Big Ten: Brett Van Sloten

Thirty Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL draft, but many others received phone calls immediately after the event. The undrafted free-agent carousel is spinning, and players from around the Big Ten are hopping aboard.

Unlike the draft, the UDFA list is somewhat fluid, and other players could get picked up later today or in the coming days. To reiterate: This is not the final list.

Here's what we know right now from various announcements and media reports:

ILLINOIS
  • LB Jonathan Brown, Arizona Cardinals
  • WR Ryan Lankford, Miami Dolphins
  • TE Evan Wilson, Dallas Cowboys
  • WR Steve Hull, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Spencer Harris, New Orleans Saints
Notes: Illini OT Corey Lewis, who battled knee injuries throughout his career, told Steve Greenberg that several teams are interested in him if he's cleared by doctors.

INDIANA
  • WR Kofi Hughes, Washington Redskins
  • RB Stephen Houston, New England Patriots
Notes: S Greg Heban and K Mitch Ewald have tryouts with the Chicago Bears.

IOWA
  • LB James Morris, New England Patriots
  • OT Brett Van Sloten, Baltimore Ravens
  • G Conor Boffeli, Minnesota Vikings
  • WR Don Shumpert, Chicago Bears
  • LS Casey Kreiter, Dallas Cowboys
MARYLAND
  • LB Marcus Whitfield, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • CB Isaac Goins, Miami Dolphins
MICHIGAN
  • LB Cam Gordon, New England Patriots
  • S Thomas Gordon, New York Giants
Notes: RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (Baltimore), DT Jibreel Black (Pittsburgh), LS Jareth Glanda (New Orleans) and DT Quinton Washington (Oakland) will have tryouts.


MICHIGAN STATE
  • LB Denicos Allen, Carolina Panthers
  • S Isaiah Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
  • T/G Dan France, Cincinnati Bengals
  • WR Bennie Fowler, Denver Broncos
  • LB Max Bullough, Houston Texans
  • DT Tyler Hoover, Indianapolis Colts
  • DT Micajah Reynolds, New Orleans Saints
  • OL Fou Fonoti, San Francisco 49ers
Notes: LB Kyler Elsworth has a tryout scheduled with Washington.

MINNESOTA
  • LB Aaron Hill, St. Louis Rams
NEBRASKA
  • QB Taylor Martinez, Philadelphia Eagles
  • OT Brent Qvale, New York Jets
  • CB Mohammed Seisay, Detroit Lions
  • DE Jason Ankrah, Houston Texans
  • C Cole Pensick, Kansas City Chiefs
  • OT Jeremiah Sirles, San Diego Chargers
Notes: CB Ciante Evans has yet to sign but will do so soon. DB Andrew Green has a tryout with the Miami Dolphins.

NORTHWESTERN
  • WR Kain Colter, Minnesota Vikings
  • K Jeff Budzien, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • WR Rashad Lawrence, Washington Redskins
  • DE Tyler Scott, Minnesota Vikings
OHIO STATE
  • S C.J. Barnett, New York Giants
  • K Drew Basil, Atlanta Falcons
  • WR Corey Brown, Carolina Panthers
  • G Andrew Norwell, Carolina Panthers
  • G Marcus Hall, Indianapolis Colts
  • WR Chris Fields, Washington Redskins
PENN STATE
  • OT Garry Gilliam, Seattle Seahawks
  • LB Glenn Carson, Arizona Cardinals
  • S Malcolm Willis, San Diego Chargers
Notes: OT Adam Gress will have a tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

PURDUE
  • DE Greg Latta, Denver Broncos
  • S Rob Henry, Oakland Raiders
  • G Devin Smith, San Diego Chargers
  • DT Bruce Gaston Jr., Arizona Cardinals
Notes: P Cody Webster will have a tryout with Pittsburgh.

RUTGERS
  • WR Brandon Coleman, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Quron Pratt, Philadelphia Eagles
  • LB Jamal Merrell, Tennessee Titans
  • DE Marcus Thompson, Miami Dolphins
  • S Jeremy Deering, New England Patriots
Notes: According to Dan Duggan, DE Jamil Merrell (Bears) and G Antwan Lowery (Baltimore) will have tryouts.

WISCONSIN
  • G/T Ryan Groy, Chicago Bears
  • TE Jacob Pedersen Atlanta Falcons
  • TE Brian Wozniak, Atlanta Falcons
  • DE Ethan Hemer, Pittsburgh Steelers
Quick thoughts: Martinez's future as an NFL quarterback has been heavily scrutinized, but Chip Kelly's Eagles are a fascinating destination for him. Whether he plays quarterback or another position like safety, Kelly will explore ways to use Martinez's speed. ... The large Michigan State contingent is still a bit startling. The Spartans dominated the Big Ten, beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, use pro-style systems on both sides of the ball and had just one player drafted. Bullough, Allen and Lewis all were multiple All-Big Ten selections but will have to continue their careers through the UDFA route. ... Colter certainly looked like a draft pick during Senior Bowl practices in January, but that was before his ankle surgery and his role in leading the unionization push at Northwestern. I tend to think the injury impacted his status more, but NFL teams have been known to shy away from so-called locker-room lawyers. ... Other Big Ten standouts like Jonathan Brown, Morris and Pedersen were surprisingly not drafted. Morris should be a great fit in New England. ... Coleman's decision to leave Rutgers early looks questionable now that he didn't get drafted.

B1G spring position breakdown: OL

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
2:30
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We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the big uglies.

Illinois: This is another group that appears to be in significantly better shape now than at the start of coach Tim Beckman's tenure. The Illini lose only one full-time starter in tackle Corey Lewis, as four other linemen who started at least eight games in 2013 return. Senior tandem Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic are two of the Big Ten's most experienced linemen, and guards Ted Karras also has logged plenty of starts. Right tackle appears to be the only vacancy entering the spring, as Austin Schmidt and others will compete.

Indiana: The Hoosiers have somewhat quietly put together one of the Big Ten's best offensive lines, and the same should hold true in 2014. Everybody is back, and because of injuries before and during the 2013 season, Indiana boasts a large group with significant starting experience. Jason Spriggs should contend for first-team All-Big Ten honors as he enters his third season at left tackle. Senior Collin Rahrig solidifies the middle, and Indiana regains the services of guard Dan Feeney, who was sidelined all of 2013 by a foot injury.

Iowa: The return of left tackle Brandon Scherff anchors an Iowa line that could be a team strength this fall. Scherff will enter the fall as a leading candidate for Big Ten offensive lineman of the year. Iowa must replace two starters in right tackle Brett Van Sloten and left guard Conor Boffeli. Andrew Donnal could be the answer in Van Sloten's spot despite playing guard in 2013, while several players will compete at guard, including Tommy Gaul and Eric Simmons. Junior Austin Blythe returns at center.

Maryland: Line play will go a long way toward determining how Maryland fares in the Big Ten, and the Terrapins will make the transition with an experienced group. Four starters are back, led by center Sal Conaboy, who has started games in each of his first three seasons. Tackles Ryan Doyle and Michael Dunn bring versatility to the group, and Maryland should have plenty of options once heralded recruit Damian Prince and junior-college transfer Larry Mazyck arrive this summer. Prince is the top Big Ten offensive line recruit in the 2014 class, according to ESPN RecruitingNation. New line coach Greg Studwara brings a lot of experience to the group.

Michigan: The Wolverines' line is under the microscope this spring after a disappointing 2013 season. Michigan loses both starting tackles, including Taylor Lewan, the Big Ten's offensive lineman of the year and a projected first-round draft choice. The interior line was in flux for much of 2013, and Michigan needs development from a large group of rising sophomores and juniors, including Kyle Kalis, Kyle Bosch, Jack Miller, Graham Glasgow, and Patrick Kugler. Both starting tackle spots are open, although Ben Braden seems likely to slide in on the left side. Erik Magnuson is out for spring practice following shoulder surgery, freeing up opportunities for redshirt freshman David Dawson and others.

Michigan State: The line took a significant step forward in 2013 but loses three starters, including left guard Blake Treadwell, a co-captain. Michigan State used an eight-man rotation in 2013 and will look for development from top reserves such as Travis Jackson (Yes! Yes!) and Connor Kruse. Kodi Kieler backed up Treadwell last season and could contend for a starting job as well. Coach Mark Dantonio said this week that converted defensive linemen James Bodanis, Devyn Salmon and Noah Jones will get a chance to prove themselves this spring. It's important for MSU to show it can reload up front, and the large rotation used in 2013 should help.

Minnesota: For the first time since the Glen Mason era, Minnesota truly established the line of scrimmage and showcased the power run game in 2013. The Gophers return starters at four positions and regain Jon Christenson, the team's top center before suffering a season-ending leg injury in November. Right tackle Josh Campion and left guard Zac Epping are mainstays in the starting lineup, and players such as Tommy Olson and Ben Lauer gained some valuable experience last fall. There should be good leadership with Epping, Olson, Marek Lenkiewicz and Caleb Bak.

Nebraska: Graduation hit the line hard as five seniors depart, including 2012 All-American Spencer Long at guard and Jeremiah Sirles at tackle. Nebraska will lean on guard Jake Cotton, its only returning starter, and experienced players such as Mark Pelini, who steps into the center spot. Senior Mike Moudy is the top candidate at the other guard spot, but there should be plenty of competition at the tackle spots, where Zach Sterup, Matt Finnin and others are in the mix. Definitely a group to watch this spring.

Northwestern: Offensive line struggles undoubtedly contributed to Northwestern's disappointing 2013 season. All five starters are back along with several key reserves, and coach Pat Fitzgerald already has seen a dramatic difference in the position competitions this spring as opposed to last, when many linemen were sidelined following surgeries. Center Brandon Vitabile is the only returning starter who shouldn't have to worry about his job. Paul Jorgensen and Eric Olson opened the spring as the top tackles, and Jack Konopka, who has started at both tackle spots, will have to regain his position.

Ohio State: Like Nebraska, Ohio State enters the spring with a lot to replace up front as four starters depart from the Big Ten's best line. Taylor Decker is the only holdover and will move from right tackle to left tackle. Fifth-year senior Darryl Baldwin could step in at the other tackle spot, while Pat Elflein, who filled in for the suspended Marcus Hall late last season, is a good bet to start at guard. Jacoby Boren and Billy Price will compete at center and Joel Hale, a defensive lineman, will work at guard this spring. Ohio State has recruited well up front, and it will be interesting to see how young players such as Evan Lisle and Kyle Dodson develop.

Penn State: New coach James Franklin admits he's concerned about the depth up front despite the return of veterans Miles Dieffenbach and Donovan Smith on the left side. Guard Angelo Mangiro is the other lineman who logged significant experience in 2013, and guard/center Wendy Laurent and guard Anthony Alosi played a bit. But filling out the second string could be a challenge for Penn State, which could start a redshirt freshman (Andrew Nelson) at right tackle. The Lions have to develop some depth on the edges behind Nelson and Smith.

Purdue: The Boilers reset up front after a miserable season in which they finished 122nd out of 123 FBS teams in rushing offense (67.1 ypg). Three starters return on the interior, led by junior center Robert Kugler, and there's some continuity at guard with Jordan Roos and Justin King, both of whom started as redshirt freshmen. It's a different story on the edges as Purdue loses both starting tackles. Thursday's addition of junior-college tackle David Hedelin could be big, if Hedelin avoids a potential NCAA suspension for playing for a club team. Cameron Cermin and J.J. Prince also are among those in the mix at tackle.

Rutgers: Continuity should be a strength for Rutgers, which returns its entire starting line from 2013. But production has to be better after the Scarlet Knights finished 100th nationally in rushing and tied for 102nd in sacks allowed. Guard Kaleb Johnson considered entering the NFL draft but instead will return for his fourth season as a starter. Rutgers also brings back Betim Bujari, who can play either center or guard, as well as Keith Lumpkin, the likely starter at left tackle. It will be interesting to see if new line coach Mitch Browning stirs up the competition this spring, as younger players Dorian Miller and J.J. Denman could get a longer look.

Wisconsin: There are a lot of familiar names up front for the Badgers, who lose only one starter in guard Ryan Groy. The tackle spots look very solid with Tyler Marz (left) and Rob Havenstein (right), and Kyle Costigan started the final 11 games at right guard. There should be some competition at center, as both Dan Voltz and Dallas Lewallen have battled injuries. Coach Gary Andersen mentioned on national signing day that early enrollee Michael Deiter will enter the mix immediately at center. Another early enrollee, decorated recruit Jaden Gault, should be part of the rotation at tackle. If certain young players develop quickly this spring, Wisconsin should have no depth issues when the season rolls around.
Tags:

Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Corey Lewis, Josh Campion, Brandon Vitabile, Darryl Baldwin, Blake Treadwell, Pat Fitzgerald, Travis Jackson, Miles Dieffenbach, Justin King, Zac Epping, Gary Andersen, Brett Van Sloten, Andrew Donnal, Rob Havenstein, Dallas Lewallen, Brandon Scherff, Paul Jorgensen, Donovan Smith, Austin Blythe, Tommy Olson, Angelo Mangiro, Jack Konopka, Jake Cotton, Jeremiah Sirles, Kyle Kalis, J.J. Denman, Kyle Dodson, Eric Olson, Michael Heitz, Simon Cvijanovic, Spencer Long, Collin Rahrig, Greg Studrawa, Kodi Kieler, Jordan Roos, Cameron Cermin, Taylor Decker, Robert Kugler, Jack Miller, Kyle Bosch, Evan Lisle, Jason Spriggs, Mark Pelini, James Franklin, Patrick Kugler, Kyle Costigan, Andrew Nelson, Ted Karras, Jon Christenson, Dan Feeney, Erik Magnuson, James Bodanis, Jaden Gault, Graham Glasgow, Marek Lenkiewicz, Eric Simmons, Pat Elflein, Matt Finnin, Damian Prince, Michael Deiter, David Hedelin, Mike Moudy, Zach Sterup, Conor Boffelli, B1G spring positions 14, Austin Schmidt, Tommy Gaul, Sal Conaboy, Ryan Doyle, Michael Dunn, Larry Mazyck, Connor Kruse, Devyn Salmon, Noah Jones, J.J. Prince, Kaleb Johnson, Betim Bujari, Keith Lumpkin, Mitch Browning, Dorian Miller

Let's look at what to expect this spring in the Big Ten's wild, wild West:

ILLINOIS

Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Toughening up on 'D': The Fighting Illini had one of the nation's worst defenses, especially against the run. Tim Beckman brought back defensive coordinator Tim Banks and hopes an extra year of maturity can help strengthen the front seven. Juco import Joe Fotu could win a starting job this spring, and Jihad Ward should help when he arrives in the summer.
  • 'Haase cleaning: Nathan Scheelhaase wrapped up his career by leading the Big Ten in passing yards last season. Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt likely takes over the reins, but backups Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey plan on fighting for the job, as well. Bill Cubit's offense should equal big numbers for whoever wins out.
  • Target practice: Whoever wins the quarterback job needs someone to catch the ball, and Illinois' top two receivers from '13 -- Steve Hull and Miles Osei -- both are gone. Junior college arrival Geronimo Allison will be counted on for some immediate help.
IOWA

Spring start: March 27 or 28
Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • A new big three: The Hawkeyes begin the process of trying to replace their three standout senior linebackers from last season: James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey. They were the heart of the defense in 2013, and now guys such as Quinton Alston, Reggie Spearman and Travis Perry need to make major leaps forward in the spring.
  • Develop more playmakers: Iowa was able to win the games it should have won last year, but struggled against those with strong defenses because of its lack of explosiveness. Sophomore Tevaun Smith and junior Damond Powell showed flashes of their potential late in the year at wideout. They need to continue to develop to give quarterback Jake Rudock and the offense ways to stretch the field.
  • Solidify the right tackle spot: The offensive line should once again be the team's strength, but the departure of veteran right tackle Brett Van Sloten means someone has to take on that role. Whether that's senior Andrew Donnal or redshirt freshman Ryan Ward could be determined this spring.
MINNESOTA

Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Mitch's pitches: Philip Nelson's transfer means redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner enters spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback. He's a load to bring down when he runs, but Leidner needs to improve his passing accuracy after completing 55 percent of his passes in the regular season and only half of his 22 attempts in the Texas Bowl game loss to Syracuse. Added experience should help. If not, he's got some talented youngsters such as Chris Streveler and Dimonic Roden-McKinzy aiming to dethrone him.
  • Mitch's catchers: Of course, part of the problem behind the Gophers' Big Ten-worst passing offense was a lack of threats at receiver. Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones showed promise as true freshmen and should only improve with an offseason of work. It's critical that they do, or else Minnesota might have to count on three receiver signees early.
  • Replacing Ra'Shede: The Gophers only lost four senior starters, but defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman might be the most difficult to replace. The first-team All-Big Ten selection created havoc inside defensively, and there aren't many athletes like him floating around. Scott Ekpe could take many of Hageman's reps, but the defensive line overall will have to pick up the slack.
NEBRASKA

Spring start: March 8
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Tommy's turn: Sophomore Tommy Armstrong Jr. entered the offseason as the clear No. 1 quarterback for the first time after taking over for the injured Taylor Martinez (and splitting some snaps with Ron Kellogg III) last season. Armstrong showed maturity beyond his years in 2013 but needs to continue developing as a passer and deepen his understanding of the offense. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton could push him in the spring.
  • Get the OL up to speed: Nebraska loses a lot of experience on the offensive line, including both starting tackles (Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale), plus interior mainstays Spencer Long, Andrew Rodriguez and Cole Pensick. The Huskers do return seniors Mark Pelini, Jake Cotton and Mike Moudy, junior Zach Sterup, plus three freshmen and a junior-college transfer who redshirted last year. A strong group of incoming freshmen may also contribute. Big Red usually figures it out on the O-line, but there will be a lot of players in new roles this season.
  • Reload in the secondary: The Blackshirts have plenty of experience in the front seven, but the defensive backfield has a new coach (Charlton Warren) and will be without top playmakers Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans. The safety spot next to Corey Cooper was a problem area last season, and the Huskers are hoping Charles Jackson takes a major step forward. Warren has talent to work with but must find the right combination.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring start: Feb. 26
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Trevor's time?: Trevor Siemian split reps with Kain Colter at quarterback the past two seasons, serving as sort of the designated passer. Siemian threw for 414 yards in the season finale against Illinois and has a clear path toward starting with Colter gone. That could mean more of a pass-first offense than Northwestern ran with Colter. Redshirt freshman and heralded recruit Matt Alviti also looms as an option.
  • Manning the middle: Northwestern brings back a solid corps on defense but lost middle linebacker Damien Proby, who led the team in tackles the past two seasons. Pat Fitzgerald has some options, including making backups Drew Smith or Jaylen Prater a starter or moving Collin Ellis inside. He can experiment and find the best match this spring.
  • Patch it together: The Wildcats' health woes from 2013 aren't over, as 11 players will be held out of practice for medical reasons, including star running back/returner Venric Mark. Add in that the school doesn't have early enrollees, and the team will be trying to practice severely undermanned this spring. The biggest key is to get through spring without any more major problems and to get the injured guys healthy for the fall.
PURDUE

Spring start: March 6
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Moving forward: Purdue players wore T-shirts emblazoned with the word "Forward" during winter workouts, and no wonder. They don't want to look backward to last year's abysmal 1-11 season. It's time to turn the page and get some positive momentum going in Year 2 under Darrell Hazell. Luckily, optimism abounds in spring.
  • Trench focus: The Boilermakers simply couldn't cut it on the lines in Big Ten play, and Hazell went about trying to sign bigger offensive linemen this offseason for his physical style of play. Both starting tackles and three starting defensive linemen all graduated, and no one should feel safe about his job after last season's performance. Kentucky transfer Langston Newton (defense) and early enrollee Kirk Barron (offense) could push for playing time on the lines.
  • Find an identity: What was Purdue good at last season? Not much, as the team ranked near the bottom of the country in just about every major statistical category. The Boilers found some good things late in the passing game with freshmen Danny Etling and DeAngelo Yancey, but Hazell must do a better job instilling the toughness he wants and locating playmakers.
WISCONSIN

Spring start: March 7
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Catching on: The biggest concern heading into the spring is at receiver after the team's only dependable wideout the past two seasons, Jared Abbrederis, graduated. Tight end Jacob Pedersen, who was second on the team in receiving yards last season, is also gone. The Badgers have struggled to develop new weapons in the passing game but now have no choice. Gary Andersen signed five receivers in the 2014 class but none enrolled early, so guys such as Kenzel Doe and Robert Wheelwright need to take charge this spring.
  • Stave-ing off the competition?: Joel Stave started all 13 games at quarterback last year, while no one else on the roster has any real experience under center. Yet the redshirt junior should face some competition this spring after the Badgers' passing game struggled down the stretch. Andersen likes more mobile quarterbacks and has three guys in Bart Houston, Tanner McEvoy and freshman early enrollee D.J. Gillins, who can offer that skill. Stave must hold them off to keep his job.
  • New leaders on defense: Wisconsin lost a large group of seniors, including nine major contributors on the defensive side. That includes inside linebacker and team leader Chris Borland, plus defensive linemen Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer, outside linebacker Brendan Kelly and safety Dezmen Southward. That's a whole lot of leadership and production to replace, and the process begins in earnest this spring.
The last time the Iowa Hawkeyes walked into Ohio Stadium, they nearly left with roses in their mouths.

The Big Ten's official championship game didn't arrive until the 2011 season, but Iowa and Ohio State played for the league title on Nov. 14, 2009. Both teams entered the game 5-1 in Big Ten play, and the winner would gain a head-to-head tiebreaker, making the results of the following week irrelevant. That afternoon and early evening, a Rose Bowl berth was on the line in Columbus, Ohio.

[+] EnlargeJake Rudock
Matthew Holst/Getty ImagesJake Rudock hopes to lead Iowa to its first win in Columbus since 1991.
Although Iowa had lost star quarterback Ricky Stanzi -- and its perfect record -- the previous week, the Hawkeyes fought valiantly behind first-time starter James Vandenberg. Iowa erased a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit behind a 99-yard Derrell Johnson-Koulianos kick return and an 8-play, 70-yard drive led by Vandenberg, just a redshirt freshman at the time.

"Going into the Horseshoe, we just weren't sure who James Vandenberg was or what he really brought to the table," Johnson-Koulianos said in a phone interview with ESPN.com this week. "James was sort of born into Iowa football on that night. That's what sticks out to me most."

The Hawkeyes actually had a chance to take the lead at the end of regulation, but coach Kirk Ferentz decided to drain the final 52 seconds. Ohio State went on to win 27-24 in overtime.

"At the time, you didn't really realize how significant that was," Johnson-Koulianos said. "How close we were to having a Rose Bowl berth and how tough it is to get there, that sticks out. It's a bit disappointing."

Iowa went on to win the Orange Bowl and finished No. 7 in the final polls. Many expected the Hawkeyes to punch their ticket to Pasadena the following season, but they stumbled to 7-5 before winning their bowl game. The wins total dropped to seven in 2011 and to four last season.

Columbus once again is in the viewfinder for Iowa, which makes its first visit to No. 4 Ohio State since 2009 on Saturday. But how much farther away is Pasadena for a program that not long ago was among the Big Ten's elites?

"That was 2009; this is 2013," Ferentz said. "Every season's different, every team's different. Right now, we're a 4-2 team, trying to figure out a way to win No. 5. It won't be easy this week, but that's what our focus is."

Iowa isn't considered a serious threat for the Big Ten title this season, although it already has matched its 2012 wins total in just half the time. An offense that finished 114th in yards and 111th in points last season has shown better cohesion behind quarterback Jake Rudock, running back Mark Weisman and a solid line. The defense also is making strides, not allowing a rushing touchdown through the first six games.

The arrow is pointed up for the Hawkeyes, and the move to the West Division beginning next season should boost their chances to reach the league title game. But the program is still trying to regain the momentum it had on Nov. 14, 2009, when it started 10 future NFL draft picks against Ohio State, including three first-rounders (offensive tackles Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff, and defensive end Adrian Clayborn).

"My class surprisingly catapulted us into a winning program again, with the upper tier," said Johnson-Koulianos, who had 45 receptions for 750 yards in 2009. "We had a pretty good thing going."


It's a great team that we're playing in a very hostile environment. It'll tell us a lot. We need to give them all we've got and see if we can hang with a powerful Ohio State team.


-- Iowa tackle Brett Van Sloten

Things shifted in 2010, as the close games Iowa had grown accustomed to winning began to go the other way. After a mediocre 2011 campaign, one of the nation's most stable coaching staffs began to splinter. Ferentz had to make coordinator changes for the first time in his tenure.

More staffing moves followed after last season's clunker. Of the nine assistants at Iowa in 2009, only three -- Phil Parker, Reese Morgan and Eric Johnson -- remain.

Hawkeyes tackle Brett Van Sloten redshirted in 2009 and watched the Ohio State game from home, calling it "a competitive game in an competitive environment." Now a fifth-year senior, Van Sloten will tell his younger teammates about the great things accomplished during that season.

"You want to learn from the past," Van Sloten said. "What we, as younger guys at the time, admired about the 2009 team was their will and desire to finish games. They were in a lot of close games, but they found ways to win. You relay that to the younger guys."

Van Sloten said last week's bye allowed players to recharge after a physical game against Michigan State and figure out "where we want to go as a program." The Hawkeyes know Saturday's game against Ohio State, which has yet to lose under second-year coach Urban Meyer and remains the favorite to reach the Rose Bowl, is a measuring stick.

Iowa last won in Columbus in 1991, the year after the Hawkeyes' most recent Rose Bowl appearance.

"It's a great team that we're playing in a very hostile environment," Van Sloten said. "It'll tell us a lot. We need to give them all we've got and see if we can hang with a powerful Ohio State team."

A win Saturday would suddenly thrust Iowa back into the crowded Legends Division race before home tests against Northwestern and Wisconsin. Simply hanging with the Buckeyes would show that Iowa's road to Pasadena isn't as long as it was last season, or even before this season.

From afar, Johnson-Koulianos sees Iowa making progress. The Hawkeyes still lack game-changers on the perimeter but boast some good core pieces, including Rudock.

"This is going to be another good [test] of what this team is capable of and who they are," Johnson-Koulianos said. " I don't think they even need to win this game for us to feel good about Iowa moving forward. They need to be in this game. To get back to being a contender for Rose Bowls and BCS bowls, honestly, I don't think we’re there yet, but I do think in a year or two, we could be.

"We're heading in the right direction."

Big Ten lunch links

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
12:00
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Enjoy the fact that your royal overlords are a frail old woman and a tiny baby.

Video: Brett Van Sloten interview

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
3:30
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Iowa offensive tackle Brett Van Sloten talks to Brian Bennett about the health and depth of the Hawkeyes' line and getting back to a power running game.

Big Ten media days player lineup

July, 10, 2013
7/10/13
11:30
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The Big Ten has announced its player lineup for preseason media days and the annual kickoff luncheon, to be held July 24-25 in Chicago. All 12 head coaches will be in attendance.

Penn State offensive lineman John Urschel will speak on behalf of the players at the kickoff luncheon on July 25. Urschel, who's a Big Ten medal of honor winner and a brilliant guy, should deliver one whale of a speech. I can't wait to hear it.

Here's the full lineup:

ILLINOIS
Tim Kynard, Sr., DL
Corey Lewis, Sr., OT
Nathan Scheelhaase, Sr., QB

INDIANA
Mitch Ewald, Sr., K
Greg Heban, Sr., S
Kofi Hughes, Sr., WR

IOWA
Christian Kirksey, Sr., LB
James Morris, Sr., LB
Brett Van Sloten, Sr., OL

MICHIGAN
Devin Gardner, Jr., QB
Thomas Gordon, Sr., S
Taylor Lewan, Sr., LT

MICHIGAN STATE
Max Bullough, Sr., LB
Darqueze Dennard, Sr., CB
Blake Treadwell, Sr., OG

MINNESOTA
Ra’Shede Hageman, Sr., DT
Donnell Kirkwood, Jr., RB
Brock Vereen, Sr., S

NEBRASKA
Quincy Enunwa, Sr., WR
Ciante Evans, Sr., CB
Taylor Martinez, Sr., QB

NORTHWESTERN
Kain Colter, Sr., QB
Venric Mark, Sr., RB
Tyler Scott, Sr., DE

OHIO STATE
Jack Mewhort, Sr., OT
Braxton Miller, Jr., QB
Bradley Roby, Jr., CB

PENN STATE
Glenn Carson, Sr., LB
John Urschel, Sr., G
Malcolm Willis, Sr., S

PURDUE
Ricardo Allen, Sr., CB
Bruce Gaston, Sr., DT
Gabe Holmes, Sr., TE

WISCONSIN
Jared Abbrederis, Sr., WR
Chris Borland, Sr., LB
James White, Sr., RB
Some quick thoughts:
  • This looks like a very solid lineup. You've got the three headliner quarterbacks -- Braxton Miller, Taylor Martinez and Devin Gardner -- as well as Northwestern's Kain Colter and Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase. While only five QBs total is a low number, there are so many quarterback battles in the league that it makes sense this year. There are also several other star players, like Michigan's Taylor Lewan, Wisconsin's Chris Borland and Jared Abbrederis, Northwestern's Venric Mark and Michigan State's Max Bullough and Darqueze Dennard.
  • You may have heard a roar from the media when it was announced that Ohio State was bringing Bradley Roby. The star cornerback is one of the most engaging and fun interviews around. Let's hope he shows his full personality in Chicago. Good to see Ohio State bringing high-profile players, including two non-seniors, though this may well end up being the final year for Roby and -- possibly -- Miller. We'd love to see Nebraska's Kenny Bell in attendance, but he's an underclassman and the Huskers have a pretty good group. Martinez has slowly started to warm up to the public spotlight, and it will be interesting to see how he handles the glare of media day.
  • Should we read anything into Michigan State not bringing Andrew Maxwell? The quarterback is a fifth-year senior and a very polished public speaker, after all, but he is in the midst of a position battle. Maybe the Spartans simply didn't want the quarterback competition to overtake the conversation.
  • This is Scheelhaase's second straight year at the event, and his inclusion probably signals that he's got a firm grip on the starting QB job. I'm a little surprised not to see the Illini bring Jonathan Brown. But Corey Lewis, who has battled back from multiple knee injuries and was granted a sixth year of eligibility, is a tremendous story.
  • The guy I'm most disappointed not to see on the list? It's got to be Penn State's Allen Robinson, the best receiver in the league. He's only a junior, but it would have been nice for him to get some more national exposure. At least Urschel can fill up any reporter's notebook. All in all, it should be a vastly different experience for the Penn State contingent this year compared to last year's insanity.

What do you think of the lineup?
Now that spring practice is over, we're examining the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team for the 2013 season.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt or suspended or shot out of a cannon. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense but not always. Up next: Iowa

Brandon Scherff, OT, Jr.

Maybe offensive coordinator Greg Davis will surprise us and call 40 passes a game with an unproven quarterback. It's more likely Iowa relies on its running attack and -- hope AIRBHG isn't reading -- a good stable of backs led by Mark Weisman. That's where Scherff comes in. He's the team's best lineman and a guy who has the potential to follow recent Hawkeyes star tackles like Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff. Iowa's offense already had problems before Scherff suffered a gruesome injury last October against Penn State, but without Scherff -- and fellow lineman Andrew Donnal, who got hurt two plays later -- the unit had no chance. Not only does Scherff provide blindside protection for the Hawkeyes' new signal-caller, but he'll be instrumental in sparking a run game that showed potential when the backs were healthy in 2012. Iowa is very young at tackle behind Scherff and Brett Van Sloten, and it can't afford to lose No. 68 again.

B.J. Lowery, CB, Sr.

Some might expect to see a linebacker here, as Iowa returns starters James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey. But the Hawkeyes have strength in numbers with their defensive midsection, and if one player were to go down, the others are there to pick up the slack. Iowa doesn't enjoy the same type of depth at cornerback, especially after losing Micah Hyde, the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year and a fifth-round pick in last month's NFL draft. After recording 50 tackles and an interception last season, Lowery capped a strong spring with an interception and three pass breakups in Iowa's spring game. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said the team's quarterbacks avoided throwing toward Lowery in practices, and he showed why in the scrimmage. Iowa has some questions at the other cornerback spot and not much overall depth at the position, so it needs to keep Lowery on the field this fall.

More indispensable:

Michigan
Wisconsin
Minnesota
Indiana
Michigan State
Ohio State
Big Ten spring football is finally in full swing as Iowa on Wednesday became the 12th and final league team to hit the practice field. The return to the gridiron can't come a moment too soon for the Hawkeyes, who went 4-8 in 2012, their worst record since coach Kirk Ferentz's second season at the helm (2000). It has been another offseason of transition for Iowa as Ferentz welcomes three new full-time assistants (Chris White, Bobby Kennedy and Jim Reid) for a second consecutive year. Finding a quarterback tops Iowa's spring agenda, and the team also needs to identify a center and more playmakers on both sides of the ball.

ESPN.com caught up with Ferentz on Wednesday to discuss the spring.

What are the main objectives for you guys this spring?

Kirk Ferentz: Like any spring, you've got a lot of players on a lot of different levels. You've got experienced players, and we're certainly counting on them improving and developing into leaders. You've got younger guys who have played, and you're hoping they're ready to play more proficiently. And then you've got other guys who, in some cases, are special-teams guys who have a chance to become offensive and defensive role players, or guys who haven't been on the field yet. So you have a lot of layers of players at different levels. The biggest thing is trying to gauge where they're at, and at the same time, you're trying to find out what they can do and pull a team together. It's always a fun period and a really interesting period.

How has the transition on the staff this year gone so far, especially in relation to last year? You had quite a long period without any changes on your staff.

KF: Last year was probably a little more dramatic with two new coordinators. Norm [Parker] and Ken [O'Keefe] were here 13 years, so they were big departures. We've got Phil [Parker] and Greg [Davis] both in their second years, and they're both tremendous coaches. What's unusual is how long we were all together at one time. Usually staffs don't stay in one place for 13, 14 years. Normally they move to the next channel and you have a new group of folks coming in. So it's a natural series of transitions. The way I look at it, we've had six new members join the staff in the last two years, and it's a matter of pulling everything together. But I'm really excited about all the guys who have joined. They're outstanding coaches, and it looks like they're all going to be great fits here at Iowa. At the same time, I'm very appreciative of the guys who had been here and helped us move things.

Is the transition harder for the players or the new coaches?

KF: There's learning on both sides. The players to have learn their coaches, certainly, and the coaches have a lot to learn about the players. That can be a healthy thing, too. It's a clean slate and a fresh beginning for everybody. For players, it's a whole new opportunity.

Offensively, it wasn't what you were hoping for last year. Is it a total reset this year with some new faces, or are there some things you can continue from last year?

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Byron Hetzler/USA TODAY SportsThough Kirk Ferentz lost his starting quarterback and center, he said he's more optimistic about Iowa's offense than he was a year ago.
KF: It may be ironic. We feel more comfortable and more optimistic right now than we did a year ago about the offense. The part that's ironic is we lost a two-year starter at quarterback [James Vandenberg]. We had James play a lot at quarterback and James Ferentz played like 38 games at center, so you have two guys right in the middle of things who aren't going to be there. But I look around at other positions and we've got a lot of guys coming back who have played in the system and who I think are more capable now of playing at a higher level than they were a year ago. That's got us excited. That being said, we've got to find replacements for both Jameses. We've got to find a replacement for Keenan Davis and Matt Tobin, to start with. But I look at the group coming back and as recent as late last August, we didn't know if Damon Bullock could play in this conference successfully, and we had no idea Mark Weisman could run the ball. So I think we're a lot further down the road than we were even eight months ago, 10 months ago.

When you and Greg looked at things, did you identify areas to target for the spring?

KF: Greg came in, this was all new to him, the players were all new to him. His knowledge of our personnel is a lot more extensive than it was a year ago at this time. And that was one of the reasons I was so attracted to Greg in the hiring process, his ability historically to work with a lot of different types of players and different types of offenses. He wasn't married to one system. There's nothing like experience, and he's got a real good grip on who our players are, what they can do and what we can do to help them be more productive.

(Read full post)

It's time to jump back into our preseason position rankings with a look at the offensive line units.

On Friday, we ranked the top individual players at the position. These unit rankings reflect star power as well as depth. We're heavily weighing these on last year's performance, along with potential for the 2012 season.

Away we go:

1. Wisconsin: Sure, the Badgers lost two All-Americans (Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz) from last year's line. But they've earned the benefit of the doubt for their ability to reload up front. Left tackle Ricky Wagner is an Outland Trophy candidate, and center Travis Frederick should be one of the best in the Big Ten. The key will be how the new-look right side with Rob Havenstein and likely Robert Burge moving into starting roles.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
Andrew Weber/US Presswire With top tackle Taylor Lewan returning, Michigan fields one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten.
2. Michigan: The Wolverines might have the top tackle in the league with junior Taylor Lewan, and guard Patrick Omameh is a three-year starter. Senior Ricky Barnum is taking over for David Molk at center. Michael Schofield should be solid at right tackle, though the left guard spot remains a competition. It should be a strong starting group, though depth here is a major concern.

3. Michigan State: This could be the best offensive line Mark Dantonio has had in East Lansing. Six players who started games last year are back, and there will be depth and competition at several spots. Third-year starter Chris McDonald is one of the league's top guards, while tackles Dan France and Fou Fonoti are dependable.

4. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers lost three starters from last year's line, but much like Wisconsin, this is a group that usually reloads. Guards Spencer Long and Seung Hoon Choi provide nice building blocks, with Tyler Moore, Jeremiah Sirles and Andrew Rodriguez solidifying the tackle spots. The big question here is center and who will replace Mike Caputo.

5. Ohio State: The Buckeyes had their problems up front last year and now are implementing a new offensive system. Urban Meyer wasn't happy with the group's work ethic in January but felt much better about them by the end of spring. Jack Mewhort replaces Mike Adams at left tackle, while Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall try to live up their potential at guard. Corey Linsley earned Meyer's praise for his work at center. Keep an eye on the right tackle spot, where former tight end Reid Fragel is now the first-stringer. But true freshman Taylor Decker is pushing him.

6. Purdue: Injuries kept the Boilers from building much cohesion this spring, but this can be a sturdy group when healthy. Three starters are back, with Trevor Foy moving from right to left tackle. This is an experienced bunch, but Danny Hope wants to see more dominance. Senior center Rick Schmeig should be a leader

7. Iowa: The Hawkeyes must replace three starters, including NFL draft picks Reilly Reiff and Adam Gettis. But Iowa usually fields good offensive lines, and hopes are high for this year's edition. The leader is center James Ferentz, who now will be coached by his older brother, Brian Ferentz. Much will depend on how players like Brett Van Sloten and Brandon Scherff develop.

8. Northwestern: The Wildcats lost two valuable starters in tackle Al Netter and Ben Burkett but return three-year starter Brian Mulroe at guard and promising sophomore center Brandon Vitabile. There should be good depth up front, but can the Wildcats generate a consistent rushing attack?

9. Penn State: The good news is that the Nittany Lions played better than expected last year on the offensive line. The bad news is four starters are gone, not to mention some potential transfers in the wake of the NCAA sanctions. There is still talent here, including guard John Urschel and tackle Donovan Smith. But the least experienced line in the league will have to learn a new offensive system.

10. Illinois: There was little excuse for the Illini O-line to play as bad as it did last year with standout players Jeff Allen and Graham Pocic in the mix. Pocic is back this year at center, though he might take some snaps at tackle as well. Young players like sophomore Simon Cvijanovic and redshirt freshman Ted Karras will need to come on. This unit should be improved, but it ranks low based on last year's finish.

11. Minnesota: Jerry Kill shuffled this group last year and played a lot of youngsters. It's still a relatively inexperienced unit, but there is hope for improvement. Junior left tackle Ed Olson has the best chance to be a star.

12. Indiana: Center Will Matte is one of the most experienced linemen in the league. But beyond him are several young players, including three true sophomores who started as freshmen last year. There's nowhere to go but up.

Big Ten lunchtime links

July, 12, 2012
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Guess who's back?
Iowa's version of a spring game was April 14, but that wasn't the end of the Hawkeyes' spring practice. The team held three more practices after the open workout, and head coach Kirk Ferentz put a bow on his team's spring drills with a news conference Tuesday.

Here are a few highlights from what Ferentz had to say:

-- Ferentz said several players had emerged over the course of the spring. He singled out the defensive line, which went into the spring as a real question mark because of its youth and inexperience. Ferentz said sophomore Louis Trinca-Pasat might have made the most progress.

"He was kind of on the ropes back in December, quite frankly," Ferentz said. "A young guy who really was starting to question where his heart was and how important it was to him, and it showed up in his performance. He was out there, he looked OK, but nothing to write home about.

"In the spring, he's really just quietly emerged, and by the second half of spring ball, he's playing as well as anybody on the field either side of the ball. So he's clearly taken some steps."

Ferentz also said Steve Bigach and Joe Gaglione played well in spring, while Darian Cooper and Riley McMinn showed the typical inconsistency of inexperience. But "the group as a whole, kind of took some steps forward," which is vitally important to the Hawkeyes' chances this season.

The other position group Ferentz praised for its improvement was the tight ends. He said Jake Duzey and Henry Krieger-Coble had good springs.

-- Offensive lineman Casey McMillan and receiver John Chelf suffered knee injuries that required surgery. But Ferentz thinks both will be back this summer. Defensive linemen Carl Davis and Dominic Alvis missed the spring with injuries but should be back by the first week of June. Linebacker Shane DiBona, coming off an Achilles injury, had a setback and will not play again in his career.

-- Running back Jordan Canzeri, who had an offseason ACL injury, wants to try to get back for this season. Ferentz said, "Everything is going fine, but that's touch and go, to say the least."

The two healthy tailbacks, De'Andre Johnson and Damon Bullock "improved pretty much each and every day," Ferentz said. But he's still understandably concerned about the depth there. In a lighter moment, someone asked Ferentz if he'd be open to accepting a graduate transfer, a la Danny O'Brien and Russell Wilson.

"I think I'd consider anything if we thought it would work," he said. "In fact, if you know of any running backs right now ..."

-- Iowa's leadership group for 2012 will be seniors Bigach, Greg Castillo, James Ferentz, Micah Hyde and James Vandenberg, juniors Casey Kreiter, James Morris, Brad Rogers and Brett Van Sloten, sophomores Kevonte Martin-Manley and Brandon Scherff and freshmen Quinton Alston, Austin Blythe and Jake Rudock.

-- Ferentz said "anywhere on defense," receiver and punter remain unsettled positions. The best news is that it's still early.

"We still have a lot of room for improvement, typical of any football team," Ferentz said. "But I think this team, especially with our youth and experience, we're going to see a lot of transition and a lot of things happening here between now and September. That's going to be fun to track, fun to watch. It's really in the players' hands how they want to approach it and how much they want to improve."

Big shoes to fill: Iowa

March, 7, 2012
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Today we wrap up our big shoes to fill series, where we look how each Big Ten team plans to replace two key departed stars.

Last but not least in the rundown is Iowa. The obvious pick here is running back Marcus Coker, whose offseason transfer leaves the Hawkeyes with little to no experience in the backfield. That will be a major storyline all spring and summer, but since we've already written a lot about that, I decided to focus this piece on two other guys who leave large voids in the lineup:

[+] EnlargeKeenan Davis
Reese Strickland/US PresswireMuch is expected from Iowa receiver Keenan Davis after his strong 2011 season.
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Marvin McNutt, WR

Why: McNutt was named the Big Ten's top receiver last season, and with good reason, as he had 82 catches for 1,315 yards and 12 touchdowns. When defenses were able to slow McNutt, as they did in the final two games, Iowa's passing game struggled.

Replacement candidates: Keenan Davis (6-3, 215, Sr.); Kevonte Martin-Manley (6-1, 205, Soph.); Steven Staggs (6-3, 195, Sr.); Jordan Cotton (6-1, 185, Jr.); Jacob Hillyer (6-4, 195, RFr); Cameron Wilson (6-1, 190, incoming freshman); Tevaun Smith (6-2, 186, incoming freshman); Greg Mabin (6-1, 190, incoming freshman).

The skinny: Iowa really needs Davis to take his game up a notch and become the go-to receiver. Davis has plenty of talent, and he made 50 catches for 713 yards and four touchdowns last season. But he has struggled with drops and injuries throughout his career, and must become more consistent. Martin-Manley showed lots of promise as a redshirt freshmen with 30 catches and 323 yards, though most of his production came early in the season. Hopefully another year of development will help him blossom. After that, the Hawkeyes don't have much experience and might need to rely on a guy like Hillyer breaking out, or even a true freshman contributing, so quarterback James Vandenberg has enough targets.

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Reilly Reiff, LT

Why: We've paid a lot of attention to the holes Iowa has to fill at running back, receiver and defensive line, but the offensive line is a concern as well. The Hawkeyes lose three starters and both tackles. One of the best linemen in the Big Ten, Reiff skipped his senior year and is expected to be selected in the first half of the first round of the NFL draft.

Replacement candidates: Andrew Donnal (6-7, 302, Soph.); Brandon Scherff (6-5, 310, Soph); Brett Van Sloten (6-7, 292, Jr.); Nolan MacMillan (6-6, 290, Jr.); Ryan Ward (6-6, 270, incoming freshman).

The skinny: Donnal was a highly regarded recruit who backed up Reiff last season as a redshirt freshman. He is clearly being groomed to take over at left tackle. Scherff has seen some time at guard and tackle, but needs to improve. Van Sloten is more likely to push for the starting job at right tackle. McMillan started at guard as a freshman in 2010, but missed all of last season with an injury. Ward has potential, but it would be surprising to see a true freshman play a significant role at left tackle. While Reiff leaves some literal and figurative big shoes to fill, Iowa has been very good at developing offensive linemen under Kirk Ferentz, and has some big bodies to work with this offseason.

Recruiting snapshot: Iowa

February, 5, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After a stellar end-of-year finish capped by an Outback Bowl victory, Iowa is up third on the recruiting rundown. 

Number of recruits: 19

Key needs: Wide receiver, tight end, offensive line

Highest-rated player (Scouts Inc.): Keenan Davis (No. 16 nationally among wide receivers)

The quote: "It's a class we're comfortable with. I don't know where we're ranked this year. Once you get past that first 10, I think everyone is throwing darts. We've had a history of finding the right guys, hoping to find the right guys." -- head coach Kirk Ferentz, on the recruiting rankings

Quick take: This is another small class that ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten in terms of prestige. But anyone that follows Iowa's history for most of Ferentz's tenure knows the Hawkeyes usually get more from less on the field. Wideouts Davis and Jordan Cotton replenish a position that needs more dynamic players, and offensive tackles Nolan MacMillan and Brett Van Sloten could bookend the Hawkeyes' starting offensive line in the near future. The 2010 class will be far more important for Ferentz and Iowa, which will need to replace key pieces at linebacker, defensive line and defensive back. Last year's finish, a top-20 preseason ranking and the decrease in disciplinary issues should pay off for Iowa on the recruiting trail. 

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