NCF Nation: Derrell Johnson-Koulianos

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.
When Iowa wrapped up preseason camp, coach Kirk Ferentz left the field despondent about a particular position group.

A defensive line replacing three multiyear starters selected in the NFL draft? Nope.

A secondary that lost two multiyear starters at safety? Guess again.

What about the quarterback spot? Ricky Stanzi, after all, had taken his bionic arm and infectious patriotism to Kansas City.

But Ferentz wasn't fretting about the men throwing passes. He had little faith, however, in the men charged with catching them.

Other than senior Marvin McNutt, an All-Big Ten candidate and a bona fide NFL prospect, Iowa's wide receiving corps left Ferentz feeling empty.

"I was really in the tank about that position," he said. "We really weren't doing very well."

McNutt, who racked up 87 catches for 1,535 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns in the past two seasons, shared his coach's concern.

"We thought things were moving a little slow," McNutt told ESPN.com. "And you could see in the first couple games, we didn't click the way we wanted to. I knew we had the talent. Things just needed to happen. When people get a little more game experience, they start playing a little bit better."

Or a lot better.

[+] EnlargeKevonte Martin-Manley
Reese Strickland/US PresswireKevonte Martin-Manley (11) snagged the game-winning touchdown to bring the Hawkeyes all the way back against Pitt.
What looked like a weakness for Iowa has become potentially a major strength as the team opens Big Ten play this week at Penn State. The emergence of junior Keenan Davis and redshirt freshman Kevonte Martin-Manley alongside McNutt, who continues to roll, gives Iowa a formidable receiving corps.

Iowa's big three has combined for 58 catches, 880 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns through the first four games. After McNutt carried the corps in the season opener (140 receiving yards, 2 TDs), both Davis and Martin-Manley have come on strong, particularly during a historic second-half rally against Pitt, when Iowa went to an effective no-huddle pass attack that left its fans drunk with the possibilities for the rest of the season.

The Hawkeyes aren't going to "go 100 percent no-huddle," as Ferentz joked last week, but the receiving corps, along with blossoming junior quarterback James Vandenberg, gives coordinator Ken O'Keefe new ways to stretch the field.

"These guys, if you give them a chance, they need to be making plays," O'Keefe told ESPN.com. "The most fun in football is that receiver position."

Iowa's receivers are having plenty of fun these days.

Davis' emergence is more of a relief than a surprise for the Hawkeyes. The departure of record-setting wideout Derrell Johnson-Koulianos left a void, and most expected Davis to fill it, especially after he made strides this spring and turned heads at the spring scrimmage.

But Davis' progress slowed in August, and he recorded only two catches in the opener. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Davis had a key drop in overtime the next week in Iowa's loss to Iowa State but still finished with five receptions for 95 yards and a touchdowns. He followed it up with a career-best performance in the Pitt comeback (10 catches, 129 yards, TD).

"Keenan Davis is finally realizing his potential a little bit," Ferentz said. "I wouldn't have objected if it happened last year with him. We certainly had plenty of need. ... That's the neat thing about football, especially college and high school football. All players progress at different times. The key thing is that they do progress, and we're starting to see that."

Martin-Manley, a smaller receiver at 6-feet and 205 pounds, plays more in the slot and has benefited from some mismatches in coverage.

"The biggest thing for him was learning where he's going to line up," O'Keefe said. "The second thing is get off the line of scrimmage and run your route, get yourself open. And then once you get all that down, you've got to be able to do it full speed. That's what's happened. He's starting to do some things full speed."

The turning point for the receivers, not surprisingly, came in the Pitt game as Iowa fell behind 24-3 late in the third quarter.

"We all looked at each other and said, 'It's time to make plays, men. We know the ball is going to start flying to us,'" McNutt recalled.

Two passes to Davis and one to Martin-Manley put Iowa at the Pitt 5-yard line, where Vandenberg scored two plays later. Iowa's fourth quarter began with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Davis. Martin-Manley then hauled in touchdowns on consecutive possessions, including the game-winner, a 22-yarder with 2:51 left.

"When that happens," McNutt explained, "it builds a lot of confidence for each other as well as us as a receiving corps."

Iowa will need its receivers to be confident and effective as they face by far their toughest defensive test in Penn State.

"We've been making great strides," McNutt said, "but I wouldn't say we think we’re accomplished yet."
The Big Ten produces plenty of good players each season, but only a select few make the jump from good to great.

Wisconsin's J.J. Watt was one of them in 2010.

Watt turned in a solid sophomore season in 2009, recording 15.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in his first season as a starting defensive end for the Badgers. I ranked Watt at No. 25 in my preseason player countdown, viewing him as a good player with the potential to be great.

Few could have predicted how great Watt would be that following fall. He completed a meteoric rise by earning second-team All-America honors, made more impact plays than any Big Ten defender and finished the season with 21 tackles for loss, seven sacks, three forced fumbles and nine passes deflected. He then became the first Big Ten player selected in April's NFL draft.

Who will be this season's J.J. Watt?

[+] EnlargeMichael Mauti
Kim Klement/US PresswirePenn State linebacker Michael Mauti has star potential, but has been sidetracked by injuries.
Here are five players who could take the step from good to great in 2011.

Penn State LB Michael Mauti: Hopes have been high for Mauti since he arrived in State College, and he has shown that when healthy, he can be a special player. After missing the 2009 season while recovering from a torn ACL, Mauti was hitting his stride last fall before a late-season shoulder injury. If he can stay on the field this fall, he should do big things as a leader for Penn State's defense.

Ohio State DL John Simon: Simon's teammates billed him as a future All-American as a freshman, and he could meet those expectations in 2011. He recorded 8.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries and two pass deflections in his first season as a starter last fall. A weight-room superstar who's among the nation's strongest players, Simon can play either line spot and could see more time as an edge rusher this season.

Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead: A jack of all trades in 2010, Burkhead is in line to emerge as Nebraska's featured running back this fall. Coach Bo Pelini and offensive coordinator Tim Beck have complete faith in the junior, who has grasped the new offense and comes off of a 951-yard rushing performance in 2010. Burkhead won't appear on our preseason top 25 player countdown, but he could be among the league's top 10 players by season's end.

Michigan DT Mike Martin: Martin has gained respect around the Big Ten without putting up monster numbers. His potential as a next-level player is obvious, and he could take a big step forward this season as Michigan revamps its defense under coordinator Greg Mattison. A starting nose tackle the past two seasons, Martin will be moved around more this season and should drop back in coverage from time to time. Expect many more impact plays from No. 68.

Iowa WR Marvin McNutt: McNutt came to Iowa as a quarterback but has settled in as a receiver, where he'll enter his third season as a starter this fall. With Derrell Johnson-Koulianos gone, McNutt becomes Iowa's clear No. 1 wideout. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior is a legit NFL prospect who stretches the field and makes plays in the red zone. He could be in the mix for national honors this season, especially if new quarterback James Vandenberg blossoms.

Big Ten draft bargains

April, 28, 2011
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During my Big Ten chat Wednesday, Dan from B1G Country asked about any NFL draft bargains from the conference this year.

With the draft set to begin Thursday night, I thought this would be a good time to look at some Big Ten players who might benefit teams in the middle or later rounds, or even as free-agent pickups.

Here's one potential bargain from each Big Ten squad (heights and weights according to ESPN's Scouts Inc.).

ILLINOIS
Randall Hunt, G, 6-6, 318
The skinny: Hunt anchored a formidable Illinois offensive line that helped Mikel Leshoure and others run wild in 2010. He shut down Baylor's Phil Taylor in the Texas Bowl and brings a sturdy frame to the interior line. Hunt wouldn't be a bad choice in the later rounds.

INDIANA
James Brewer, T, 6-6, 323
The skinny: I'm hesitant to call Brewer a bargain because he could be off the board early in the draft. Indiana had another tackle, Rodger Saffold, taken with the first pick of the second round in 2010. Brewer has the size to be good at the next level, and if he's still available on the third day, he'd be a nice pick.

IOWA
Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, WR, 5-11, 202
The skinny: The character questions are there, but DJK was an extremely productive player at Iowa and could be a nice late-round addition for a team. He's a strong route runner with good speed and good hands, and he can stretch defenses. If a team is willing to take a bit of a risk, it could be rewarded.

MICHIGAN
Stephen Schilling, G, 6-4, 308
The skinny: Schilling played a ton of football at Michigan and helped the Wolverines to a record-setting offensive performance in 2010. His measurables might not blow teams away, but he's a smart, solid lineman who could be a nice addition in the middle to later rounds.

MICHIGAN STATE
Eric Gordon, LB/S, 5-11, 224
The skinny: Overshadowed by fellow linebacker Greg Jones for much of his career, Gordon quietly produced at an extremely high rate for Michigan State. You could argue he was the Spartans' best linebacker during the second half of the 2010 season. Gordon turned in an impressive performance on pro day and would be a nice pickup late in the draft or as a free agent.

MINNESOTA
Adam Weber, QB, 6-3, 221
The skinny: Some Gophers fans might scoff at this, but I always felt Weber got a raw deal during his college career. He played for three different offensive coordinators, never complained about it and still set a bunch of team records. While his junior season was a disappointment, Weber did some good things last fall and drew respect around the Big Ten. Not a bad pick in the later rounds.

NEBRASKA
Eric Hagg, S, 6-1, 209
The skinny: Hagg is a playmaker, as he showed with a team-high five interceptions plus a school-record 95-yard punt return for a touchdown against Texas. He also brings versatility to the table, having played a safety-linebacker hybrid role last fall for the Blackshirts. Hagg has played on an elite college defense and would be a good get in the middle to late rounds.

NORTHWESTERN
Quentin Davie, LB, 6-4, 238
The skinny: Davie entered the 2010 season as a solid NFL prospect and started off strong but disappeared at times down the stretch. He made big plays throughout his career and boasts good size as an outside linebacker. Davie could help a team as a late-round or free-agent addition if he gets back to his 2009 form.

OHIO STATE
Dane Sanzenbacher, WR, 5-11, 182
The skinny: If I were an NFL general manager, I wouldn't hesitate to draft Sanzenbacher. He lacks ideal measurables but makes up for it with football intelligence and a fearless approach to the game. Sanzenbacher has great hands and became Ohio State's top threat in the red zone this season. He stood out at the Senior Bowl and would be an excellent pick in the middle rounds.

PENN STATE
Evan Royster, RB, 5-11, 212
The skinny: Royster is a patient runner with good vision who could thrive in the right situation at the pro level. His slow start to the 2010 season is a concern, but he picked things up down the stretch and boasts a productive college résumé. If a team needs a running back in the late rounds, Royster would be a nice choice.

PURDUE
Keith Smith, WR, 6-2, 224
The skinny: There's risk here as Smith comes off of tears in two knee ligaments, but a team could get a major steal if the Boilers receiver can stay healthy. He has the size to excel at the pro level and might have been the Big Ten's top receiver had he stayed on the field last season. Smith is a class act who has a chance to be a solid NFL receiver.

WISCONSIN
Scott Tolzien, QB, 6-2, 209
The skinny: He might never be a full-time starter in the NFL, but teams certainly can benefit from having Tolzien on the roster. He's an extremely smart player who makes up for mediocre measurables with superb intangibles. Tolzien is accurate and efficient, and he'll prepare harder than anyone. If a team needs a quarterback in the later rounds, Tolzien would be a great pick.

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- When the preseason polls come out in August, the Iowa Hawkeyes likely won't be included.

That's not a bad thing.

Iowa didn't receive a single vote in the preseason AP Poll in 2002. The Hawkeyes went on to win 11 games and reach the Orange Bowl.

After winning 31 games and two Big Ten titles between 2002-04, Iowa entered the 2005 season ranked No. 11 nationally. It went 7-5 that year.

Despite a strong finish to the 2008 season, the Hawkeyes squeaked into the preseason rankings (No. 22 AP, No. 21 Coaches'). They were nationally relevant but hardly overhyped. And after a major scare against FCS Northern Iowa in Week 1, Iowa slipped out of the polls. It responded with a team-record 9-0 start and finished the season ranked seventh in both polls after winning the Orange Bowl.

The respect Iowa and its rabid fans crave arrived last summer as the Hawkeyes debuted in the Top 10 in both polls. Some even listed Iowa as a fringe national title contender. The team stumbled to 7-5 before a dramatic win in the Insight Bowl.

"When we start kind of off the radar, not in the Top 25, we always seem to raise expectations, within the program, especially," senior tight end Brad Herman said. "It's very easy to slip into the hype, people always patting you on the back and then you lose one or two games and all of a sudden the sky is falling. History shows that's the case."

Hawkeyes' veterans like Herman and defensive tackle Mike Daniels know what it's like to be both hyped and somewhat forgotten. There's no doubt how they'd rather be viewed.

"Iowa guys, we love to play with a chip on our shoulder," Daniels said, "and being under the radar just makes that chip even larger."

[+] EnlargeMike Daniels
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireDefensive lineman Mike Daniels says the Hawkeyes are at their best when they have a chip on their shoulder.
It's also a familiar realm for Iowa players.

Most of them weren't decorated recruits. They play for a program that would much rather list the number of walk-ons it has sent to the NFL than brag about the number of five-star prospects it signs each February.

Iowa players aren't used to hearing how great they are, and Kirk Ferentz and his assistants make sure it stays that way. Although Hawkeye football is the biggest show in the state, the team sometimes goes out of its way to avoid the media spotlight.

The underdog mentality is ingrained in the culture here, and it has helped on fall Saturdays.

"That's the tradition," defensive end Broderick Binns said. "Coach Ferentz looks for guys who are willing to work hard, have good character, who aren't going to be [jerks]. It's not tradition for coach Ferentz to bring in a guy that's four or five stars, who's all glamorous. Iowa's not about that. We're all about, 'Put your feet in the ground and go to work.'"

Iowa will go to work this fall without the potential distractions/pressure brought on by preseason accolades. The Hawkeyes' star power is gone, and the team must fill gaps at nearly every position.

Quarterback Ricky Stanzi, a three-year starter and a local cult hero, has departed for the NFL. Iowa loses three multiyear starters along the defensive line, including a likely first-round pick (Adrian Clayborn) and a likely second-rounder (Christian Ballard). Both starting safeties depart (Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood) along with receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, tight end Allen Reisner and standout punter Ryan Donahue. Iowa returns only five starters on both sides of the ball.

It'll be an uphill climb for respect, but the Hawkeyes don't mind.

"We all have a goal: the Big Ten championship," Herman said. "That's something we state at the beginning of every single season. Being under the radar kind of relieves the pressure a little bit. We aren't really being talked about right now, and that's fine. Nothing changes around here."

If nothing changes this fall, Iowa will find itself in plenty of tightly contested contests. Drama has been the norm for Iowa the past few seasons.

In 2008, the team dropped four of its first nine games by five points or fewer and faced No. 3 Penn State as an underdog. A 24-23 victory against the Nittany Lions transformed Iowa into a clutch team. The Hawkeyes won their next five games decided by five points or fewer and rallied for wins in eight of their first nine games in 2009.

But Iowa's fortunes turned last fall. All five of its losses came by seven points or fewer, including three straight to end the regular season. A team that prides itself on finishing strong repeatedly crumbled in the fourth quarter. The Hawkeyes responded in the bowl game against Missouri, rallying for a 27-24 win, but players and coaches agreed the season was a disappointment.

"We're sitting there at 7-2 and lost three games by 10 points, so what can we do to do better in those situations?" Ferentz said. "That's what we're focused on. It comes down to a lot of little details and giving ourselves a chance. ... The reality is we were pretty good from October 2008 to November 2010. I look at it more that way. I'm not a peak-and-valley person. You can't afford to be if you're a coach."

Iowa appeared to go through some valleys in the offseason as several off-field issues cropped up followed by 13 players being hospitalized in January with rhabdomylosis. The team's celebrated strength program came under fire, but an internal investigation found no specific cause for the hospitalizations and Iowa has moved forward.

"We handled the rhabdo situation very well," Herman said. "Everybody was more pulled together as [the criticism] was coming down on us. It's going to benefit us in the fall for sure."

Iowa has its share of uncertainty entering the fall. Can quarterback James Vandenberg steady the ship after a gutsy performance in relief of Stanzi in 2009? Can Daniels and Binns help the defensive line reload? Who fills the gaps at safety, linebacker and wide receiver?

To these questions, the Hawkeyes say ask away. They'll have answers when September rolls around.

"You've got 11 guys on the field who are just mad at the world," Daniels said. "That's the way we would like to play."
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.

ESPN.com's 2010 All-Senior Big Ten team

January, 24, 2011
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As we gear up for the Senior Bowl, I wanted to piggyback off of an excellent post by colleague Chris Low from last week.

It's time to identify an All-Big Ten team comprised only of seniors. There were easy picks like Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi and Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones, but several positions created some tough choices.

Reminder: This team includes only fourth-year or fifth-year seniors, not redshirt juniors.

Bowl performance is included in this rundown, if applicable.

In case you forgot, my All-Big Ten team included only 12 seniors, all of whom will appear below. I also selected 14 underclassmen.

Without further ado ...

OFFENSE

QB: Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin
RB: Evan Royster, Penn State
RB: Dan Dierking, Purdue
WR: Dane Sanzenbacher, Ohio State
WR: Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Iowa
TE: Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
C: Bill Nagy, Wisconsin
T: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
T: D.J. Young, Michigan State
G: John Moffitt, Wisconsin
G: Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State

DEFENSE

DL: Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
DL: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
[+] EnlargeEric Gordon
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesEric Gordon narrowly edged out Ross Homan for a spot on the All-Senior Big Ten team.
DL: Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
DL: Karl Klug, Iowa
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State
LB: Brian Rolle, Ohio State
LB: Eric Gordon, Michigan State
CB: Chimdi Chekwa, Ohio State
CB: Chris L. Rucker, Michigan State
S: Jermale Hines, Ohio State
S: Brett Greenwood, Iowa

SPECIALISTS

K: Collin Wagner, Penn State
P: Aaron Bates, Michigan State
Returns: David Gilreath, Wisconsin

Some thoughts:

  • I really struggled with the quarterback spot. Tolzien ultimately made fewer mistakes than Iowa's Ricky Stanzi, who had superior statistics and had fewer weapons surrounding him. You can make a good case for Stanzi or Indiana's Ben Chappell, but Tolzien gets a slight edge.
  • No disrespect to Royster or Dierking, but the Big Ten really struggled to produce many decent senior running backs this season. Perhaps that's a promising sign for the future, but typically there are more experienced ball-carrying options. Royster was the only senior ranked among the Big Ten's top 10 rushers. I thought about Ohio State's Brandon Saine, but Dierking did more as a ball carrier.
  • The No. 3 linebacker was a really tough call between Gordon and Ohio State's Ross Homan. Ultimately, Homan missing time with a foot injury and Gordon displaying remarkable consistency alongside Greg Jones made Gordo the pick.
  • Another tough call was DJK ahead of Indiana's Terrance Turner, who had 21 more receptions but fewer yards and seven fewer touchdown catches.
  • The deepest position among Big Ten seniors (by far): offensive guard. I went with Moffitt and Carimi, but players like Ohio State's Justin Boren, Michigan's Stephen Schilling, Iowa's Julian Vandervelde and Illinois' Randall Hunt all were good options.
  • Five teams didn't produce selections: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern. Is that a good omen or a bad one for 2011?
Selections by team: Wisconsin (6), Ohio State (5), Michigan State (5), Iowa (4), Penn State (3), Purdue (2)
Some good news for former Iowa receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who no longer faces charges of keeping a drug house following his arrest last month.

Johnson-Koulianos still faces charges of unlawful possession of marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs for anxiety, pain and sleep. But he and his roommate no longer face the drug house charge, classified as an aggravated misdemeanor and carrying a penalty of up to two years in prison.

DJK, dismissed from the team after the arrest, will be arraigned Feb. 3.

The charismatic Hawkeyes record-holder has resurfaced on Twitter in recent weeks and wants to mend his relationship with Iowa fans.

Here are some of DJK's recent Tweets:
  • It's a cold world for the Koul kid.1 bad decision man I feel foolish. # headUp
  • Knowledge is pain and thats y it hurts to know I let down hawknation ; ( I strive to redeem myself in the hearts of hawksPlease forgive me.
  • I just hope @hawkeyenation miss me a little while I'm gone. If nothin else maybe on 3rd & 15. #OneLove
  • Looking forward to doin presser in Iowa city soon.If u were expecting me to throw the program under the bus,nope.I have 0 reason to,Go hawks

DJK isn't out of the woods, and I hope he can address his issues and grow from an unfortunate end to a record-setting career at Iowa. Like most media members, I really enjoyed my interactions with Derrell. He's a unique personality to say the least, and he's a guy who can be successful in multiple arenas if he stays on track.

He'll be appearing in the Texas vs. The Nation all-star game Feb. 5 in San Antonio.
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.
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.

Iowa seniors aim for a strong finish

December, 27, 2010
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Iowa tight end Allen Reisner and his classmates envisioned a very different path to their senior season.

They had won 20 games the previous two years and helped Iowa claim back-to-back bowl championships (Outback, Orange). Iowa entered this season ranked in the top 10 nationally primarily because of its large and decorated senior class led by national awards candidate Adrian Clayborn.

[+] EnlargeAllen Reisner
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallTight end Allen Reisner said winning three bowls in a row for the first time in school history is important to this senior class.
But things didn't go according to plan, as the Hawkeyes dropped five games, including the final three in November. All five losses came by seven points or fewer and four featured blown leads in the fourth quarter, a surprise for a team that finished games well the previous two seasons.

"No one's happy with the record," Reisner said. "We worked hard and we didn’t want to be where we’re at right now. We’ve just got to keep working."

The beauty of the bowl season is it provides one final opportunity to get things right. Iowa's seniors still can end their careers on a strong note Tuesday night with a win against Missouri in the Insight Bowl.

The Hawkeyes can win three consecutive bowl games for the first time in team history (they have won two straight five times).

"It's definitely big for us," Reisner said. "You want to win every game, but we really want to win this one for three straight [bowls]."

Iowa must lean on its seniors Tuesday after the rough finish to the regular season and the off-field problems that surfaced earlier this month. The team will play without record-setting receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, arrested Dec. 7 on several drug charges, and starting running back Adam Robinson, suspended until January for undisclosed reasons.

Despite the turmoil, Reisner saw no need for the team to regroup before the bowl. The players are already moving forward.

"Those guys are gone," he said. "We're worried about the guys that are here now."

Robinson's suspension leaves Iowa with only one quasi-proven back in true freshman Marcus Coker. DJK's departure puts more pressure on receiver Marvin McNutt and tight ends Reisner and Brad Herman to step up in the passing game.

The good news: Iowa faced a similar situation in the 2010 Orange Bowl. Johnson-Koulianos missed most of the game with an injury, but Colin Sandeman filled in with four receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown. True freshman Brandon Wegher led the way on the ground with 113 rush yards and a touchdown.

"We've been there before," Reisner said. "Derrell wasn’t here in the last bowl game, he was hurt and Colin stepped up and had to play a huge game. We had a freshman running back last year have 100 yards rushing, and we're working for that again this year.

"Both tight ends, Brad and I, are going to have to step up big. We’re going to have to make big plays, we’re going to have to get involved, we’re going to have to get open."

Iowa will be tested by an improved Missouri defense that ranks sixth nationally in points allowed (15.2 ppg) and 41st nationally in yards allowed. Led by speedy edge rushers Aldon Smith and Jacquies Smith, the Tigers' defense reminds Reisner of Arizona's, which racked up six sacks against Iowa in a 34-27 win on Sept. 18.

The Hawkeyes hope their return to the desert brings better results Tuesday night.

"We don't want to lose four straight as seniors," Reisner said. "We’ve had a pretty good record in the four or five years we’ve all been here, and we want to keep that going."
The issue of drug testing in college football hit home in the Big Ten last week as Iowa held an odd news conference to explain its drug testing program in the wake of star receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos' arrest on several drug charges.

Although Iowa admitted to finding some "flaws and inconsistencies" within its testing program, we also learned that Iowa does some extensive testing and hands down standard penalties on those who test positive.

AOL FanHouse's Brett McMurphy took things a step further and investigated how football programs from AQ conferences handle discipline for those testing positive for street and recreational drugs. Penalties for those testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs are the same for any NCAA school: a first positive test is a one-year suspension; a second positive test ends a student-athlete's NCAA eligibility for the remainder of his career.

Ten of the Big Ten institutions (plus future league member Nebraska) are included in the piece. As a private institution, Northwestern isn't required to respond to a public records request to provide its drug policy.

Here's how the Big Ten penalties shake out (numbers in parentheses indicate first, second, third and fourth positive tests, followed by the playing-time penalty):

Illinois: (1) none; (2) 1/12th of regular-season games; (3) 1/4th of regular season games; (4) one year.

Indiana: (1) none; (2) one game; (3) dismissal.

Iowa: (1) none; (2) 10 percent of games; (3) dismissal.

Michigan: (1) none; (2) 10 percent of games; (3) one year.

Michigan State: (1) none; (2) 30 days; (3) one year.

Minnesota: (1) none; (2) 20 percent of games; (3) one year.

Nebraska: (1) none; (2) suspension determined by head coach; (3) dismissal.

Ohio State: (1) none; (2) two weeks; (3) one year.

Penn State: (1) none; (2) seven days; (3) one year; (4) dismissal.

Purdue: (1) none; (2) none; (3) 10 percent of games; (4) "may be dismissed" with athletic director making decision.

Wisconsin: (1) none; (2) 30 days; (3) dismissal.

It's interesting to see the slight differences between the policies, especially which schools have a definitive dismissal penalty and which don't. Six schools from AQ conferences suspend players for their first positive drug test, but none come from the Big Ten.

Purdue is one of four teams from AQ conferences that doesn't hand down a playing-time penalty for the second positive drug test.

A few Big Ten-related nuggets from the FanHouse story:
  • At Purdue and UCLA, a student-athlete does not miss any games after two positive tests and only misses one game for a third positive test. By comparison, a student-athlete at 31 of the 60 schools is dismissed from the football program for a third positive test. Purdue also offers this caveat: If a student-athlete goes 18 months since his last positive test, he may revert back to his previous number of positive tests -- in essence earning up to five chances before dismissal.
  • At Florida, Illinois, Purdue and UCLA, student-athletes at those respective schools may have up to five positive drug tests before being dismissed. Those are easily the nation's most lenient policies, at least as far as allowing a student-athlete the most chances.
  • Iowa, which recently admitted some flaws in its drug testing procedures in that a number of student-athletes likely had "gotten around the tests," actually has one of the nation's most common substance abuse policies: no games are missed for a first positive, 10 percent of games suspended for a second positive and dismissal for a third positive.

Very interesting stuff. Your thoughts?
I guess this is what they mean by getting out in front of the story.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and athletic director Gary Barta held a news conference Tuesday morning where they revealed very little actual news. Despite rampant rumors about a wave of drug-related suspensions, Iowa announced no additional personnel updates other than what was released Monday night.

To recap: Top running back Adam Robinson has been suspended until January at the earliest for unspecified reasons, while running backs Jewel Hampton and Brandon Wegher are transferring. Wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos won't play for Iowa again after his arrest last week on several drug charges.

That's it.

"We don't anticipate any more announcements on our roster," Ferentz said.

You can breathe a little easier now, Iowa fans. The roster won't be depleted for the Insight Bowl matchup against Missouri on Dec. 28.

The only real news from Iowa City today is that the school reviewed its drug-testing program following the DJK mess last week and found "some flaws and inconsistencies," Barta said. The school didn't find any specific acts of cheating or any cover-up attempts by those performing the tests, but Barta has "strong evidence" to believe that student-athletes likely have found ways to get around the testing program.

He didn't go into specifics.

"We have not caught anybody getting around the system,” Barta said. “Unfortunately, there’s enough evidence in our protocol to say we have to tighten up. It’s pretty likely that someone -- I don’t know if it’s 1 or 21 -- someone has gotten around this process.

"And if it’s only one, it makes you doubt all testing.”

All Iowa student-athletes are randomly tested at least once a year by the school, including all 92 football players this year, coach Kirk Ferentz said. The Big Ten and the NCAA also conduct separate drug testing. An Iowa student-athlete automatically misses athletic competition with a first positive drug test. Those who refuse testing count as having tested positive.

A few nuggets:
  • Robinson remains eligible and Ferentz hinted that his suspension is for academic reasons, stretching back to Robinson sitting out the start of the Ohio State game on Nov. 20. "It's my anticipation that he'll be back in January," Ferentz said. Hampton's decision to transfer was mutual, Ferentz said.
  • The coach didn't want Robinson and Hampton to be grouped in with Johnson-Koulianos, the only Iowa player facing legal action at this time. Unfortunately, holding a news conference like this allows folks to draw those conclusions.
  • Asked if other players knew about DJK's problems, Ferentz said: "My guess is some did, and if that’s the case, it’s unfortunate that nobody came forward."
  • Iowa City police gave Ferentz a head's up about the DJK situation last Tuesday while the arrest was taking place.
  • Ferentz on player conduct: "My guess is the behaviors of this year's team off the field aren't much different [from last season]. We had a lot of the same parties on the team last year. When you win 11 games, everything's fine, and when you win seven, it's a little different."
  • Ferentz on DJK: "Shock's a strong word. I think I got over that about 20 years ago. Disappointment is obviously a big part of the equation."
  • Drug testing for Iowa student-athletes continued last week, although it wasn't out of the ordinary, Barta said.
  • Barta on the state of the program: "The state of the program is in great hands. We're dealing with some important and challenging issues, but I have great confidence in Kirk's handling of them."

Anyway, an odd day in Iowa City, but not a catastrophic one for the program as it prepares for the Insight Bowl.

3-point stance: Legends and Leaders?

December, 14, 2010
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1. The first conferences to split into divisions based their divisions geographically, just as God intended. Then the ACC arbitrarily assigned teams to two divisions without the use of a map. Can anyone outside the ACC name which teams are Atlantic and which are Coastal? Now the Big Ten has named its divisions the Legends and the Leaders. The names are treacly, too clever by half and utterly unhelpful to the casual fan. Who comes up with this stuff? Did the Big Ten pay them? Did it keep its receipt?

2. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck believes that the reason there are so many high-scoring bowl games among the minor bowls is not necessarily because the better teams in the better bowls have better defenses. The earlier the bowl, the shorter the layoff from the regular season for the offenses. “You keep your rhythm and your confidence,” Luck said. The Cardinal will have had five weeks off when it lines up against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

3. If you think you have it rough, think about the month Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has had. On Halloween weekend, the Hawkeyes humiliated No. 5 Michigan State, 37-6, to raise their record to 6-2. Iowa lost its final three games of the season by a total of 10 points. Leading Derrell Johnson-Koulianos has been arrested on drug charges and suspended. On Monday, Ferentz announced that tailback Adam Robinson has been suspended for the Insight Bowl. I get the feeling the offseason will not be pretty for the 2011 Hawkeyes.

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