Big Ten: Jeff Brinson
This is no accident.
I must have missed it from last winter, but Ferentz said he's no longer assigning an assistant coach to recruit Florida. Then Tuesday night, Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson told an I-Club gathering in Des Moines that Florida is no longer a priority area for the program's recruitment.
I think I just choked on some orange juice and spilled some sun screen.
We're talking about Florida, right? The state that produced four of the top six players and 22 of the top 100 players in the 2013 class, according to ESPN Recruiting? The state often grouped with Texas and California as the nation's top recruiting hotbeds?
Yes, that Florida.
All but two Big Ten teams (Iowa and Michigan) signed at least one Floridian earlier this month. Indiana and Purdue both signed five.
The Iowa coaches think the program needs to concentrate recruiting closer to campus. The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette's Marc Morehouse notes that Iowa went to St. Louis, a city that has produced recent stars like Adrian Clayborn and Marvin McNutt, for three recruits in the 2013 class. Iowa also has had recruiting success in other Midwestern cities like Chicago and Indianapolis, and signed a Detroit prospect (safety Desmond King) on Feb. 6.
There's nothing wrong with prioritizing your backyard and places where you've had success. But ignoring Florida just doesn't make a lot of sense.
Iowa did well in the Sunshine State early in Ferentz's tenure, luring players like defensive tackle Colin Cole, linebacker Abdul Hodge and wide receiver Mo Brown. Former assistant Bret Bielema was Iowa's primary recruiter in Florida and left the Hawkeyes following the 2001 season, but other Iowa assistants continued to recruit the state.
As pointed out here and here, Iowa has had many more misses than hits with Florida prospects since 2002. Several players transferred, including running backs Jeff Brinson and De'Andre Johnson. The jury is out on other Florida recruits, including quarterback Jake Rudock, who could start this coming season.
I'm still waiting for a good reason for Iowa to back away from Florida. Sure, Iowa has had a run of bad luck with Florida recruits. But should it stop trying? I can think of 22 reasons -- and many more from the 2013 class -- to keep investing time and money there.
Big Ten teams can't expect to compete at a national elite level by recruiting solely in the Midwest. Prioritizing states like Florida -- along with Georgia, Texas and California -- is a must for Big Ten programs.
It's great to see coaches develop talent and several Big Ten programs, including Iowa, have done that well over the years. But there's a ceiling for teams trying to win with overlooked recruits from the heartland. Too many Big Ten teams -- not just Iowa -- seem to fall into this trap. Penn State just signed its first Florida recruit (safety Neiko Robinson) in more than a decade. That's insane.
It still comes down to talent, and there's just more of it in the South. Big Ten teams need to compete in states like Florida. Will they get all the top players? Of course not. But with the right coaches and strategy, they can help their teams get better.
Sure, Iowa lost Bielema, who continued his Florida recruiting push as Wisconsin's head coach and will carry it on at Arkansas. Iowa lost another Florida recruiter when Rick Kaczenski left for Nebraska in 2011.
But Ferentz has had plenty of chances to hire assistants with Florida roots the past two seasons. Iowa's staff is in an unprecedented period of flux, and Ferentz has brought in six new assistants since the end of the 2011 season. None of them could help Iowa made inroads in Florida?
Look how Nebraska secondary coach Terry Joseph, hired last March, has helped the Huskers' recruiting efforts in the South. The same goes for new Big Ten assistants like Everett Withers at Ohio State. Wisconsin would have loved to retain assistant Charlie Partridge because of his recruiting clout in Florida.
Perhaps Iowa can build itself back into a Big Ten title contender without investing in Florida. Re-establishing itself in cities like St. Louis certainly is a good sign.
But Ohio State's coaches continue to mine the South, and Michigan is ramping up its Southern recruiting efforts as well.
In recruiting, you follow the talent. You flock to it. You compete for it.
You don't turn your back on it.
- Pac-10 and Big 12 officials met Thursday, and a partnership could change the game with expansion, colleague Ted Miller writes.
- The Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein answers questions about Big Ten expansion (good stuff here). More answers on Nebraska's potential move to the Big Ten from the Omaha World-Herald's Tom Shatel. The Chronicle of Higher Education weighs on whether Notre Dame should join the Big Ten.
- Michigan's place-kicker situation is a major concern coming out of spring ball, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Ohio State is the nation's No. 2 team and will meet Alabama for the BCS title, Tony Barnhart predicts in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Minnesota picks up a late addition to its 2010 recruiting class with juco linebacker Ray Cottman. Also, one-time Gophers commit Calvin Phillips is reportedly back on the market.
- Former Iowa running back Jeff Brinson might finally find a new home at Central Florida, Greg Auman writes in the St. Petersburg Times.
- You just have to watch this.
- Wisconsin wide receiver Kyle Jefferson is on track, literally, Andy Baggot writes in the Wisconsin State Journal.
- The Sporting News' Dave Curtis predicts that Denard Robinson and Kevin Newsome will be the starting quarterbacks for Michigan and Penn State, respectively. Penn State's decision to move the student section is a bad deal for the students, Brian Cook writes in The Sporting Blog.
You can't fault Brinson for this decision, as carries likely would have been tough to come by in 2010.
In other Hawkeyes news, Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson once again will coach the team's tight ends. Johnson coached tight ends from 2003 to 2007 before focusing strictly on recruiting. Now he'll handle both responsibilities.
In case you missed it: Iowa's best case-worst case.
Best-case synopsis: Iowa picks up where it left off last fall, overcomes a brutal road schedule and shows improvement on both sides of the ball. The team's young running backs fill in after the loss of Shonn Greene, and an improved pass rush helps a playmaking defense slow down opponents. Iowa goes 3-2 on the road, including an upset of Penn State, reaches the top 15 and finishes 10-2 before going on to a win against LSU in the Capital One Bowl.
Worst-case synopsis: The personnel losses combined with the rough road schedule proves too much for Iowa, which tumbles to a 5-7 finish. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi throws too many interceptions but gets little help from a Greene-less run game. Iowa struggles with injuries and doesn't many nearly as many plays on defense. Iowa goes 0-5 away from Kinnick Stadium and drops home contests against Northwestern and Minnesota. Off-field problems continue to hurt the program.
You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "The Hawkeyes pave the road in black and gold, the defensive line holds together and 'Stanzi is the Manzi' T-shirts are worn all across the state." ... "Wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos gets the message after his depth-chart demotion." ... "The defense misses tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul, but an improved pass rush combined with more playmaking from linebacker Pat Angerer, safety Tyler Sash, cornerback Amari Spievey and others more than makes up for it." ... "Iowa then ruins Mike Stoops' homecoming and takes care of Arizona." ... "Iowa doesn't flinch in front of the 'Whiteout' crowd, upsetting the Nittany Lions." ... "Stanzi records double digits in picks." ... "The season begins with a too-close-for-comfort win against Northern Iowa." ... "Iowa recovers against Indiana but drops its third consecutive home game to Northwestern." ... "[Bryan] Bulaga and Spievey bolt for the NFL."
Lies, lies, lies: "Running backs Jewel Hampton and Jeff Brinson find plenty of daylight." ... "The Hawkeyes easily handle Northern Iowa in the opener." ... "Stanzi makes sure the team avoids a letdown against Arkansas State." ... "Iowa overcomes its recent demons against Northwestern." ... "After squeaking by Arizona, Iowa heads to Happy Valley and pays the price for last year's upset at Kinnick Stadium. Penn State rolls the Hawkeyes by 20 points, giving Nittany Nation bragging rights on the Big Ten blog." ... "A bowl-bound Minnesota team then comes to Kinnick Stadium and rolls to a win." ... "The run defense crumbles without King and Kroul." ... "Left tackle Bryan Bulaga returns for his senior season."
Reality check: Iowa actually exceeded the best-case scenario, not only going 10-2 but reaching the FedEx Orange Bowl rather than the Capital One Bowl. A win against Georgia Tech capped a storybook season for the Hawkeyes, who overcame tons of adversity and went 4-1 on the road, including wins in State College and Madison. Stanzi was a mixed bag, throwing 14 interceptions in the first three quarters of games but coming up huge in the fourth. The defense continued its playmaking ways as end Adrian Clayborn became a superstar. The Hawkeyes restored themselves among the Big Ten's elite and set up a potential league title push in 2010.
There wasn't a more consistent and stable position in the Big Ten last year than running back at Iowa.
Shonn Greene bulldozed his way to the Doak Walker Award, eclipsing 100 rushing yards in all 13 games for the Hawkeyes.
But since Greene declared for the NFL draft, the Hawkeyes have struggled to find stability in the backfield. Jewel Hampton and Jeff Brinson, the projected successors to Greene, battled injuries in spring ball and camp, with Hampton eventually being shut down for the season days before the opener. Redshirt freshman Adam Robinson stepped into the starting role in Week 2 and performed very well, ranking fourth in the Big Ten in rushing average (78.6 ypg) and protecting the football.
Now the Hawkeyes likely will be without Robinson for the rest of the regular season after he sustained an ankle injury in Saturday's win against Michigan State. Robinson rushed for a career high 109 yards in the game.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz left the door slightly open for an earlier return, saying Robinson's injury is similar to the one that kept tight end Tony Moeaki sidelined for three games earlier this season. But Robinson will almost certainly miss a Nov. 14 trip to Ohio State, a game that could determine Iowa's postseason fate.
True freshman Brandon Wegher will make his first career start Saturday against Indiana (ESPN, noon ET), with junior Paki O'Meara serving as the backup. Iowa fans were thrilled when Wegher committed, and he has shown flashes of big-play ability. But Robinson was the more complete back and will be missed.
Ferentz also confirmed that guard Dace Richardson is out for the rest of the regular season with a leg injury.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller and Adam Rittenberg
Holy Rose Bowl! It's another Big Ten-Pac-10 weekend, with No. 8 California visiting Minnesota and Arizona headed to Iowa. All four teams are 2-0. Seems like a good time for another blogger debate.
Ted Miller: You again! Adam, we need to stop meeting like this. Or at least the Big Ten should stop meeting like Ohio State did with USC. Perhaps there will be some redemption on Saturday when California visits Minnesota and Arizona takes a gander at Iowa.
|Icon SMI/US Presswire|
|Golden mascots square off in the Twin Cities on Saturday.|
Let's start with your game Saturday in fancy pants TCF Bank Stadium. (Nice job, Minnesota.)
I look over Minnesota's particulars and I can't get a good vibe about what Cal should expect, particularly after the Gophers struggled to beat Syracuse and Air Force. Who are these guys ... and whose mascot is more golden?
Adam Rittenberg: Ted! Buddy! Good to be with you again. OK, full disclosure here. I grew up in Berkeley, attended pretty much every Cal home game between 1994 to 1999. Witnessed the one Mariucci season in '96 (still have nightmares about the Pat Barnes fumble at Washington State) and the insufferable Tom Holmoe era. But I was never a huge Oski the Bear fan. Too subdued of a mascot. Looked like a glum professor who hadn't had his sweater ironed in 50 years. And he doesn't wear pants, which is perfect for Berkeley (I grew up there, so I can say that!) So Goldy Gopher gets my vote. He's goldier.
As for Minnesota, they did struggle against the Cuse, but the Air Force win is pretty solid in my book. The defense has been the big plus so far, especially the three linebackers (Nate Triplett, Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence). Triplett has gone from special teams all-star to major playmaker. The offense has struggled quite a bit, as Minnesota incorporates a new pro-style system under Jedd Fisch. It's a pretty dramatic departure from what they did the last two seasons, and it has taken a bit of time to click. Quarterback Adam Weber has loads of experience and can be effective when he limits interceptions, and Eric Decker is a freaking stud. Might be the best wide receiver in America that no one talks about. The problem is Minnesota hasn't found many weapons other than Decker. The Gophers need to spark their rushing attack behind Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge and hope a No. 2 wide receiver emerges, possibly speedster Troy Stoudermire.
I saw Cal is flying in Thursday for the game. Will the Bears be ready to play this time around for a 9 a.m. Pacific kickoff, and can anyone slow down Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen? How has Kevin Riley looked so far?
|Paul Jasienski-US PRESSWIRE|
|Cal QB Kevin Riley ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency.|
As for Best and Vereen, they are a great combination for sure. Best is going to make a play or two, mostly because he always does. The question is whether he can be such a bothersome threat that he forces Minnesota to load up the box. If that happens, a much-improved Kevin Riley and a receiving corps that has grown up could make big plays down field. Riley ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency and has yet to throw a pick, so he's started off as a completely different quarterback from the guy who was so inconsistent last last season.
The big issue for Cal is playing on the road: They've lost four in a row on the road. Moreover, they've not been challenged by a team so far that can approach them physically. Minnesota will be a far tougher test, and we just don't know whether Riley and the Bears can maintain their cool efficiency away from Berkley.
As for the other game: Iowa seems to have righted itself with the big win over Iowa State. But Arizona has a fast defense. Can quarterback Ricky Stanzi and running back Brandon Wegher lead an effective attack against the Wildcats?
AR: As I like to say, Stanzi is the Manzi. Actually, Stanzi has been inconsistent throughout his time as the starter, mixing big plays with too many picks. But he has more targets this year with Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Tony Moeki, Trey Stross and Marvin McNutt. The running game has been a bit messy this year because of departures (Shonn Greene) and injuries (Jewel Hampton, Jeff Brinson). Brandon Wegher likely would have redshirted but stepped up big last week. He and another freshman, Adam Robinson, will get most of the carries Saturday. It's rare to see Kirk Ferentz play so many young players, but these guys seem up to the task. The offensive line could be without star left tackle Bryan Bulaga (illness) again, so those two speedy Arizona pass-rushers will have their ears pinned back for sure.
Let's talk about the Wildcats offense. How good is Nic Grigsby and does Arizona have a passing game to complement the nation's second leading rusher?
TM: Grigsby is off to a fast start, but the Iowa defense will offer a far tougher test than Central Michigan and Northern Arizona. Also, Grigsby had some fumbling problems a year ago -- he got benched a couple of times and capable back Keola Antolin took over -- but that has yet to be an issue in 2009. My guess is the Hawkeyes load the box, gang up on Grigsby and will dare Arizona's new quarterback, sophomore Matt Scott, to pass, which is never easy on the road.
And therein lies a huge issue for this game. Arizona's best player, tight end Rob Gronkowski, is out with a back injury. Gronkowski is a beast. More than a few folks in the Pac-10 believe he's every bit the player that Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham is. Think having a 6-foot-6, 265-pound safety valve would help a young QB? It also doesn't help that No. 1 receiver Delashaun Dean has been slowed by a hamstring injury, though he will play.
So, the Wildcats passing game, with Scott making his first road start, is a huge question.
Speaking of road games, seems like all the Big Ten owns home field advantage in all these matchups with the Pac-10 ... no fair. But, seriously, which place will be more difficult for a visitor from the West Coast? I love Minnesota's new digs but I've heard a lot about pink bathrooms and the nutty horde at Kinnick Stadium.
AR: Well, you guys do have this game called the Rose Bowl. If memory serves, it's in Pac-10 country. Like in USC's backyard. That reminds me, Ted, can you find a way to make sure the Trojans don't go to Pasadena this year? The Big Ten would like a break from the Trojans after all these years of punishment. I stayed on the same floor as Pete Carroll last week in Columbus but forgot to ask him myself. Let me know what they say over at Heritage Hall. Thanks, dude.
|AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall|
|Ricky Stanzi has passed for 439 yards and five touchdowns so far this season.|
TCF Bank Stadium is pretty freaking awesome, and I'm excited to see the finished product in person. But I'd have to go with Kinnick Stadium as a tougher place right now. Iowa always sells it out and the fans are right on top of the field. It's a tremendous atmosphere, one of my favorites in the league. The early start time at Minnesota could be tougher for a Pac-10 team, but Kinnick definitely is less hospitable.
OK, prediction time. Who you got in Minnesota-Cal? Arizona-Iowa?
TM: Rose Bowl in Detroit, which is beautiful in midwinter!
I don't think anyone wants to see USC in the Rose Bowl again -- even USC's fans and players. The Trojans, however, wouldn't mind being in Pasadena again this January, if you catch my drift (nudge, nudge).
As for the predictions: For folks who read the Pac-10 blog, they know I've been advocating Cal as the team that might challenge USC's seven-year run atop the conference. They also know that for weeks I've been ranting about how underrated Arizona is.
So I've got pick a road warrior weekend for the Pac-10.
Let's say: Cal 35-21
And: Arizona 24-21.
Now, for the pick you should take to Vegas ...
AR: Call me a homer, but I've got to go with Cal. Minnesota has really struggled to make plays on offense, and while the Gophers' defense looks much improved, it'll be hard to contain Best and Vereen for 60 minutes and keep Cal off the scoreboard. Minnesota will have its crowd going and should keep things relatively, close, but I have Cal winning by 11, 34-23.
We'll probably see a defensive struggle at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa's defense is always solid under Norm Parker, and the front seven should prevent Grigsby from going nuts. I think Iowa got its mojo back last week and pulls this one out, 21-17 Hawkeyes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
After further review, I've decided to go back to two mailblogs per week, Tuesday and Friday. Keep sending in your questions and comments. Ohio State fans certainly have the last few days.
Steve from Chicago writes: Adam:How can you say that OSU shouldn't carry the BCS torch this year? Its September! And they are the only Big Ten team to play a decent opponent thus far (Notre Dame is not included as a good team).I look forward to reading your biased reports the remainder of the year.Thankfully, the decision will be made on the field.
Adam Rittenberg: That's the beauty of it, Steve. Things will be settled on the field. But when I look at Ohio State, I don't see a BCS bowl champion. I see a young team that has no identity on offense and hasn't had one for quite some time. Terrelle Pryor will continue to progress, but he doesn't have a great supporting cast right now, and the line has been disappointing for several years despite strong recruiting. Ohio State will be a force in 2010, but every national champion and most BCS bowl winners in recent memory have had offenses that opponents fear. The Buckeyes don't.
Jake from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam, I have lost a lot of respect for you as an analyzer with your recent big ten power rankings. I understand Penn State being number one. But Michigan at No. 2 ahead of Ohio State! Really? And what makes you think that Michigan could of stuck with USC like OSU did, they wouldn't, they would get rolled. Sure, they had a great win against Notre Dame, but what makes you think Notre Dame isn't just the usual frankly average Irish team they usually are in current times? And Ohio State's defense proved that they were probably the best defense in the Big Ten on Saturday. What other Big Ten defense has been able to control USC like that? None this decade is the answer, and that's including Michigan the several times they played USC after losing to Ohio State at the end of the regular season. I was just wondering what was going through your mind when you made that bold statement? You always have seemed to dis like Ohio State though, so it really doesn't come as a surprise to me. I guess it will take a 6th straight year of utter domination against the Wolverines to put us ahead of them right? Thanks in advance for replying.
Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Jake. As I've explained numerous times, the power rankings will reward big wins and penalize losses, even those to USC. Don't freak out about Ohio State being a notch below Michigan for one week. The Buckeyes have plenty of opportunities to jump ahead of the Wolverines, long before their Nov. 21 matchup. If Ohio State pounds Toledo this weekend and Michigan struggles against Eastern Michigan, the Buckeyes will move ahead. As for Notre Dame, the Irish are overrated as a BCS bowl contender, but they're a pretty solid team overall. They have arguably the nation's best wide receiver tandem and an improved run game. The power rankings are fun, but a lot of people seem to take them too seriously. And if you check the blog in the past, I haven't dissed Ohio State. I had them No. 1 in the Big Ten entering the year, ahead of a Penn State team that won in Columbus last year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
We should know better than to doubt Iowa's run game. Just last year, the Hawkeyes entered preseason camp without a definitive starter, and some numbskull ranked the team's running backs last in the Big Ten.
What happened? Shonn Greene happened. Came out of nowhere to eclipse 100 rushing yards in all 13 games and win the Doak Walker Award.
Iowa fans can take solace in this historical tidbit as they cope with the season-ending loss of Jewel Hampton, who has been ruled out for 2009 because of a right knee injury. Hampton reinjured the knee about a week into preseason camp after sustaining the original injury during voluntary workouts in July.
He'll undergo surgery, redshirt the season and have three years of eligibility left.
"We obviously thought he had a chance to make it back," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He has practiced. I mentioned that in camp right before the open scrimmage is when he got hurt, so he was doing things that were heavy-duty football things, and unfortunately the episode that tipped him over the balance was hardly of that category. He's been in a lot more strenuous exerting positions. It's just one of those things and it can happen to anybody. But certainly it's just unfortunate."
This is a major loss for Iowa since Hampton had proven himself on the field last fall with 463 rush yards and seven touchdowns (an Iowa freshman record). It's rare when you can lose a national award winner like Greene and still feel really good about his backup.
With both Greene and Hampton off the field, Iowa will lose 94.2 percent of its rushing production from 2008.
Former walk-on Paki O'Meara will start Saturday against Northern Iowa, and redshirt freshman Adam Robinson will serve as the backup. O'Meara had 21 carries for 62 yards and two touchdowns last fall, while Robinson will be making his first appearance in a college game.
Redshirt freshman Jeff Brinson and true freshman Brandon Wegher also are in the mix, though both battled injuries earlier in camp. Ferentz said Brinson, who had an ankle injury, remains "way behind" in his preparation for the season, while Wegher has been practicing for a while.
"We'll just keep an open mind on this whole thing right now and my guess is probably by the end of the season we'll see all four of those guys being involved if they can stay healthy and pick up what's going on," Ferentz said.
I'd bet Brinson emerges as Iowa's starter at some point, and the Hawkeyes' offensive line looks strong enough to create gaps for just about anyone. But it's clear that Hawkeyes need quarterback Ricky Stanzi and the passing attack to step up and become a bigger focal point in the offense.
As Ferentz often says, the margin for error at Iowa isn't large, especially this season, when the schedule is so brutal. The Hawkeyes can rely on a solid defense and an emerging quarterback, but they certainly would have been better off with Hampton carrying the ball.
The third installment in a series examining the best and worst outcomes, within reason, for each Big Ten squad.
The Hawkeyes pave the road in black and gold, the defensive line holds together and "Stanzi is the Manzi" T-shirts are worn all across the state.
No Shonn Greene? No problem for Iowa, which continues its momentum from 2008. Junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi blossoms after a season of trial-and-error, and running backs Jewel Hampton and Jeff Brinson find plenty of daylight behind the Big Ten's best offensive line. Wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos gets the message after his depth-chart demotion and earns All-Big Ten honors. The defense misses tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul, but an improved pass rush combined with more playmaking from linebacker Pat Angerer, safety Tyler Sash, cornerback Amari Spievey and others more than makes up for it.
The Hawkeyes easily handle Northern Iowa in the opener before heading to a place they hate -- Jack Trice Stadium. Wins are never easy in Ames, but Stanzi steps up and delivers big as the visitors roll 31-7. Iowa then ruins Mike Stoops' homecoming and takes care of Arizona, setting up the matchup the two most vocal fan bases on this blog have waited for -- Sept. 26 at Penn State. The sight of 185-pound kicker Daniel Murray makes Penn State fans tremble, and Iowa doesn't flinch in front of the "Whiteout" crowd, upsetting the Nittany Lions by a touchdown. The Big Ten blog server crashes after being flooded with celebratory Hawkeye fans.
Stanzi makes sure the team avoids a letdown against Arkansas State, and the defense shuts out Michigan as Adrian Clayborn introduces himself to the Wolverines' quarterbacks. Iowa splits its next two road games, against Michigan State and Wisconsin, before posting another shutout against Indiana on Halloween. Now ranked in the top 15, Iowa overcomes its recent demons against Northwestern as Angerer knocks one of the Wildcats' running backs from the game in a convincing win.
Can't see Iowa winning in Columbus, but the team finishes with a very respectable 3-2 road record. To celebrate, the Hawkeyes beat Minnesota 55-0 for the second straight year. At 10-2, Iowa heads back to Florida for the Capital One Bowl and Stanzi does his best Drew Tate impression, throwing the game-winning touchdown pass against LSU. The Hawkeyes finish No. 8 nationally, left tackle Bryan Bulaga returns for his senior season
and NFL teams leave head coach Kirk Ferentz alone for a change.
Iowa is left seeing red without Greene, Stanzi records double digits in picks and the run defense crumbles without King and Kroul.
Hampton's knee never fully heals, and the offensive line doesn't jell without several key pieces early in the season. The Hawkeyes are forced into third-and-long situations, and Stanzi continues to take the risks that plagued him at times last season. There's friction with DJK and converted quarterback Marvin McNutt struggles to be a No. 1 wideout. Opponents quickly spot the holes in Iowa's defense, and the young tackles pegged to replace King and Kroul inside simply aren't up to the task. The secondary struggles to replicate its playmaking prowess from 2008, and Iowa's bad habits in close games resurface. Injuries crop up on both sides of the ball, and the program gets more bad press for off-field issues.
The season begins with a too-close-for-comfort win against Northern Iowa, a strong FCS program. Then disaster strikes once again in Ames, as a horrible Iowa State team upsets the Hawkeyes 10-9 in a rainstorm. It marks Iowa's fifth loss in its last six trips to Jack Trice Stadium. After squeaking by Arizona, Iowa heads to Happy Valley and pays the price for last year's upset at Kinnick Stadium. Penn State rolls the Hawkeyes by 20 points, giving Nittany Nation bragging rights on the Big Ten blog.
After pounding Arkansas State, the Hawkeyes survive a scare against Michigan. The team hits the road again and struggles, as Bret Bielema gets revenge for last year's drubbing and Michigan State wins another close one in East Lansing. Iowa recovers against Indiana but drops its third consecutive home game to Northwestern. Needing to split its final two games to make the postseason, Iowa can't keep pace with Ohio State. A bowl-bound Minnesota team then comes to Kinnick Stadium and rolls to a win, as wideout Eric Decker hauls in four touchdowns and two Gophers fans are arrested doing naughty things in a bathroom.
The 5-7 clunker raises doubts about Ferentz's leadership, Bulaga and Spievey bolt for the NFL and the program wastes the momentum it generated last fall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Ron: What cologne are you gonna go with? London Gentlemen or ... wait ... no no no, hold on -- Black Beard's Delight.
Brian: No. She gets a special cologne. It's called Sex Panther, by Odeon. It's illegal in nine countries. Yep, it's made with bits of real panther, so you know it's good.
Ron: It's quite pungent.
Brian: Oh yeah.
Ron: It's a formidable scent ... stings the nostrils ... in a good way.
Just like these links.
- Drew Astorino might lack the measurables some colleges seek, but his knack for clutch plays hooked Penn State on the promising safety, Bernard Fernandez writes in the Philadelphia Daily News. Illinois could be the trap game for Penn State this fall, and Illini star wide receiver Arrelious Benn tops the list of players Penn State should worry about.
- Michigan State quarterback Keith Nichol has impressed his teammates, while injuries nag the Spartans' offensive line, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- With athletes like MarQueis Gray and Troy Stoudermire on the roster, it's no surprise Minnesota will use the Wildcat offense this fall, Marcus Fuller writes in the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press.
- The big play should be a bigger part of Michigan's offense this fall, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News. Don't count out Nick Sheridan, who was first in the quarterback rotation at Thursday's practice, annarbor.com's Dave Birkett writes.
- With Jewel Hampton nursing a knee injury, redshirt freshman running back Jeff Brinson could take center stage for Iowa, Andy Hamilton writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
- Northwestern's "Brew" is refreshing, but not for the reasons you think, Teddy Greenstein writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Jake Stoneburner isn't your typical Ohio State tight end, Doug Lemerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
- Blowing off the Big Ten before the season starts is a big mistake, CBSsports.com's Dennis Dodd writes.
- Wisconsin expects all of its starting offensive linemen to return from injuries, but time is running out and young players must get prepared, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa fans can't wait for Jewel Hampton to wrong-foot opposing defenders this fall as he steps into huge shoes following the departure of Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene.
Turns out, Hampton has already dodged his first major bullet.
The Hawkeyes sophomore running back is recovering well from a knee injury he sustained in summer workouts. Hampton lists himself at 90-95 percent and participated in Iowa's first preseason practice Friday morning.
The initial prognosis looked much worse.
"If anybody in my position was told their season could be taken away, that would be heartbreaking, as it was for me," Hampton said Friday. "Like I said, I kept a good head about it and just bounced back."
Hampton didn't go into specifics about the injury and wasn't sure if he'll use a brace in games. He didn't show much of a limp while walking around during Iowa's media day.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz said Hampton isn't limited in practice, though he and the rest of Iowa's running backs won't take on much contact during camp. Hampton will even get a shot to be a starting kickoff returner, an area where Ferentz wants to upgrade.
"He's had a good month of July," Ferentz said of Hampton.
Hampton filled in well as Greene's backup last year, rushing for 463 yards and seven touchdowns on 91 carries. He has much more in-game experience than fellow backs Paki O'Meara and Jeff Brinson, but Ferentz hinted that the Hawkeyes likely will use a rotation at running back.
A committee system could be the solution for Iowa, but Hampton is intent on following Greene's footsteps.
"If you want to be a starter, you should be a starter," he said. "That's how I approach it. I'm just looking forward to trying to fill Shonn's shoes.
"I really don't set goals during the season. I just accomplish things."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The position rankings switch over to offense. Before examining the all-important quarterback position, which should be better in the Big Ten this fall, here's a look at the running backs.
The Big Ten was absolutely loaded at running back last fall, boasting two of the three finalists for the Doak Walker Award (Shonn Greene and Javon Ringer) and three of the nation's top six rushers. Five of the league's top six rushers depart, and several teams need to find new lead ballcarriers.
I really like the top four groups, and other teams should answer some lingering questions early this season.
|AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar|
|Evan Royster scored 12 TDs on the ground last season.|
1. Penn State -- Evan Royster flew somewhat under the radar last year but turned in a fabulous sophomore season, racking up 1,236 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on just 191 carries. Royster wants a more featured role this fall and might get one, though Penn State has the luxury of spreading out the carries. Stephfon Green should have a better sophomore season as long as his ankle holds up, and sophomores Brent Carter and Brandon Beachum provide depth.
2. Wisconsin -- Despite losing the underappreciated P.J. Hill, Wisconsin once again is stacked in the offensive backfield. John Clay can become a superstar in this league as long as he maintains a decent weight, and Zach Brown might be the league's top backup. The Badgers are also excited about incoming freshman Montee Ball, a very productive high school back. Clay ranked seventh in the league in rushing last fall despite playing behind Hill.
3. Michigan -- This is without a doubt Michigan's strongest unit and one that must perform consistently for the offense to succeed. Senior Brandon Minor looks primed for an All-Big Ten season after a strong finish to 2008, a season during which he played through several injuries. Senior Carlos Brown and sophomore Michael Shaw are also healthy, and freshman Vincent Smith turned heads during spring ball with his quickness.
4. Ohio State -- Replacing Chris "Beanie" Wells isn't easy, but Wells' injury problems created opportunities for his successors to see the field in 2008. Dan Herron and Brandon Saine both performed well in spring ball and will share the carries load, with Herron expected to be the starter. Depth is a bit of concern behind the top two, though heralded incoming freshman Jaamal Berry appears to have avoided major punishment for his marijuana possession arrest and should be a factor this fall.
5. Illinois -- The team that led the Big Ten in rushing in 2006 and 2007 will be back near the top this fall. Sophomores Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure both improved physically during the offseason, and head coach Ron Zook isn't counting out senior Daniel Dufrene, who endured some problems last year. New offensive coordinator Mike Schultz has an excellent track record of developing standout backs.
6. Iowa -- I'm a little hesitant to put the Hawkeyes this high without knowing that Jewel Hampton will be good to go Sept. 5 after sustaining a knee injury this summer. Hampton performed well behind Greene last fall and needs to be on the field for Iowa. Reserves Jeff Brinson and Paki O'Meara provide depth, and Iowa's offensive line should be able to create running room for just about anybody.
7. Purdue -- Spring practice certainly lifted my hopes for this unit, as sophomore Ralph Bolden sizzled alongside Dan Dierking. Purdue also gets veteran Jaycen Taylor back and heralded freshman Al-Terek McBurse on the field, and new head coach Danny Hope wisely wants to emphasize the run game in a slightly tweaked offense. A few ifs remain with this group, which needs Bolden to perform in games and Taylor to get healthy, but I like what I see.
8. Michigan State -- The Spartans could climb the rankings this fall, but they have too many unknowns at running back entering camp. No Big Ten offense relied on one player as much as Michigan State did with Ringer last fall, and none of the reserves has really stepped up to claim the starting job. Ashton Leggett or Caulton Ray could emerge during camp, but most believe heralded incoming freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper will emerge as the top backs.
9. Indiana -- The Hoosiers installed the pistol offense primarily to get more out of their run game, which wasn't half bad last season. Marcus Thigpen will be missed, but the offensive line should be healthier and better in 2009. Veterans Bryan Payton and Demetrius McCray get their chance to shine, but most eyes will be on redshirt freshman Darius Willis, a heralded recruit who showed good signs this spring.
10. Minnesota -- Tim Brewster wants to make Minnesota a running back's haven again, and he made several moves to transform the offense, including hiring coordinator Jedd Fisch and line coach Tim Davis. I like Brewster's plan, but it might be a little ambitious to expect major results this season. Duane Bennett's return from a torn ACL should boost Minnesota, and the Gophers boast good depth with DeLeon Eskridge and Kevin Whaley, who performed well in the spring game.
11. Northwestern -- History favors the Wildcats, who have churned out excellent backs throughout the spread offense era (2000-present). But Northwestern returns virtually no experience at the position after losing four-year starter Tyrell Sutton and backup Omar Conteh. Junior Stephen Simmons boasts top-end speed and I liked what I saw from Jeravin Matthews this spring, but the Wildcats' backs have a lot to prove this fall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
There are two primary concerns with Wisconsin's über-talented running back, John Clay.
|Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire|
|Wisconsin coaches will be keeping a close eye on John Clay's weight this season.|
1. Can he maintain a proper playing weight, ideally between 235 to 240 pounds?
2. Will his problematic ankles hold up?
The weight issue will be an ongoing challenge for Clay, who ended up north of 250 pounds toward the end of the 2008 season. But the powerful sophomore earned a few tick marks on the toughness scale after playing through an ankle injury last weekend.
During an April 4 scrimmage, Clay sustained what head coach Bret Bielema called a "double whammy" -- a low tackle that twisted his ankle and a helmet that hit him right above the joint.
"On Friday, in our staff meeting, our trainers weren't necessarily too confident that he'd be able to go on Saturday," Bielema said Tuesday. "And he made himself go and actually performed very well and lifted up the offense at certain times.
"He made a big step for us, being the kind of leader we need for him to be."
Clay currently checks in between 240 and 242 pounds, but Bielema would like to get him lighter than 240 by the season opener Sept. 5.
Iowa also dealt with an injury scare to its projected starting running back, as sophomore Jewel Hampton had a "near-miss" during Saturday's scrimmage, according to head coach Kirk Ferentz. Hampton missed the first week of spring ball with a strained hamstring and likely will sit out today's practice before returning for the Hawkeyes' final workouts later this week.
"I think he's going to be fine," Ferentz said. "He's doing a good job."
Junior Paki O'Meara, who turned heads with his performance last spring, remains the No. 2 running back on Iowa's depth chart. Redshirt freshman Jeff Brinson is the third-stringer.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Scott A. Miller/US Presswire|
|Iowa may not have a difficult time replacing Shonn Greene's production.|
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- When Bryan Bulaga walked into Iowa's video room Friday afternoon, a team official jokingly introduced the 6-6, 312-pound offensive tackle as a running back.
"I'm the next Shonn Greene," Bulaga said with a smile.
Not to worry, Hawkeyes fans. Bulaga won't be lining up in the backfield this fall. Instead, the All-Big Ten junior will be clearing running lanes for a new featured runner.
Who that man is remains to be seen.
Sophomore Jewel Hampton, who generated buzz as Greene's backup last season, is competing alongside redshirt freshman Jeff Brinson and junior Paki O'Meara for the top job. They somehow must find a way to replace 307 carries, a team-record 1,850 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns -- numbers that earned Greene the Doak Walker Award last fall.
"You've have to be foolish to expect anybody to do what Shonn did," head coach Kirk Ferentz said, "because nobody else did it in the country. ... I don't see one guy having as many carries as Shonn had and certainly not as many yards."
Hampton rushed for 463 yards and seven touchdowns on 91 carries (5.1 ypc) as a true freshman in 2008. He missed the first part of spring practice with a mild hamstring strain but has returned to practice and been cleared for contact drills.
At 5-9 and 210 pounds, Hampton doesn't quite resemble the imposing Greene (5-11, 235), but he could handle a featured role.
"If you've got a guy like Greene, it's pretty easy," Ferentz said. "Jewel may end up emerging that way, but we're not ready to ordain him as the savior at the tailback position. I think he's got a real good future. He's got a lot of upside. I just don't want to see any one guy have that kind of pressure following what Shonn did.
"We're comfortable playing two or three guys. We'll be fine."
Bulaga said all three returning backs learned from Greene, whose no-frills, downhill running style fit perfectly with Iowa's offense. There aren't many stylistic differences between Greene and Hampton, O'Meara and Brinson, who have shown patience without too much backfield dancing.
In other words, they're keeping Bulaga and his linemates happy.
"Jewel had a good amount of touches last year," Bulaga said. "He's gone against Big Ten teams, he's taken hits against Big Ten teams going in, so he knows what to expect going in. And early in the [2008 season], Paki got some touches as well. They're going to handle it alright.
"It's just that Jewel and Paki are going to be the guys. They're not going to have Shonn to rely on to take the burden of the carries."
Quarterback Ricky Stanzi often gets asked how Iowa's offense will move forward without Greene. He refers back to last spring practice, when the same questions emerged about the running back spot.
"It's still early," Stanzi said. "People forget this is still spring ball and we've got a whole other offseason to go through where guys can build, get better and get ready for camp."
Greene is still missed around Hawkeye football headquarters, and not just for his production.
"To be as humble as he was, he was the ultimate team player," Stanzi said. "Everybody loved the guy. He had a great head on his shoulders, and we wish him nothing but the best."
Added tight end Tony Moeaki: "We definitely miss him, because he was a stud, but at the same time we're rooting for him in the NFL draft."
Ferentz goes out of his way to temper expectations for Greene's successor, but Iowa will continue to be a run-first offense built around one of the Big Ten's top lines. Not dwelling on last year's success has been a theme this spring, nowhere more so than at running back.
"Shonn bailed us out of a couple situations, more than a couple," Bulaga said. "Yeah, we miss him, I miss him, he's a great guy. But Jewel's doing a pretty good job, and Paki and Jeff are getting signficant reps. So I miss him, but that's another area where we need to move on."