistakes that the Badgers like to force opposing quarterbacks in to?
If he can, Iowa is likely to have a good shot in this rivalry game. If not, the Badgers are likely to continue their defensive domination.
Let’s see if Stanley has another big performance against a big time defense in him. It sure has been a mixed bag of results so far in 2017.
Can Iowa Hawkeyes build off of offensive outburst against Illinois?
Iowa’s offense came on strong to finish off a Homecoming win over Illinois, but can that outburst sustain itself going forward?
A look at the scoreline suggest the Iowa Hawkeyes did exactly what they were supposed to do on Saturday. Iowa won 45-16 and that seemed about right, but it wasn’t as easy as the scoreboard suggested.
The Hawkeyes were down 13-10 in the second quarter and playing some poor football all the way around. Everything changed on one play in the third quarter though.
Iowa safety Brandon Synder returned to the lineup for the first time this season and he picked a heck of a time for a comeback…literally. Synder picked off a Jeff George Jr. effort deep in Iowa territory and returned it 89 yards for a Hawkeyes touchdown.
What could’ve been a 20-17 deficit in the third quarter turned in to a 24-13 lead. It also seemed to be the catalyst that sparked the Hawkeyes offense.
“They (Illinois) were driving the ball, and they did a good job today offensively,” said head coach Kirk Ferentz following the game. “Their offense did. To come up with that play to get the interception was big, and then to turn it into points was even bigger. Just seemed like that got us moving.”
Illinois was never the same after that pick-six, responding back with a lowly 40-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin to make it 24-16.
The Hawkeyes ripped off three fourth quarter touchdowns following that pick-six and cruised to the 45-16 win.
Hidden in the scoring output where great seconds half performances by Iowa’s two biggest offensive weapons — Nate Stanley and Akrum Wadley.
Stanley completed just 17 of 32 passes on the day, but he went for 247 yards and three touchdowns to one interception. Wadley added 115 yards and a touchdown rushing and receiving. He had an even day on the ground with 58 yards in the first half to go with 57 yards in the second.
Wide receiver Nick Easley put up a game-high seven receptions for 59 yards and Noah Fant showed the big play ability that should worry teams going forward. He had just three catches, but led the Hawkeyes with 78 yards and a long of 41 yards on the day.
That was certainly good news after seeing the offense screech to a halt the last two weeks against Penn State and at Michigan State.
While the good news is Iowa’s offense came to life, it took awhile to get going and looked like an 0-3 start could’ve been a real possibility in the first half. All of that against one of the Big Ten’s worst defenses.
It’s up to Ferentz and Co. to figure out how to get this offense rolling quicker. So far, they haven’t been able to solve that puzzle. But, Ferentz doesn’t seem too worried that is team won’t figure it out.
“What’s important is how you respond to frustration and where you put your focus,” said Ferentz. “Where you put your energy, and then also what you do during the week, what can you do to be a better prepared team and learn from whatever has caused frustration in previous weeks, that type of thing, and that’s an ongoing process.”
“That’s really the race that we’re all running right now.”
Let’s see if the spark that lit this team against Illinois can stay lit the rest of the way. If so, Iowa is going to be a team to pay attention to. If not, the Hawkeyes are in some real trouble the rest of the year.
Iowa Hawkeyes at Michigan State Spartans: Preview, predictions and prognostications
Michigan State hosts Iowa in a critical matchup for both teams seasons…who will prevail in East Lansing?
Two teams with different, but equally disappointing results meet in East Lansing on Saturday afternoon.
Yes, the Iowa Hawkeyes and Michigan State Spartans will look to shake off losses last weekend and only one will come out victorious. It’s fitting for a series that has been close over the last two decades or so.
How do we see this game shaping up? Let’s join our Andy Coppens in taking an in-depth look at what you need to know heading in to Saturday afternoon’s affair between the Hawkeyes and Spartans at 4pm ET on FOX.