NCF Nation: Adam Robinson

Iowa has little trouble producing quality running backs. Keeping them on the team is an entirely different story.

Marcus Coker on Tuesday became the latest promising Iowa ball-carrier to depart the program. The team announced Coker asked for a release from his scholarship, which was granted. The sophomore also didn't enroll for the spring semester at Iowa.

Of all the Hawkeyes' running back departures -- Adam Robinson, Brandon Wegher, Jewel Hampton, Mika'il McCall -- Coker's is the most mysterious and potentially the most damaging. Head coach Kirk Ferentz still hasn't specified why Coker was suspended for the Insight Bowl -- the team called it a violation of university policy and the student-athlete code of conduct. While McCall seemed likely to return after his suspension, Coker's situation seemed different. Athletic director Gary Barta said last month that Coker had an invitation to return to the team.

But it didn't pan out and Iowa once again will be scrambling at running back heading into the 2012 season.

Coker isn't just good -- he finished second in the Big Ten and 15th nationally in rushing average (115.3 ypg) -- but he's also durable and productive, logging 23.4 carries per game, tops among Big Ten backs. As a big back with two more years to mature, Coker could have been a special player at Iowa.

The Hawkeyes will tun to Jordan Canzeri, who provided a nice spark at times in the Insight Bowl, and others at running back in the 2012 season. But Ferentz and his staff need to address what has become a revolving-door position. Why are so many promising running backs on the field struggling so much off of it? The team now has had five running backs depart in the past year and a half.

Not good at all.
"I wish I could explain it," Ferentz told me last month. "There's no conspiracy theory or anything like that. We've just had some situations. You have to evaluate each one on an individual basis. We have had our share of transactions and transition. We'll get it settled down again."

They had better.
Iowa is no stranger to facing adversity in a bowl game.

In the 2001 Alamo Bowl, the Hawkeyes' first postseason appearance under head coach Kirk Ferentz, running back Ladell Betts couldn't play with a hamstring injury, leaving Iowa without a four-year starter. Iowa turned to Aaron Greving, who racked up 115 rush yards and earned offensive MVP honors in a win against Texas Tech.

[+] EnlargeIowa coach Kirk Ferentz
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallKirk Ferentz says he can't explain all of the backfield issues Iowa has faced, but the Hawkeyes have to forge on in their bowl game against OU.
The Betts-Greving situation hardly compared to the crisis Iowa faced before the 2010 Insight Bowl. Top running back Adam Robinson had been suspended and subsequently arrested. Top receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos had been arrested on drug charges, leading to an odd news conference where Iowa admitted to finding problems with its drug-testing program for student-athletes. The team also announced that two reserve running backs, Jewel Hampton and Brandon Wegher, were transferring.

And yet Iowa still won the game, rallying to upset Missouri 27-24.

Another Insight Bowl matchup is on tap Friday night against Oklahoma, and Iowa once again is dealing with some adversity. Sophomore running back Marcus Coker, the team's most productive offensive weapon, is suspended for an undisclosed violation of team policy. There are other potential personnel issues, which Ferentz deflected Tuesday, but replacing Coker's 281 carries and 1,354 rush yards is the big one.

"It's football," Ferentz told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "If our running back had sprained his ankle, he wouldn't play then, either. So you don't surrender and forfeit the game. You keep playing. It happens all year long. Players are in and out. Somebody has to be ready to step in, and everybody else has to help those guys out."

Coker was that guy for Iowa last December, rushing for a team-bowl record 219 yards and two touchdowns against Missouri. But his loss leaves the Hawkeyes with a stable of unproven backs.

Ferentz said Jason White, who he describes as "steady" and "dependable," and Brad Rogers, who has mostly played fullback for Iowa, likely will be the team's top two ball-carrying options Friday against Oklahoma. Freshmen Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock are the next two in line.

"We'll basically use everybody we have," Ferentz said. "I don't know if I foresee us getting 200 yards like a year ago, and if we did, it will probably be three, four, five guys contributing to that yardage, not one. We'll do it by committee and just see how it goes."

Iowa's passing attack has been very effective at times, especially early in the season when the Hawkeyes employed some no-huddle. Oklahoma ranks just 83rd nationally against the pass.

But the Hawkeyes won't abandon their run game Friday night. Because they can't.

"We have to at least attempt it," Ferentz said. "We're not built to throw it 70 times a game. It's just not our mode of operation. If we get in a situation like that, it's not good. But the group's capable. They've been practicing well and they'll step up and do a good job."

The suspensions of both Coker and freshman Mika'il McCall have once again placed the spotlight on Iowa's running back position, which has seen an extraordinary amount of turmoil since the departure of Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene after the 2008 season. Five promising backs have dealt with off-field issues since Greene's departure.

"I wish I could explain it," Ferentz said. "There's no conspiracy theory or anything like that. We've just had some situations. You have to evaluate each one on an individual basis. We have had our share of transactions and transition. We'll get it settled down again."

When bowl games kick off, Iowa usually finds a way.

Iowa running back curse continues

December, 20, 2011
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In 2008, Iowa caught a big break at the running back position when Shonn Greene went from furniture warehouse employee to Doak Walker Award winner.

Since then, the Hawkeyes haven't had much good fortune with their running backs. Whether it's injuries or off-field problems, Iowa's running back depth has taken hit after hit since Greene's magical season.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Coker
Byron Hetzler-US PRESSWIREStar RB Marcus Coker will not be allowed to play in the Hawkeyes' bowl game against Oklahoma.
The latest blow came Tuesday as the team announced starting running back Marcus Coker has been suspended for the Insight Bowl for disciplinary reasons. Iowa didn't elaborate on the suspension, saying only that Coker violated the school's student-athlete code of conduct. The sophomore will not travel with the team to Arizona later this week.

It marks the second consecutive year Iowa will play the Insight Bowl without its top back. Adam Robinson was suspended for the game last year for failing to comply with team policies. Iowa announced Robinson's suspension on the same day it confirmed running back Jewel Hampton, the team's second-leading rusher in 2008, would be transferring. Hampton dealt with injuries and off-field issues. Another promising running back, Brandon Wegher, announced late last season that he would also be transferring (he took a leave of absence from the team in August 2010). Weeks after Iowa announced Robinson's suspension, Robinson was arrested for marijuana possession.

Coker ended up rescuing Iowa in the 2010 Insight Bowl, rushing for a team bowl record 219 yards and two touchdowns in a win against Missouri.

He has been a huge part of Iowa's offense this season, accounting for 80.7 percent of the team's rushing yards (1,384), 15 of the team's 18 rush touchdowns and 281 of the team's 417 carries. Coker leads the Big Ten in carries and ranks second in rushing average (115.3 ypg).

Who will Iowa turn to at running back? Promising freshman Mika'il McCall was suspended for the regular-season finale against Nebraska, and his status for the bowl game is very much in doubt.

Iowa likely will turn to DeAndre Johnson, Jordan Canzeri, Damon Bullock and Jason White at running back. Johnson leads the crew with just 18 carries this season.

Gulp.

It's hard not to see Iowa becoming pretty one-dimensional against Oklahoma. The good news is the Sooners struggle against the pass, ranking 83rd nationally.

The bigger issue is why Iowa can't keep running backs on the field. The Hawkeyes seem to have little trouble developing running backs, but the lack of depth has become a major problem.

The great debate: Big Ten's best RB

November, 9, 2011
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The 2010 season wasn't a great one for Big Ten running backs.

The league's best running back played quarterback (Michigan's Denard Robinson). Illinois' Mikel Leshoure flew under the radar but was a nationally elite back in every sense of the word.

But after those two, meh. The league boasted some solid backs -- Edwin Baker, James White, Dan Herron, Adam Robinson, John Clay -- but no one you had to watch every time he took the field. The Big Ten's real star power could be found on the defensive line, as five players went on to become first round picks in the NFL draft.

This season, it's all about the running backs in the Big Ten. The league boasts four players averaging more than 105 rush yards per game, all of whom rank among the nation's top 21 rushers. No other league has more backs in the top 25 nationally than the Big Ten.

So who's the Big Ten's best running back in 2011? It's already one of the more spirited debates around the conference.

Let's meet the candidates (in alphabetical order):
Now let's take a closer look at each player and how they stack up.

MONTEE BALL

Vitals: 5-11, 210, junior from Wentzville, Mo.

2011 stats: 162 carries for 1,076 yards and 21 touchdowns, 119.6 ypg, 6.64 ypc, 13 receptions for 229 yards and 3 touchdowns, 1-for-1 passing with a 25-yard touchdown

[+] EnlargeWisconsin Badgers running back Montee Ball
Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIREWisconsin Badgers running back Montee Ball leads the nation with 24 touchdowns.
Things to know: Ball leads the nation with 24 touchdowns, tying the team record set by Brian Calhoun. He needs just two touchdowns to tie the Big Ten single-season record held by three players. Ball scores a touchdown every 7.3 touches. ... Ball leads the Big Ten in all-purpose yards (145 per game). He ranks fifth nationally among FBS running backs in combined rushing-receiving yards. ... He has scored at least one touchdown in each of his last 15 games and 39 touchdowns during the span. ... Ball has rushed for at least 115 yards in eight of his last nine games against Big Ten opponents. ... Like the other Wisconsin backs, Ball has no fumbles (lost or recovered) this season. ... Despite a strong finish to last season, Ball transformed his body in the winter and spring, shedding weight to add speed while maintaining his power.

Supporting cast: Ball has the best supporting cast of the four candidates. He runs behind one of the nation's best offensive lines, a group led by NFL prospect Peter Konz. His quarterback, Russell Wilson, is a Heisman Trophy candidate and has brought a new element to Wisconsin's offense. His backup, James White, is the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

The quote: "He's definitely our best practice player. Nobody has practice that hard at that position since I've been here." -- Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema

Quick case for Ball: "Moneyball" is a touchdown-scoring machine and has been absolutely unstoppable for most of the season. Few backs in the country have been more effective than Ball since the middle of last season. He doesn't put the ball on the ground and consistently moves it forward and into the end zone. He didn't rest on his laurels in the offseason and got better physically.

Quick case against Ball: Wisconsin's track record of running the ball probably works against Ball with the other candidates. The Badgers always have a dominant back (or three) and terrific offensive lines. Wilson's presence also has opened things up for Ball in the run game.

REX BURKHEAD

Vitals: 5-11, 210, junior from Plano, Texas

2011 stats: 187 carries for 951 yards and 13 touchdowns, 105.7 ypg, 5.1 ypc, 14 receptions for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns

[+] EnlargeRex Burkhead
Jesse Johnson/US PresswireNebraska running back Rex Burkhead averages 6.16 yards per carry in the fourth quarter this season for the Cornhuskers.
Things to know: Burkhead has recorded five 100-yard rushing performances in the last seven games, including against two of the nation's better rush defenses in Michigan State and Ohio State. He turned in a heroic performance in the win against the Spartans, carrying 35 times, the third-highest total in team history. ... Burkhead has gotten better as games have gone on. He has 43 fourth-quarter carries and has averaged 6.16 yards in the final quarter. Burkhead had 109 second-half yards and 96 fourth-quarter yards in Nebraska's historic comeback win against Ohio State. ... He has lost just 32 yards on 187 carries. ... Of his 38 carries in the red zone, Burkhead has gained a first down or a touchdown on 15 rushes. He has rushed for at least one touchdown in every game this season. ... Former Texas high school star nicknamed "Superman," Burkhead did a bit of everything for Nebraska in 2010, even taking some snaps as a Wildcat quarterback.

Supporting cast: Burkhead shares a backfield with another rushing threat in quarterback Taylor Martinez, who has 712 rush yards and nine touchdowns this season. While Martinez demands the attention of opposing defenses, he also takes away some carries and scoring opportunities for Burkhead. Nebraska's offensive line entered the season banged-up and extremely young, but the group has come together nicely. The Huskers' passing attack ranks 101st nationally, and Martinez and his receivers have had their ups and downs. After Burkhead and Martinez, no other Nebraska player has more than 25 carries.

The quote: "He might not be the flashiest guy in the world. I wouldn't trade him for anybody. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and how he plays the game." -- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini

Quick case for Burkhead: He's one of the more reliable players in the country and an absolute joy to watch. He doesn't mess around with excessive moves and blends speed and power extremely well. Unlike Ball and Coker, he doesn't operate in an offense with a strong passing threat, and he's produced against some solid defenses.

Quick case against Burkhead: His numbers don't pop off the page like some of the other candidates'. Burkhead's most impressive performance (against MSU) was more of a workmanlike effort (35 carries, 3.7 ypc) than one that wows you. He doesn't have many long runs in Big Ten play (longest is 22 yards).

MARCUS COKER

Vitals: 6-0, 230, sophomore from Beltsville, Md.

2011 stats: 211 carries for 1,101 yards and 12 touchdowns, 122.3 ypg, 5.2 ypc, 15 receptions for 94 yards

[+] EnlargeIowa Hawkeyes running back Marcus Coker
Byron Hetzler-US PRESSWIREIowa running back Marcus Coker is setting records for the Hawkeyes.
Things to know: Coker leads the Big Ten in carries, rushing yards and rushing average (he ranks sixth nationally). ... He has six 100-yard rushing performances this season. His 12 rushing touchdowns tie for the fourth-highest single-season total in team history ... Coker ranks second in the Big Ten and 41st nationally in all-purpose yards (132.8 ypg). ... His 252 rushing yards yards in an Oct. 22 game at Minnesota ranks as third best single-game total in school history. ... He's one of only four backs in Iowa history to record multiple 200-yard rushing performances. ... Coker has eclipsed 120 rush yards and scored two touchdowns in each of his last four games, all against Big Ten opponents.

Supporting cast: Coker runs behind one of the better Big Ten offensive lines, led by NFL draft prospect Riley Reiff at left tackle. Iowa isn't quite as powerful up front as Wisconsin but boasts a better line than both Penn State and Nebraska. Quarterback James Vandenberg has had a very strong season passing the ball, and defenses must respect Iowa's aerial attack and receiving corps, led by star senior Marvin McNutt. Coker has been Iowa's bell cow, as no other Hawkeyes running back has logged more than 18 carries.

The quote: "Marcus is the type of back that makes your offensive line want to block for him. So we definitely love him, and we love blocking for him, and we don't want anyone else back there." -- Iowa center James Ferentz, to The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette

The case for Coker: He leads the Big Ten in rushing and has improved as the season has progressed. He boasts arguably the best combination of power and big-play potential among the candidates, recording six runs of 25 yards or more and three of 41 yards or more. While some of the other candidates are solid, reliable runners, Coker has the rare ability to simply dominate a game.

The case against Coker: He struggled with fumbles at the start of the year and hurt Iowa in its Week 2 loss to Iowa State. He benefits from Iowa's lack of depth at running back and gets more carries than other candidates. He averaged a pedestrian 4.3 yards per rush through Iowa's first five games. He feasted on mostly average defenses.

[+] EnlargeSilas Redd
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State running back Silas Redd carries a heavy workload in the Nittany Lions offense.
SILAS REDD

Vitals: 5-10, 209, sophomore from Norwalk, Conn.

2011 stats: 195 carries for 1,006 yards and 7 touchdowns, 111.8 ypg, 5.2 ypc, eight receptions for 31 yards

Things to know: Redd recorded five consecutive 100-yard games and led all FBS players with 703 rushing yards in October. He averaged 140.6 yards per game and 5.3 yards per carry during the month. He's the first Penn State player to record five consecutive 100-yard games since former All-American Curtis Enis in 1997. ... He already has eclipsed 1,000 rush yards for the season, becoming the 12th Penn State player to do so. ... He already has 118 carries more than he had all of last season and has racked up 28 or more carries in four of Penn State's five Big Ten games. ... He has lost just 19 yards on 195 carries. ... Redd worked on his body during the offseason and added 10-15 pounds to help with an increased workload. He also changed his running style, becoming a more straight-ahead, downhill power back.

Supporting cast: Redd has the weakest supporting cast of the candidates, underscoring how impressive his performance has been this season. Penn State has rotated two quarterbacks all season and had very limited success in the passing game, so the offense relies heavily on Redd to produce. The offensive line is performing better in recent weeks but hasn't been as strong as Wisconsin's and Iowa's, and even Nebraska's. Redd has gotten a bit of help from fellow backs Beachum and Curtis Dukes, but Dukes is second on Penn State's carries list with only 35.

The quote: "He can hurt you with his speed and his elusiveness outside, and he can run between the tackles. He's a pretty complete back." -- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini

The case for Redd: He has been an absolute workhorse for a struggling Penn State offense and transformed himself into a complete back in just his sophomore season. Redd had the most impressive month of any candidate (October), and he did it all against Big Ten competition. He has the weakest supporting cast and, along with Coker, he's clearly his team's main ball-carrier.

The case against Redd: The main knock on Redd is he doesn't score enough touchdowns. He has 14 fewer rush touchdowns than Ball, six fewer than Burkhead and five fewer than Coker. Redd also has had some fumbling issues that have ended promising Penn State drives.
Marcus Coker envisioned following in Shonn Greene's footsteps when he signed on to play running back at Iowa. Another type of star system also led him to the Hawkeyes.

Since his mother bought him a telescope at age 7, Coker has been fascinated by the stars in the sky. One of the reasons he chose Iowa out of DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland, he said, was the school's department of physics and astronomy. Coker is pursuing a double major in both fields and says his dream is to some day work for NASA.

A Hawkeye in space?

"Nah," he says. "I want to stay on the ground."

[+] EnlargeMarcus Coker
David Purdy/Getty ImagesMarcus Coker hopes to build on a strong finish to his 2010 season.
That looks like a pretty good plan for Iowa this season as well, thanks to the promising sophomore tailback. Coker might have been eclipsed at the beginning of last season, but by the end he looked like a supernova.

His jaw-dropping Insight Bowl performance has fans salivating at his future potential. Stepping in for the suspended Adam Robinson, Coker shattered school bowl records with 219 rushing yards on 33 attempts in the 27-24 win over Missouri.

Coker didn't even figure to crack the depth chart initially as a freshman, with fellow backs Robinson, Jewel Hampton and Brandon Wegher all ahead of him. Coker was further set back by a broken collarbone in preseason camp.

"There was no way to get physical reps after that, so I just tried to get mental reps and more than anything learn the offense," he said. "I really didn't think I would play much. That was my goal, but I didn't have any expectations."

But then Hampton and Wegher transferred, and Robinson was sidelined by both academic and legal issues. Coker was playing a big role by the end of the season, rushing for 129 yards against Indiana and scoring his first touchdown versus Ohio State. With Robinson gone and little experience behind him, Coker is the unquestioned leader in the backfield now. He's trying to keep the same attitude he had last summer.

"I look at myself as if I'm last on the depth chart, and I want to be first," he said. "[The bowl] game just brings a lot of expectations, so I'm trying to push myself hard and live up to all those expectations."

Expectations may be unreasonably high after a 219-yard bowl performance, but Coker says, "All I know is I'm going to go out and try to rush for more than that every game. If it happens, it happens."

He's not unfamiliar with huge games. In high school, he gained national attention by rushing for a school record 392 yards and five touchdowns to lead DeMatha to a victory over rival Gilman.

Coker is a load at 6-foot, 230 pounds. He said he's been working this offseason on improving his quickness and agility, but he knows the most important thing is to keep his pads low.

"When you have that much weight behind you, it's kind of hard not to run over some corners and safeties," he said.

There's a softer side to him too, though. Coker was recognized in high school for performing more than 1,000 community-service hours, donating his time to working with the mentally challenged and volunteering at animal shelters.

"I get that from my mom," he said. "She has worked with mentally challenged people since I was born. She's always giving to other people, and I want to give back."

That's the kind of attitude that could make Marcus Coker a true star.
CHICAGO -- A few assorted nuggets from Day 2 of the Big Ten spring meetings at the Palmer House Hilton:

The issue of whether or not the Big Ten should go to a nine-game conference schedule won't get resolved during these meetings. But commissioner Jim Delany said that all the schools are "in principle open to it."

The only holdup, Delany said, is figuring out a way in which every team could still get seven home games each season. And that's up to the league office to determine.

"I really do think the onus is back on us," he said. "We got some scheduling information on the out years, and now we have to be able to put that together in a way that satisfies all 12 athletic directors."

Delany said there's no firm timetable on a decision but that the league is "looking at it now."
  • A pair of Big Ten teams announced the loss of running backs on Tuesday.


    Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said that Adam Robinson, the Hawkeyes' starting tailback and leading rusher the past two seasons, will not return to the program. Robinson had been dismissed from the team following a marijuana arrest in December but remained in school on scholarship hoping for another chance.


    Wisconsin senior tailback Zach Brown is planning to transfer, head coach Bret Bielema said. Brown, whose best year came when he rushed for 568 yards as a freshman in 2007, was buried behind Montee Ball and James White on the Badgers' depth chart. Because he is on course to graduate this summer, he could become immediately eligible for another team this season.
  • Count Pat Fitzgerald among the supporters of embattled Ohio State coach Jim Tressel.


    The Northwestern coach said he sent Tressel a text message earlier this year that said "Thinking of you ... got your back" as the Buckeyes' leader was dealing with stories of potential NCAA violations. Fitzgerald said he has had a great relationship with Tressel over the years while the two served on various committees together.


    "More than anything, I tried to let him know I was there and have his back," Fitzgerald said. "He's been unbelievable with me since the moment I had a chance to start a relationship with him, and I've always been thankful for that."
  • Purdue coach Danny Hope is willing to go along with whatever the conference wants, but he's in favor of holding the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis for a couple of reasons.


    "Being from south Florida, I'd rather be under a roof that time of year, but that's just a personal preference," he said. "Certainly, having it close to home under a roof is exciting to me. That part's a no-brainer."
  • Hope said the coaches once again discussed the idea of an early signing date in college football at this year's meetings, but that there are still many issues to iron out.


    "It's a good idea with a lot of merit, but I don't think we're any further this year than we were a year ago," he said. "The one thing about these meetings that's maybe the most intriguing is that we talk about the same things year in and year out."
Valentine's Day is about love, but it's also about heartbreak.

Every Big Ten team has felt a little heartbreak from time to time, whether it's a coach leaving for another position, a recruit choosing another college destination or key players veering off track.

Here are some heartbreakers for Big Ten squads:

1. Ohio State's Tat 5: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four of his teammates broke some Buckeye fans' hearts by selling memorabilia, including Big Ten championship rings and Gold Pants, for cash and tattoos. The "Tat 5" helped themselves with their Sugar Bowl performances and their pledge to return for their senior seasons, but their absence for the first part of the 2011 season could sting.

2. Brent Pease, Jerry Montgomery, Corey Raymond and Jemal Singleton: All four assistants joined Kevin Wilson's new staff at Indiana but soon bolted for other jobs. Montgomery (Michigan) and Raymond (Nebraska) left for other posts within the Big Ten. Ouch.

3. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Adam Robinson: Iowa's all-time leading receiver and top running back the past two seasons both missed the Insight Bowl following December arrests. DJK, who had an extremely productive career in Iowa City, is trying to restore his rep before the NFL draft. Robinson wants another chance at Iowa but right now it looks like a long shot.

4. Tate Forcier: After an encouraging season on the field, the Michigan backup quarterback was ruled academically ineligible right before the Gator Bowl. It proved to be the end for Forcier, who last week transferred to Miami.

5. Jacoby Brissett: Wisconsin held a scholarship spot for the quarterback recruit, but he didn't even have the Badgers in his final two choices (Miami and Florida). Brissett ended up signing with the Gators.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz held his annual signing day news conference earlier Wednesday, but as you'd expect, he spent most of his time talking about last week's player hospitalizations.

A few nuggets from Ferentz:
  • Iowa will no longer hold the 100-squat, timed workout that led to 13 players being hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis. But Ferentz said the same workout has been conducted four times before during his tenure with no problems. Players most recently went through the workout in December 2007. They also went through a max-out squat session in June 2004 after a four-week break, much like the layoff that took place before the recent workouts.
  • Ferentz: "We have done something of equal challenge, at least in our opinion, four times. The question begs to be asked is what happened here and why this time and not the other three?"
  • Ferentz defended strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle and his staff, saying that the team's workouts are "designed to be rigorous and also designed to be safe. I think they were in this case." He added of Doyle: "He’s the most sought-after coach I’ve ever been around."
  • The coach also stood by the reports that Doyle challenged players during the workout, telling them, "We'll find out who wants to be here." Ferentz echoed the statement, saying, "I've used those words in the past and I'll use them in the future. And, quite frankly, every day I come to work, that's something I give consideration to."
  • Ferentz went through the timetable of his activities last week. He actually returned to Iowa City on Tuesday before going out on the road Wednesday. The coach ultimately acknowledged that he should have been with the players and their families sooner. "I could have done anything; that's for sure," Ferentz said. "That's a decision I made, and I said that's bad judgment on my part. It's a call that I made. And it's kind of like going for it on fourth down or not; sometimes you're right and sometimes you're wrong."
  • The players are recovering well, but there's no timetable for their return to full team activities. "[Doctors] are going to be very prudent and cautious and make sure no players are at risk before they return," Ferentz said.
  • Ferentz hasn't given much thought to running back Adam Robinson's wish to return to the team. Stay tuned on this issue.

From the quotes I've seen and the response from media members and Iowa fans, Ferentz seemed to handle himself and a delicate situation very well Wednesday. You have to wonder if the polished coach could have limited the backlash against himself and the program if he had a news conference in the middle of last week. Perception is huge in college football, and Iowa didn't help itself in this situation.

A lot of good information from Wednesday's news conference. Ferentz answered a lot of important questions, although he, like the rest of us, will wait for more answers from Iowa's investigation into what happened.
National Signing Day is just about a week away, so let's take a look at the recruiting needs for each Big Ten team.

In compiling these lists, I tried to look at positions that have depth issues for 2011 and/or 2012.

Let's start off with the Legends division.

IOWA

Running back: Marcus Coker's breakout performance in the Insight Bowl got Iowa fans excited for the future, but there's still a significant depth issue here. If Adam Robinson can't get reinstated, the Hawkeyes will be looking for No. 2 and No. 3 options behind Coker. As we've seen the past two seasons, freshmen backs will see the field at Iowa.

Linebacker: Iowa felt the losses of Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds this season, and it must continue to rebuild the depth at the three linebacker spots. Multiyear starter Jeremiha Hunter departs along with players like Jeff Tarpinian and Troy Johnson. Iowa needs to build around rising star James Morris.

Wide receiver/tight end: Iowa loses Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Allen Reisner and Colin Sandeman this year. Also, receiver Marvin McNutt and tight end Brad Herman depart after the 2011 season. Although the Hawkeyes boast young talent at both positions, they need to build depth with this class.

MICHIGAN

Secondary: The Wolverines couldn't find many answers here in 2010, and though the return of players like cornerbacks Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd will help, there are opportunities for freshmen to make an immediate impact. Michigan simply needs more options at both secondary spots in 2011.

Defensive line: It's crucial for coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to begin building depth up front. Future NFL player Mike Martin departs after 2011 along with Ryan Van Bergen, so Michigan needs to solidify both line positions.

Kicker: Field goals were an adventure in 2010, and Michigan simply can't have so much uncertainty at kicker going forward. The Wolverines need a reliable leg here ASAP.

MICHIGAN STATE

Linebacker: I like some of the young linebackers the Spartans bring back in 2011, but you can't overlook the losses of multiyear starters Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, not to mention reserve Jon Misch. Michigan State should have a decent group of first-string 'backers, but wants to build depth in the defensive midsection.

Offensive line: Not only do the Spartans lose three starters from the 2010 line, but they're still not where they need to be depth-wise up front to become a consistent top-tier Big Ten program. Michigan State wants to become like Iowa and Wisconsin. The big step is to keep fortifying both lines, especially on the offensive side.

MINNESOTA

Pass rusher: Minnesota finished last in the Big Ten in sacks last season (9) and hasn't had an intimidating pass rusher since Willie VanDeSteeg in 2008. The recent departure of defensive tackle Jewhan Edwards, who led the team in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009, underscores this need.

Offensive line: The Gophers lose three starters up front, and while they boast some promising young linemen like tackle Ed Olson, the depth just isn't there yet. Minnesota's best teams had powerful offensive lines, and new coach Jerry Kill must continue to create competition up front.

NEBRASKA

Running back: The Huskers lose standout Roy Helu Jr., and while Rex Burkhead quickly will become one of my favorite Big Ten players, he might not be an every-down back for Nebraska going forward. You always want options in the backfield, and Nebraska must continue to address its run game with the 2011 class.

Wide receiver: Nebraska loses Niles Paul and wants to identify playmakers to surround Taylor Martinez or whomever starts at quarterback. Brandon Kinnie departs after the 2011 season, and while Burkhead helps in the receiving department, Nebraska needs others to emerge.

NORTHWESTERN

Running back: Although Mike Trumpy and Adonis Smith emerged as possible answers late in the 2010 season, Northwestern needs to create real competition here. The Wildcats have lacked a dominant back during the Pat Fitzgerald era and need a dangerous rushing option to complement Dan Persa.

Defensive line: The Wildcats lose only one starter (Corbin Bryant) from the 2010 squad, but four more rotation players (Vince Browne, Jack DiNardo, Kevin Watt and Niko Mafuli) depart after 2011. Fortifying the pass rush is a major priority going forward.
Adam Robinson wants a second chance to play football for Iowa.

The sophomore running back, dismissed from the program earlier this month following a Dec. 27 arrest for marijuana possession, made his case for a return Sunday in a meeting with reporters. In this video, Robinson apologies for his transgressions, discusses his plans to begin drug counseling in Iowa City and talks about how he passed up opportunities to play football elsewhere in order to return to Iowa and continue his education there.

[+] EnlargeAdam Robinson
Andrew Weber/US PresswireAdam Robinson is appealing to Kirk Ferentz for another chance to play for Iowa.
There's also an interesting subplot relating to the concussions Robinson suffered late in the season. His mother contends that the concussion caused problematic symptoms for Robinson, which likely impacted his academic performance.

Although Robinson never was ruled academically ineligible, he missed the first quarter of a Nov. 20 game against Ohio State for what coach Kirk Ferentz called "academic indigestion" and later was suspended for the Insight Bowl.
"When I was going through all the concussion-ary symptoms, I wasn’t necessarily able to get all of my study hours at the learning center,” he said. “I felt they should've backed off on my hours, especially when I was at the peak of having concussion-ary symptoms -- headaches, things like that. That didn't happen."

Robinson said he understood the risks of using marijuana and only did so "once in a while." He admitted that his usage increased after the initial concussion but doesn't directly connect the two, calling it "a very stressful time." He also vowed that he's making the necessary changes to his life.
"I hope my actions this semester will show I've changed, and I'm changing,” Robinson said. “I realize I've made some bad choices. Hopefully, with the progress I'm planning to make, it will re-open the door."

Does Robinson deserve another shot at Iowa?

Let me first say that no matter what happens with football, I'm glad Robinson is back at school and trying to address his issues both off the field and in the classroom. He's not running away from his problems and he sounds genuinely remorseful about what happened. Even if he's not allowed back on the team -- an understandable decision -- I hope he continues to work toward his degree.

As my guy Marc Morehouse points out, Robinson's problems seem to occur when he's home in Des Moines. He seems better off in Iowa City.

The key issue here is timing. Robinson left Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz no choice when his marijuana arrest came just days after the Derrell Johnson-Koulianos mess and Iowa's drug testing program for athletes being placed in the national spotlight.
"I can definitely understand from coach Ferentz's point," Robinson said. "He was taking a lot of heat for what was going on. He did give me a lot of opportunities and I just wasn’t able to abide by the rules."
Robinson's mother added: "I would hope that had it been a different time, Kirk would have looked at it a little different, but I certainly understand the stress he was under."

Robinson and his mother are right. If Robinson's arrest takes place a few months earlier, he's most likely still with the team. It didn't help that the arrest came after his academic troubles, but the timing was undoubtedly the biggest factor working against him.

While Ferentz probably wasn't thrilled to see Robinson appeal to the media, I hope he considers reinstating the running back under strict conditions:

  • Robinson should have to complete his drug counseling program
  • He must subject to frequent drug testing
  • He must remain in excellent academic standing (excellent isn't a 2.5 GPA) with no legal issues
  • He can return under a zero tolerance policy, meaning any transgression on the field, off the field or in the classroom results in automatic dismissal

If Robinson can meet the demands, he deserves a second chance.

Then again, Ferentz has every right to stick to his initial decision.

Robinson's decisions were bad. His timing was worse. But he still could turn things around.
It's time to take a look back at the highlights (there were a few) and lowlights (more of these) from the 2010-11 Big Ten bowl season.

Best performance: Iowa running back Marcus Coker in the Insight Bowl. You can make good cases for Terrelle Pryor and Nathan Scheelhaase as well, but Coker's performance under tough circumstances was absolutely amazing. The true freshman entered the Insight Bowl as Iowa's only reliable option at running back after Adam Robinson's suspension. He proceeded to rush for 219 yards -- an Iowa bowl record -- and two touchdowns as the Hawkeyes beat Missouri.

[+] EnlargeDane Sanzenbacher
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDane Sanzenbacher's fumble recovery for a touchdown kept the momentum for Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
Best save: Dane Sanzenbacher showed why his Ohio State teammates voted him MVP on the opening drive of the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Pryor neared the goal line on an electrifying run but fumbled the ball into the end zone. An Arkansas recovery would have turned momentum, but Sanzenbacher saved his quarterback by falling on the ball for his first career "rushing touchdown." Ohio State surged to a 28-7 lead and held on to win 31-26.

Worst defense: There are several nominees, as Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern combined to allow 146 points in bowl losses. It's a tough call between the Michigan schools, but I've got to go with the Wolverines, who suffered the worst bowl loss in team history and surrendered 52 points to a Mississippi State team with a good, but not great, offense. Michigan State didn't fare much better against Alabama, which pulled many of its starters early in the third quarter.

Best play: There might not have been a bigger play in the 2010-11 postseason than Micah Hyde's 72-yard interception return for a touchdown with 5:32 left in the Insight Bowl. Iowa's defense looked gassed and Missouri had limited the Hawkeyes' offense to three second-half points before Hyde picked off Blaine Gabbert and took it to the house. Solomon Thomas' interception to seal Ohio State's Sugar Bowl win also merits a mention here.

Worst strategic adjustment: It's hard to attach "worst" to this one, but we're dealing with extremes here. Wisconsin diverted ever so slightly from its season-long plan to pound away at defenses at TCU and paid the price in a 21-19 loss. The Horned Frogs never consistently stopped Wisconsin's backs on runs between the tackles, but the Badgers veered from their power game at inopportune times. Even though Wisconsin's potential 2-point conversion attempt nearly worked, it's still surprising the Badgers didn't go down with their bread-and-butter run game.

Best closing argument: Illinois in the Texas Bowl. The Illini came in at 6-6 and had displayed the maddening inconsistency to suit their record. But they put it all together against Baylor in a dominating victory. Vic Koenning's defense held Robert Griffin III in check and Scheelhaase showed significant progress from the end of the regular season to the bowl and provided the type of offensive balance Illinois needed.

Worst closing argument: Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl. Coach Mark Dantonio talked about the game as a chance to "measure up," but the Spartans flat-lined and provided fuel to their critics with a poor performance. Although Michigan State admittedly overachieved this season, a co-conference champion has to be more competitive in such a big setting. Not the type of ending Michigan State wanted for a breakthrough season.

Best quote: Wisconsin players stole the show at Rose Bowl media headquarters leading up to the game. Safety Jay Valai provided several gems, including this one about coming to Wisconsin from Texas. "No. 1 party school, No. 1 college sports town and No. 9 education. I said, 'Hey, you live once, why not Wisconsin?' It's been a great move, except dealing with that cold, cold weather. Not good for my African blood."

Best bowl atmosphere: The Rose Bowl isn't only the best Big Ten bowl atmosphere, but the best setting in all of college sports. Fans from both Wisconsin and TCU turned out in force, and the weather held up to create an unbelievable environment in Pasadena. Wisconsin fans did the "Jump Around" at the end of the third quarter, shaking the stadium and making California natives like me get a little nervous that the Big One had finally arrived.

Worst pre-bowl storyline: The annual Joe Paterno retirement rumors. These are really getting old, pun intended. I could seriously do a separate blog that only addressed the incessant buzz about the Penn State coach stepping aside. The JoePa retirement talk dominated the days leading up to the Outback Bowl, and along with the Urban Meyer situation, we didn't hear much about the game itself. The Ohio State suspension situation also dominated the talk leading up to the Sugar Bowl.
Five lessons from the 2010-11 Big Ten bowl season.

1. The Big Ten lacks depth. Not a real revelation here, but the Big Ten lacked the depth it displayed in the previous postseason. Although both Ohio State and Wisconsin held their own in BCS games, the Michigan schools melted down against the SEC and neither Penn State nor Northwestern could beat so-so opponents. If not for mini upsets by both Iowa and Illinois, the bowls would have been a total disaster.

2. The new bowl lineup might be tougher. The Big Ten does itself no favors in the bowls, and the new lineup isn't helping matters. Big Ten teams went 1-2 in the new bowls, winning the Texas Bowl but falling in both the Gator and the TicketCity. Placing two teams in BCS games every season means everyone moves up a slot, so it's unrealistic to expect the Big Ten to post too many winning records in postseason play.

3. Terrelle Pryor is a big-time bowl performer. It's certainly debatable whether Pryor and four Ohio State teammates should have been allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl, but Pryor stepped up his game for the second consecutive season. The Buckeyes junior quarterback blocked out the distractions and turned in an impressive performance, passing for 221 yards and two touchdowns and adding 115 rush yards. He earned MVP honors in a BCS bowl for the second straight year.

4. Michigan State isn't there yet. These aren't your same old Spartans. They proved otherwise during an unforgettable regular season. But with a chance to "measure up" against defending national champ Alabama, Michigan State crumbled in a humbling Capital One Bowl defeat. Although 'Bama wasn't your typical 9-3 squad this season, Michigan State learned it still has some steps to take to become an elite program.

5. Iowa's run game will be just fine. Adam Robinson's suspension and subsequent dismissal appeared to be the latest blow for Iowa's depth-deprived run game. But true freshman Marcus Coker made the concerns disappear and, in the process, raised hope for next season with a historic performance in the Insight Bowl. Coker rushed for 219 yards and two touchdowns -- the second-highest total by a Big Ten freshman in a bowl behind Wisconsin's Ron Dayne in the 1996 Copper Bowl -- as Iowa rallied past Missouri. The Hawkeyes know who they want carrying the load in 2011.

Insight Bowl keys

December, 28, 2010
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Here are three keys for Iowa heading into Tuesday night's Insight Bowl matchup against Missouri:

Pressure Blaine Gabbert: Iowa doesn't have enough firepower to keep up with Missouri in a shootout. The Hawkeyes need their veteran defensive line to get in Gabbert's face all game long. They're tied for third in the Big Ten with 20 sacks and will look for big performances from end Adrian Clayborn and others. If Gabbert has time to throw, Iowa will be in big trouble.

Establish some type of run game: This won't be easy without Adam Robinson, as true freshman Marcus Coker looks like Iowa's only option in the run game. But the Hawkeyes don't want to put Ricky Stanzi in too many obvious passing situations against Missouri's speedy pass rushers. Iowa averaged just 91 rush yards in its final three games and will need to find some gaps in the Tigers' defense to set up the play-action pass.

Avoid special teams miscues: Of all the shocking things out of Iowa's season, the mistakes in the kicking game might be at the top of the list. Iowa simply can't afford breakdowns in this game, especially with a shorthanded offense. Missouri boasts strong specialists but isn't strong in the return game. The Hawkeyes will miss Derrell Johnson-Koulianos on kickoff returns.
The Big Ten bowl season finally kicks off Tuesday night in the Arizona desert, as Iowa faces Missouri for the first time in a century.

Here's a quick preview of the Insight Bowl matchup:

WHO TO WATCH: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn. The senior didn't have the dominant season many expected when he passed up a likely first-round selection in the NFL draft to return to school. But Clayborn certainly has the ability to step up in the spotlight. He proved it in the 2010 Orange Bowl, recording nine tackles and two sacks against Georgia Tech en route to winning game MVP honors. Iowa is short-handed on offense and needs a huge game from Clayborn and a veteran defensive line. Clayborn's ability to pressure Missouri senior quarterback Blaine Gabbert will play a major role in deciding the game.

WHAT TO WATCH: Iowa's short-handed offense. The Hawkeyes will play without record-setting receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and leading rusher Adam Robinson, both of whom are suspended. Given Iowa's end-of-season slide in production, the personnel losses could be especially damaging. This is a huge moment for senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi. He has improved in every statistical category, but his late-game mojo seems to have disappeared. If Stanzi can regain his magic and receive good protection against Missouri's talented defensive ends, he could do some damage.

WHY TO WATCH: The Hawkeyes' response from a rough patch both on and off the field will be fascinating. Iowa dropped its final three regular-season games and then endured the DJK mess and the suspension of Robinson. How will the Hawkeyes respond? They need their seniors on both sides of the ball to display strong leadership, particularly late in the game after blowing fourth-quarter leads in four of five regular-season losses. As disappointing as the season has been, Iowa still can win a third consecutive bowl game for the first time in team history.

PREDICTION: Iowa 21, Missouri 20. Bowl games have brought out the best in Iowa the past two seasons, and despite all the turmoil, I think the Hawkeyes' seniors will put together a good performance. The defensive line harasses Gabbert and forces several miscues, and Stanzi makes enough plays in the passing game to keep Iowa close. After so many close losses, Iowa finds a way to win a nailbiter.

Insight Bowl: Three keys for Missouri

December, 27, 2010
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1. Take care of the football. It sounds obvious, but Iowa's offense doesn't look like a unit capable of stringing together 80-yard drives with any kind of consistency. The Hawkeyes are playing without leading receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and leading rusher Adam Robinson. If the Tigers hand the ball over to the Hawkeyes on the Missouri side of the field, playing through those losses becomes a lot easier very quickly. The good news for Missouri is the Tigers have turned the ball over just 16 times in 12 games this season, tied for fewest in the Big 12 with Oklahoma and tied for 15th fewest in the country. Who has the fewest? Iowa, of course. The Hawkeyes have just nine turnovers, tied with Big Ten champion Wisconsin.

2. Establish the screen game with T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew. Missouri has had success doing it more often than not in 2010, but it'll be especially important against a stingy Iowa defense that ranks sixth nationally against the run and 54th against the pass. The Tigers flip it to the edge to Moe and Egnew often as an extension of their running game. Doing so should soften up the middle for the Tigers and allow some double teams on the Iowa defensive line. The screen also gets the ball out of quarterback Blaine Gabbert's hands quickly and minimizes Iowa's biggest asset -- that defensive line. The more five and seven-step drops Gabbert has to take -- be it on third-and-long or otherwise -- the more impact that front four can have.

3. Score early. Iowa's offense ranks just 61st nationally in total offense, and isn't built for big points. The Hawkeyes have scored 20 points just once -- against Indiana -- in their past four games. If Missouri goes up 14-0 in the first quarter or early in the second quarter, you may see a group of inexperienced players around Ricky Stanzi trying to make the big play, or Stanzi himself forcing a few passes. Missouri can comfortably beat Iowa if the Tigers can convince the Hawkeyes that will it take 30 points or more to win. But if Iowa can control the line of scrimmage early and limit the winning score to only 20 points, then the Hawkeyes can take the game.

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