Big Ten: Iowa Hawkeyes

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
Nebraska is soliciting applications from students who want to work as a DJ at football practice. Interesting concept. I wonder if this is a gimmick or a sign of things to come. Perhaps students may soon run the scoreboard or move the chains at practice. Just as long as they're not calling plays, we're all safe. On second thought ...

Here's the mailbag for Wednesday. Send more questions here for later this week.

Mitch Sherman: Iowa fans value stability. They've got it in Kirk Ferentz, entering his 16th season. He trails only Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer for longevity among major-conference coaches. Of course, with stability can come complacency. And the Hawkeyes got a dose of it two years ago. Last fall, though, produced positive vibes in Iowa City, with the promise of an even better season to follow.

Ferentz earned just less than $4 million last year, a figure that places him among the nation's elite. Iowa is 27-24 since its 2009 Orange Bowl season, so yes, fans ought to demand more bang for the buck. Thing is, from my view just to the west, I didn't sense more than moderate unrest even after the 2012 debacle.

Iowa fans understand the economics in play here. They like Ferentz as the face of the program. And expectations in Iowa City may never match those in place at Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska. All told, the Hawkeyes know what they have in their coach and generally like it. In this case, stability pays.


Mitch Sherman: The answer is multi-faceted. First, consider that Wisconsin is just one year removed from three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. With a tip of the cap to Michigan State, the Badgers maximize talent more efficiently than any Big Ten team.

So look at this group, with a suspect front seven on defense, the underwhelming Joel Stave at quarterback and a questionable group of receivers. You may see a mediocre club. Others see a team set up to make a run at the College Football Playoff. That's the Wisconsin way.

There's also Melvin Gordon, who led the nation in per-carry rushing average in each of the past two seasons. He's back to run behind a stout offensive line. Finally, check out the schedule. Yeah, LSU awaits in the opener, but there's no better time to get the young Tigers. The Badgers face Nebraska at Camp Randall and play Rutgers and Maryland from the East Division.


Mitch Sherman: Only two coaches qualify as realistic possibilities, Brady Hoke and Bo Pelini. Either could land himself in trouble with a poor season, though isn't that always the case at Michigan and Nebraska?

In his fourth season, Hoke needs to rebound from a difficult six-game finish to last season. It began with a 24-3 drubbing at Michigan State and ended with a 31-14 loss to Kansas State. In between, the Wolverines lost at home to Nebraska and Iowa. Though all the pieces don't appear in place, it's time for Michigan to reverse the trajectory on display the past three years.

For Pelini, the story is different. His record, 58-24 in six years, stands up nationally. But the lack of a conference championship -- it's been since 1999 -- is a burden that has long troubled Nebraska fans. The Hail Mary escape against Northwestern last year may have saved the Huskers and their coach from a disastrous finishing stretch. Good fortune won't always be on their side.

Position U: Tight ends

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
Who really deserves to claim the title of “Tight End U” for the 2000s?

1. Miami (84 points): While it has been relatively quiet since its positional heyday early in the 2000s, Miami still easily tops this list. With seven tight ends drafted, including first-round picks Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow and Greg Olsen, the Hurricanes far surpassed the next closest programs at the position. They don’t get extra points for this, but they also produced arguably the top tight end in the NFL today in 2010 third-round pick Jimmy Graham, who's now starring for the New Orleans Saints.

Award winners: Kellen Winslow, Mackey (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Kellen Winslow (2003).
First-team all-conference: Jeremy Shockey (2000, 2001), Kellen Winslow (2002, 2003), Greg Olsen (2006).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jeremy Shockey (2002), Kellen Winslow (2004), Greg Olsen (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Kevin Everett (Round 3, 2005), Jimmy Graham (Round 3, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Dedrick Epps (Round 7, 2010), Richard Gordon (Round 6, 2011).

2. Iowa (66 points): Dallas Clark leads the way thanks to a 2002 season after which he won the John Mackey Award and was a consensus All-American. But Iowa had a consistent run of tight ends in the 2000s, with first-round pick Clark and five others getting drafted -- most recently third-round pick C.J. Fiedorowicz, who was the fifth tight end selected this year.

Award winners: Dallas Clark, Mackey (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: Dallas Clark (2002).
First-team all-conference: Dallas Clark (2002), Brandon Myers (2008), Tony Moeaki (2009), C.J. Fiedorowicz (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Dallas Clark (2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Scott Chandler (Round 4, 2007), Tony Moeaki (Round 3, 2010), C.J. Fiedorowicz (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Erik Jensen (Round 7, 2004), Brandon Myers (Round 6, 2009).

3. Missouri (64 points): Missouri hasn’t had as much success placing tight ends in the pros as some of the other top programs on this list, but the Tigers have an award winner (Chase Coffman won the 2008 Mackey Award) and three consensus All-American tight ends (Coffman, Martin Rucker and Michael Egnew) since 2000. Not too shabby.

Award winners: Chase Coffman, Mackey (2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Martin Rucker (2007), Chase Coffman (2008), Michael Egnew (2010).
First-team all-conference: Martin Rucker (2006), Michael Egnew (2010, 2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Martin Rucker (Round 4, 2008), Chase Coffman (Round 3, 2009), Michael Egnew (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.

4. Wisconsin (64 points): One All-American (Lance Kendricks in 2010, when he led the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdown catches), six first-team All-Big Ten picks (Kendricks, Garrett Graham twice, Mark Anelli, Travis Beckum and Jacob Pedersen) and six drafted players helped Wisconsin nearly earn the runner-up spot in the tight end rankings.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Lance Kendricks (2010).
First-team all-conference: Mark Anelli (2001), Travis Beckum (2007), Garrett Graham (2008, 2009), Lance Kendricks (2010), Jacob Pedersen (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Owen Daniels (Round 4, 2006), Travis Beckum (Round 3, 2009), Garrett Graham (Round 4, 2010), Lance Kendricks (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Mark Anelli (Round 6, 2002), Jason Pociask (Round 5, 2006).

5. Georgia (62 points): It doesn’t have the national awards to show for it, but Georgia seems to boast an outstanding tight end nearly every season. The best example of that is how the Bulldogs keep placing tight ends in the pros – starting with Randy McMichael, Ben Watson and Leonard Pope and leading all the way up to Arthur Lynch, who just went to the Miami Dolphins in the most recent draft. The Bulldogs have built an impressive legacy at the position that looks to continue.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Randy McMichael (2001), Leonard Pope (2004, 2005), Martrez Milner (2006), Orson Charles (2011), Arthur Lynch (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Ben Watson (2004).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Randy McMichael (Round 4, 2002), Leonard Pope (Round 3, 2006), Martrez Milner (Round 4, 2007), Orson Charles (Round 4, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Arthur Lynch (Round 5, 2014).

6. BYU (56 points): Independents Notre Dame and BYU are hurt in these position rankings by not being members of a conference -- thus they couldn’t earn points for all-conference selections, although BYU did as a member of the Mountain West up through 2010. In fact, the Cougars earned 36 of their 56 points by having six tight ends named to the All-MWC team between 2001 and 2009. Notre Dame certainly belongs higher on the list, considering that it has had nine tight ends drafted, including first-round pick and 2012 Mackey Award winner Tyler Eifert.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Dennis Pitta (2009).
First-team all-conference: Doug Jolley (2001), Jonny Harline (2005, 2006), Dennis Pitta (2007, 2008, 2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Doug Jolley (Round 2, 2002), Dennis Pitta (Round 4, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tevita Ofahengaue (Round 7, 2001), Spencer Nead (Round 7, 2003).

7. Virginia (54 points): Heath Miller is a one-man wrecking crew here, single-handedly accounting for 38 of Virginia’s 54 points thanks to a Mackey Award-winning season in 2004 when he was a consensus All-American and went on to become a first-round draft pick. Miller also won All-ACC honors in 2003.

Award winners: Heath Miller, Mackey (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Heath Miller (2004).
First-team all-conference: Heath Miller (2003, 2004), John Phillips (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Heath Miller (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Chris Luzar (Round 4, 2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Billy Baber (Round 5, 2001), Tom Santi (Round 6, 2008), John Phillips (Round 6, 2009).

8. Stanford (48 points): Stanford is arguably the top program for tight ends right now, but that’s a fairly recent development. Of the six Cardinal tight ends drafted since 2001, four have been since 2010, led by second-round picks Coby Fleener and 2012 All-American Zach Ertz. Stanford posted a rare double in 2013 when Ertz and Levine Toilolo were both picked in the draft’s first four rounds.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Zach Ertz (2012).
First-team all-conference: Alex Smith (2004), Coby Fleener (2011), Zach Ertz (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Teyo Johnson (Round 2, 2003), Alex Smith (Round 3, 2005), Coby Fleener (Round 2, 2012), Zach Ertz (Round 2, 2013), Levine Toilolo (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jim Dray (Round 7, 2010),

9. Colorado (46 points): Colorado hasn’t had much to brag about on the football field over the last several years, but the Buffaloes are still hanging on in the tight end rankings. Daniel Graham’s outstanding 2001 season (including a Mackey Award and a consensus All-America designation prior to becoming a first-round draft pick) is a big reason why Colorado makes the top 10.

Award winners: Daniel Graham, Mackey (2001).
Consensus All-Americans: Daniel Graham (2001).
First-team all-conference: Daniel Graham (2001), Joe Klopfenstein (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: Daniel Graham (2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Joe Klopfenstein (Round 2, 2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Quinn Sypniewski (Round 5, 2006), Nick Kasa, Round 6, 2013).

10. UCLA (46 points): As with its fellow No. 9 on the list, Colorado, UCLA can thank a single player for its spot in the top 10. Marcedes Lewis accumulated 32 of the Bruins’ 46 points with a 2005 season when he won the Mackey Award, was a consensus All-American and first-team All-Pac-10 pick and then went on to become a 2006 first-round draft selection.

Award winners: Marcedes Lewis, Mackey (2005).
Consensus All-Americans: Marcedes Lewis (2005).
First-team all-conference: Mike Seidman (2002), Marcedes Lewis (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: Marcedes Lewis (2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Mike Seidman (Round 3, 2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jeff Grau (Round 7, 2002), Bryan Fletcher (Round 6, 2002).

44 – Notre Dame; 40 – Clemson; 38 – Arizona State, Florida, Louisville; 34 – Oregon, USC; 32 – Minnesota, North Carolina, Purdue, Rutgers; 28 – Tennessee; 26 – Oklahoma; 24 – N.C. State; 22 – Kentucky, Washington; 20 – Arkansas, Maryland; 18 – Penn State, Pittsburgh, Texas Tech; 16 – Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas; 14 – Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State; 12 – South Carolina; 10 – California, LSU, Michigan State, Oregon State; 8 – Boston College, Northwestern; 6 – TCU, Utah, Duke, Syracuse; 4 – Alabama, Kansas, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech; 2 – Illinois, Indiana, Iowa State, Mississippi State; 0 – Auburn, Baylor, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Washington State, West Virginia
With the first three spots in our rankings occupied by offensive skill-position types, let's get serious. None of those guys could operate without the services of the often-unheralded linemen.

Well, here's the first dose of recognition for a blue-collar bruiser.

No. 22: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa

Previous ranking: Not ranked

Making the case for Scherff: How is it that Iowa occupies the No. 21 spot in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 despite losing three linebackers who loomed so large in the Hawkeyes’ four-game improvement from 2012 to 2013?

Look first at the return of left tackle Brandon Scherff for his senior season. Scherff turned down the NFL and a likely spot in the early rounds of the draft this spring to return to Iowa City after a breakthrough junior season in which he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the league’s coaches and

The 6-foot-5, 315-pound former high school quarterback and tennis player is nimble on his feet, anchoring an offensive line that allowed a Big Ten-low 15 sacks. He earned comparisons to former Iowa stars at his position, Riley Reiff and Bryan Bulaga, by dominating at times in a rugged league.

For a glimpse of his ability to control a game, check the tape from the Hawkeyes’ 23-7 victory at Minnesota on Sept. 28, when Iowa made no secret of its plan to run behind the big guy. Scherff helped open holes for the Hawks to churn out 246 yards. It was much of the same as Iowa won 38-17 at Nebraska two months later, rushing for three touchdowns and 156 yards.

Scherff’s prowess aided the quick maturation of sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock and allowed running back Mark Weisman to rush for 975 yards. Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri also gained almost 500 yards on the ground, proving that no matter who was running out of the backfield, as long Scherff remained in place up front, the holes opened.

The countdown
No. 25: Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase
No. 24: Indiana WR Cody Latimer
No. 23: Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford

Big Ten lunchtime links

December, 19, 2013
Six shopping days left.
LINCOLN, Neb. -- In the view of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, before his program can claim a rivalry with Nebraska, the Hawkeyes ought to first clear one hurdle.

“We haven’t beaten them in a while,” Ferentz said. “Like decades.”

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesKirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes hope to beat Nebraska for the first time since 1981.
It was 1981, in fact. Nebraska has won its past five meetings with Iowa and seven of the past eight, including victories in each of the past two seasons after the Huskers joined the Big Ten.

Iowa visits Memorial Stadium on Friday (noon ET, ABC).

Ferentz is 0-4 against Nebraska. The games in 2011 and 2012, billed as the conference’s newest border showdown, frankly, have lacked intrigue.

A year ago, the Huskers clinched the Legends Division with a 13-7 win in Iowa City marred by biting cold and wind. Nebraska won 20-7 in Lincoln in 2011, holding the lackluster Hawkeyes scoreless until less than four minutes remained.

It’s not exactly the stuff of Little Brown Jug or Paul Bunyan’s Axe, though Nebraska and Iowa have branded this annual day after Thanksgiving clash as the Heroes Game. To the winner goes a trophy sponsored by Hy-Vee, a grocery store chain prominent in both states.

Really gets your blood boiling, huh?

“We’re playing for a trophy so I guess it’s a rivalry,” Nebraska linebacker Michael Rose said. “Geographically, it makes sense. I don’t know what really constitutes a rivalry, but it’s a game on our schedule, and we need to be ready to play.”

Here’s a thought: Construct the rivalry on the field, the way Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn and other historic post-Thanksgiving games were born.

It’ll take years, but maybe, this third meeting as Big Ten foes can serve as the start of something good.

First, there’s intrigue at Nebraska surrounding coach Bo Pelini as questions swirl about his job status in the vacuum of public support from the school’s administration. The Huskers are playing to extend their streak of nine-win seasons to six years and secure an attractive postseason destination, possibly matched against an old Big 12 rival.

Iowa, after a four-win season in 2012, has rebounded nicely. It seeks an eighth win on Friday.

“It’s nothing fancy,” Pelini said of Iowa. “They execute. They are very fundamentally sound. It exudes the fact that they are a well-coached football team.”

Notably, the Huskers and Hawkeyes play a similar style that figures to create a competitive, if not eye-pleasing, matchup. Nebraska ranks 19th nationally in rushing offense; Iowa is 20th against the run.

The Hawkeyes’ defense has played more consistently since September. Iowa ranks 10th in total defense, allowing 304.5 yards per game. Nebraska, while burned early, has shown strong defensive growth in November.

“This is a new rivalry, but being border states, you can really feel it growing more and more each year,” Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah said. “With each year that passes, I feel the rivalry getting stronger. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

No reason to force it. Over time, likely, passionate feelings will develop. Nebraska and Iowa are set to play on Black Friday through at least 2019.

“I hope Nebraska fans don’t get mad at me, but I think Nebraska and Iowa are almost the same kind of culture,” said Rose, a freshman from Kansas City, Mo., “just a hard-working, blue-collar kind of state.

“They’re not really know for anything flashy, anything way out there, but just a consistent approach in everything they do. I think that adds to the rivalry.”
Jordan LynchMRQ/Icon SMIJordan Lynch's struggles last year against Iowa, his first career start, serves as inspiration to both Lynch and Iowa QB Jake Rudock, who makes his first career start against NIU on Saturday.
This week a season ago was a rough for Jordan Lynch. The Northern Illinois quarterback made his first career start against a Big Ten team -- which at the time looked like the highest-profile opponent on the Huskies’ schedule.

It did not go well, as Lynch had his worst game of the year. At the time, predicting an eventual Orange Bowl and breaking Denard Robinson’s NCAA single-season quarterback rushing record seemed unlikely.

“Maybe I was a little bit nervous but more anxious,” Lynch said. “I was too jacked up to play that game. I missed a lot of throws I should have made and there were a lot of things I could have done better.

“Again, it was my first start and it is not an excuse. I have 14 starts under my belt now and I’m a way better player than I was.”

When Iowa redshirt sophomore Jake Rudock makes his first start Saturday against Northern Illinois, no matter what happens he can just look across the sideline and understand it can and possibly will get better for him.

Some of that will come through repetition, but in Rudock, Iowa thinks it has its quarterback solution. Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis said Rudock’s intelligence helped him win the job -- he eventually wants to be a doctor -- along with his ability to make every throw asked.

While Davis said there’s a chance Iowa would play multiple quarterbacks early in the season -- not a guarantee but a possibility -- Rudock stood out this fall.

“Jake immediately went to the head of the pack after the summer,” Davis said. “Obviously he’s been here two full years. He had a little jump maybe on some of the things we asked of our quarterback.

“He never backed off and continued to do things in camp that we liked.”

Still, Saturday will be a nervous day for Rudock, who hasn’t played in a game since he was a high school senior in 2010. When Iowa’s coaches announced last week he would be the starter, he realized how big that really was.

“I had a slight smirk, a slight smile,” Rudock said. “And also the realization that, hey, you need to get going and nothing is ever set in stone. Leading up to (the announcement), you start feeling like, ‘OK, I got it.’

“You’re confident you got it but you know it is just one day and you have to focus on things.”

But he did notice what happened to Lynch last season in the opener, as Lynch completed 6 of 16 passes for 54 yards with 119 yards rushing in a 18-17 loss. Then he saw what Lynch did after.

That game -- and the Orange Bowl loss -- still bother Lynch. It’s why he said he didn’t reflect much on last season other than the day after the Orange Bowl. He knew he needed to improve things such as his footwork on his throws and how he commands the offense.

Lynch’s progression mirrors Northern Illinois’. He -- and the Huskies -- had a breakout season last year. Yet since the Orange Bowl, changes have been incremental. Rod Carey is now in his first full season as a head coach, although he couldn’t think of a true tangible thing since the end of last season which symbolized last season's breakthrough success.

“Our indoor (facility) is almost done, but that was underway before we went to the Orange Bowl so that’s not quite fair to say because we were getting that before the Orange Bowl,” Carey said. “But the indoor is almost done, so that’s always fun. That’s a good question.”

Carey eventually came up with being noticed a little more when he went to dinner with his wife and more media attention. His quarterback gets the same. Lynch gets noticed a little bit more around campus in DeKalb, Ill., but he isn’t hounded for autographs like someone who broke four NCAA records last season would be at a big school such as Iowa.

This all makes Saturday more interesting for NIU. The Huskies had the better season last year. They have the more experienced quarterback in Lynch, a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.

This will be the most high-profile game NIU plays this season. This was one of two games it lost last season, something which still bothers Lynch. If there was something he took from last season's run to now, it's that he's sick of coming close against big schools.

“Our motto this year is ‘Finish the Fight,’ “ Lynch said. “It’s not good enough anymore to come close to these Big Ten teams or BCS teams and lose by a point. That’s not good enough for us anymore.

“We want to finish these games and walk out with a victory.”

Video: Hope and concern, Iowa

July, 3, 2013

Brian Bennett discusses Iowa's biggest reason for hope and concern in 2013.

Video: Top 5 bounce-back teams

June, 28, 2013

Mark May discusses the five teams he thinks will have a bounce-back season in 2013.

Minnesota's most important game takes place in its Big Ten opener against rival Iowa as the teams play for the Floyd of Rosedale trophy. The Gophers enter a very difficult Legends division stretch afterward.
The Iowa-Nebraska series will continue on Black Friday if both schools get their wish.

Iowa and Nebraska announced Thursday that they’ll formally ask the Big Ten to keep their annual game on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The first two Hy-Vee Heroes Games have taken place on Black Friday, but the next two contests are scheduled for Saturdays (Nov. 30, 2013, in Lincoln, and Nov. 29, 2014, in Iowa City).

Athletic directors Gary Barta (Iowa) and Shawn Eichorst (Nebraska) will make a formal request to the Big Ten’s Joint Council at its next meeting Feb. 25-26.

From a news release:
Those dates would change to Nov. 29, 2013 and Nov. 28, 2014, following approval. Barta also said he expects Iowa and Nebraska to continue meeting on the final weekend of the regular season, pending Big Ten schedule changes for 2014 and beyond due to Big Ten expansion.

The key phrase there being "schedule changes for 2014 and beyond due to Big Ten expansion." We still don’t know how the schedules and the divisions will shake out, although it would be a major shock if Iowa and Nebraska aren’t in the same division, as league athletic directors say geography likely will be a greater priority in this round of alignment.

Nebraska has played games on Black Friday for years and wanted to continue to do so. There was some hesitancy on Iowa’s side, as some Hawkeyes fans are acclimating to the logistics of these games. But Iowa has decided to move forward.

It’s definitely the right call. The Black Friday games give Iowa and Nebraska a big stage when few other games are taking place. Their games have been nationally televised on ABC. It’s very hard to compete with the Ohio State-Michigan game the following day, so by keeping the game on Friday, Iowa and Nebraska receive attention they otherwise wouldn't, especially when the contest factors into the division/league race.
CHICAGO -- Iowa sophomore running back Damon Bullock was shocked when it was his number called with the game on the line on Saturday.

The Hawkeyes trailed Northern Illinois by five and were facing a third-and-9 from the Huskies’ 23-yard line with less than three minutes remaining. Bullock assumed he would be pass blocking on whatever play was to be signaled in from the sideline.

He was wrong. It was for him.

[+] Enlarge Damon Bullock
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesIowa's Damon Bullock rushed for 150 yards and a touchdown in his first career start.
Moments later, Bullock took the handoff from quarterback James Vandenberg, darted diagonally to his left, found a hole, cut up the sideline, kept on sprinting and just beat Northern Illinois safety Dechane Durante to the end zone’s left corner for the score. Iowa went ahead 18-17 with 2:15 left, and that was how the game would end before a predominantly-Iowa paid crowd of 52,117 at Soldier Field.

Bullock finished with a game-high 150 yards and scored Iowa’s lone touchdown in his first career start. He also caught three passes for 26 yards.

From Iowa barely surviving Northern Illinois to the late play-calling for Bullock to him even being the go-to back on Saturday, it was an afternoon full of surprises for the Hawkeyes.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz entered Saturday not sure what he would get from his running game. He planned to utilize Bullock, freshman Greg Garmon and freshman Michael Malloy.

Ferentz never imagined Bullock would rush 30 times on Saturday. It just sort of happened.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Ferentz said. “(Bullock’s) a very young guy, second year on campus. He didn’t have many yards last season, period. First of all, (I was impressed) for him to play the entire game, for him carrying the load out there. It was muggy.

“I though he made some real tough runs and did some good things. I’m certainly pleased with this being a first step for him.”

A season ago, Bullock impressed Ferentz enough to play as a true freshman, but his opportunities were still limited. He rushed for 20 yards on 10 carries in six games.

Iowa senior wide receiver Keenan Davis thought Bullock was not only inexperienced last season, but also a bit immature. On Saturday, Davis witnessed a more grown-up Bullock go about his business.

“I could tell Damon was ready before we even started,” Davis said. “He was focused. You could see a big difference in him from last year. Last year, (he was) kind of messing around. But this year, he’s focused and ready, and I could tell he was ready before the game. He came out and did what he was supposed to do.”

Bullock was modest about his performance afterward. When asked if he felt he had proved himself, he said, “I guess you could say that.” When asked if he felt Iowa had found its starting running back, he said, “Ask coach.”

One of the questions Bullock did expand on was whether he believed he was capable of such a game.

“I know what I can do,” said Bullock said. “My family knows it. My teammates know it. My coaches know it.”

And for anyone who didn’t know about Bullock prior to Saturday, they do now.

Insight Bowl

December, 4, 2011
Iowa Hawkeyes (7-5) vs. Oklahoma Sooners (9-3)

Dec. 30, 1o p.m. ET (ESPN)

Iowa take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Iowa football hasn’t had much go its way in the past 11 months aside from a dramatic victory against Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl. The Hawkeyes will return to Tempe, Ariz., later this month looking for another boost after an up-and-down 2011 campaign.

Kirk Ferentz’s teams typically save their best for the postseason, as Iowa is 6-3 in bowls during his tenure as coach, including victories in each of the past three years (2010 Insight, 2010 Orange, 2009 Outback). But extending the win streak will be tough against Oklahoma, the preseason No. 1 team. Both teams struggled down the stretch, each dropping two of the final three games.

Iowa is led by its big three on offense: receiver Marvin McNutt, running back Marcus Coker and quarterback James Vandenberg. Coker burst on the scene as a freshman at the 2010 Insight Bowl, setting an Iowa bowl record with 219 rushing yards. McNutt also has been fabulous, while Vandenberg struggled away from Kinnick Stadium but can put up big numbers.

The Hawkeyes' defense was in rebuilding mode for most of the season, as the NFL losses along the defensive line and at safety stung. Oklahoma isn’t nearly as dangerous on offense without star receiver Ryan Broyles, who is out for the season with a knee injury. But Iowa can’t let Landry Jones settle into a rhythm and must pressure the Sooners junior quarterback.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops faces his alma mater in Iowa, which goes up against the Sooners for just the second time after dropping a 1979 game in Norman.

Oklahoma State take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The "Chase For Eight" quickly went awry for the Sooners, who lost a 41-38 game at home to five-win Texas Tech. The Red Raiders didn't win again the rest of the season. The Sooners' defense fell to powerful offenses late in the season, too. Baylor bested the Sooners on a last-second touchdown from Robert Griffin III, and Oklahoma State receivers ran free in a Cowboys blowout.

Injuries played a huge role. That's undeniable, but this season, with the expectations that came with it, is nothing but a disappointment. The Sooners suffered two losses after losing Broyles and Dominique Whaley. Blake Bell's Tebow-esque "BellDozer" formation was pretty effective late in the season, but Oklahoma is bested only by Texas A&M as the Big 12's most disappointing team.

Video: One Good Thing

November, 7, 2011

The lower half of the Legends Division -- Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota -- performed well in Week 10.

Marvin McNutt sets Iowa TD record

October, 22, 2011
Marvin McNutt has set the Iowa record for career touchdown catches, and he did it in style.

The Hawkeyes senior caught an 80-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter against Indiana. McNutt got wide open on a crossing route and took the play the distance down the sideline to give Iowa a 14-7 lead.

McNutt now has 22 career touchdown catches, one more than Tim Dwight (1994-97) and Danan Hughes (1989-92) had.

Big Ten lunch links

March, 16, 2011
I'm back to provide a few more Big Ten lunch links now that Adam is on his third (or is it his fourth?) week of vacation.

As I promised the last time, there will be no barbs directed the Big Ten's way and no cheap shots. That's not the way we roll in the SEC. One thing I would like to remind you of, though, is that everything in this correspondence should be treated as confidential and not shared with anyone. Glad we've got that cleared up.

Now, onto some links: