NCF Nation: Norm Parker

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

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

What are the main objectives for you guys this spring?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Joe Gaglione and Matt McGloinUS PresswireJoe Gaglione and Iowa's staunch defense will try to stop Matt McGloin's surprisingly effective offense.
Image No 1: Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin dives into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter against Northwestern, his fifth rushing score in six games, as the Lions score 22 fourth-quarter points to rally for a 39-28 win. McGloin celebrates with the Aaron Rodgers championship belt move ... also known as the discount double check.

Image No. 2: After forcing two overtimes behind the strength of its defense, Iowa seals a 19-16 win against Michigan State when sophomore defensive lineman Louis Trica-Pasat deflects an Andrew Maxwell pass, and cornerback Greg Castillo comes down with it for an interception.

If you predicted either of these things happening two months ago, you might put Miss Cleo out of business. Or just hop the first plane to Vegas.

Expectations for both Penn State's offense and Iowa's defense were tempered before the season.

Penn State had the nation's 110th-ranked scoring offense in 2011 and this summer saw its top running back (Silas Redd) and top receiver (Justin Brown) transfer to other schools. Rob Bolden, the team's opening-day starting quarterback in each of the past two seasons, also transferred. The Lions' leading returning receivers were a running back (Curtis Dukes) and a fullback (Michael Zordich), who each had five catches in 2011. Their leading returning rusher, Dukes (237 yards), missed spring practice for academic reasons -- the time when new coach Bill O'Brien installed his NFL-style scheme. Penn State had zero proven offensive weapons entering the season.

Iowa's defense also featured more no-names than usual. The Hawkeyes, who had four defensive linemen selected in the NFL draft the past two years, turned to two seniors with limited production (Steve Bigach and Joe Gaglione) and another coming off of a serious knee injury (Dominic Alvis) to lead their front four. Freshman and sophomore defenders filled Iowa's preseason depth chart, particularly at the line positions. "This is our youngest team," Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said at preseason media day.

Yet midway through the season, both Penn State's offense and Iowa's defense are two of the more pleasant surprises in the Big Ten. The two units have been instrumental in Penn State's and Iowa's 2-0 starts to league play, and they'll match up against each other Saturday night when the Lions visit Kinnick Stadium.

"I'm not really surprised at all," McGloin told ESPN.com "I knew we had the talent on this team, and guys who were willing to put in the work to get the job done and learn this offense. I'm not really surprised at what I've done, or what Kyle Carter has done, or Allen Robinson or [Zach] Zwinak or [Michael] Zordich or the line."

McGloin leads the Big Ten in passing average (249.8 ypg) and is tied for the league lead in touchdown strikes with 12, four more than he had all of last season as Penn State's primary quarterback. With 1,499 pass yards through the first six games, he needs just 73 more to eclipse his season total from 2011.

Robinson, who had a grand total of three receptions as a true freshman for Penn State last fall, leads the Big Ten in receptions per game (6.8) and touchdown receptions. Penn State's other offensive standouts include Carter, a redshirt freshman tight end with 23 catches for 279 yards; and Zwinak, a former walk-on who had three carries for seven yards last year and now leads the team in carries (68) and rush yards (320). Zordich, a senior fullback, is a more familiar name but someone who hasn't had much of a chance to contribute until this season (37 carries, 167 yards, 10 receptions).

"It's an NFL offense," McGloin said. "This offense definitely gives guys an opportunity to showcase their ability and gives them a lot more recognition."

O'Brien's arrival has modernized Penn State's offense. Iowa, meanwhile, hasn't gone through dramatic scheme schedules defensively, although secondary coach Phil Parker moved into the coordinator role in the offseason following Norm Parker's retirement.

The defense has been better than expected from the start, holding Northern Illinois to 12 first downs and 201 total yards in the season opener. Iowa has surrendered 17 points or fewer in five of six games and allowed fewer than 350 yards in five of six games. While Penn State's offense isn't the strongest unit on its team, Iowa's defense undoubtedly deserves the label as the Hawkeye offense is still finding its identity.

"We're making progress," Ferentz said. "We were hopeful that we could during the course of the season. Some weeks have been a lot better than others, obviously, but the group's growing."

The defensive line, a major area of concern in August, has been a strength. Gaglione boasts eight tackles for loss, four sacks and two forced fumbles, while other linemen like Trinca-Pasat (three tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries) and Bigach (one sack, one forced fumble) have contributed.

Iowa has surrendered just five rushing touchdowns in six games.

"I knew they were going to go in there and be a help to the defense," linebacker Christian Kirksey told ESPN.com. "Coach Ferentz always talks about the next man in. As soon as Joe Gaglione and Steve Bigach jumped in, they were just eager and hungry to help out the defense."

The linebackers also have done their part. Veterans James Morris and Kirksey have combined for two interceptions, two fumble recoveries, three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. Anthony Hitchens, a converted safety in his first season as a starting linebacker, leads the nation with 13 tackles per game (78 total).

"Iowa defense is built on one thing," Kirksey said. "Way back when Bob Sanders was here, way back when Adrian Clayborn was here, it was all still the same focus. We all grew around the tradition and we just took it to the field.

"We're a new group, but Iowa teaches the same lessons throughout the years."

McGloin sees it, too, calling the young Hawkeyes "a typical Iowa defense." O'Brien's system certainly isn't a typical Penn State offense, but that has been a good thing.

Although McGloin expected the unit to perform, his contributions as a rushing threat -- he had no rushing touchdowns in 2011 and just two in his career before this season -- are a bit of a surprise.

The only bad news: the discount double check is probably a thing of the past.

"I think I'm done with that," McGloin said, laughing. "That was just a one-time thing."
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- If you graded the magnitude of FBS coaching changes from the past offseason, Iowa's would barely make the needle move on the Richter scale.

Even in Big Ten territory, the ground shook more in places like State College, Columbus and Champaign. Iowa still has Kirk Ferentz, the new dean of Big Ten coaches, who has been at Iowa more than twice as long (13 seasons) as any of his peers in the league (Wisconsin's Bret Bielema and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald are next at six seasons each). Unlike Penn State and Ohio State, the program hasn't been mired in scandal, and none of the personnel moves were forced.

But in Hawkeye Country, the transformation of Ferentz's staff equates to The Big One.

[+] EnlargeGreg Davis and Kirk Ferentz
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallGreg Davis will be the first new offensive coordinator Iowa has had in 13 years.
Ferentz made the first two coordinator changes of his tenure, hiring former Texas assistant Greg Davis to oversee the offense and promoting secondary coach Phil Parker to lead the defense. Two assistants moved positions -- including Reese Morgan, who shifted from offensive line to defensive line -- and Ferentz hired two former players, Brian Ferentz and LeVar Woods, as position coaches.

In the quick-change environment of college football, such moves are typically greeted with a shrug. But Iowa has been the model of continuity. Before Davis, Ferentz hadn't made an outside coaching hire since naming Erik Campbell receivers/tight ends coach after the 2007 season. By keeping offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe, defensive coordinator Norm Parker and strength coach Chris Doyle for the past 13 years, Iowa created what Ferentz calls "a great foundation of stability."

"We've had occasional changes here, but not like this," Ferentz told ESPN.com. "It was an interesting period."

It also has been an exciting one. Spring practice inherently brings a newness, as the slate is cleaned and planning accelerates for the upcoming season. But spring ball at Iowa has taken on a decidedly different tone, one Ferentz and his players are welcoming.

While Ferentz didn't force anyone out the door -- O'Keefe left for an assistant post with the Miami Dolphins, Parker retired and defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski left for Nebraska -- he vows that changes would have been made even if the staff had remained intact. Iowa has lost momentum following an 11-2 surge in 2009, its wins total dropping to eight during 2010 and to seven last fall.

"We just needed to go back and make sure everything made sense and was adding up the way we wanted it do," he said. "Just consider some new ideas, some things that might benefit our production. Now it's actually been forced by the [coaching] changes."

Asked how receptive he is to change, Ferentz, who some label as too conservative and set in his ways, replied, "wide open."

"Bottom line is we're 4-4 the last two years in conference play," he said. "If that's the best we can do, then that's fine. But we felt like we've left something out there."

The more seismic shift takes place on offense with Davis, who steps in after a year out of football. Although his 13-year tenure as Texas' offensive coordinator ended on a down note in 2010, his offenses averaged 39 points between 2000-09, the second highest total nationally and first among BCS automatic-qualifying teams.

Davis has had success with different schemes and different quarterbacks. While Iowa fans shouldn't expect a five-wide, spread attack this fall, a historically buttoned-up offense likely will loosen its collar a bit.

"I kept hearing from Kirk, 'Regardless of whether Ken had gone to Miami, we needed to do some things differently. We needed to make sure we're growing as a staff, as players, that we're taking advantage of what our kids can do,'" Davis told ESPN.com. "So meeting with the kids, meeting with the coaches, it's been very refreshing. They've been extremely open to everything. Sometimes the same play said differently and explained differently creates excitement.

"And I sense an excitement."

The feeling is mutual. Davis said last year was the first time he hadn't been part of a sports team since he was six years old.

The 60-year-old has returned to the field refreshed and revived.

"You can tell how much he loves the game," senior quarterback James Vandenberg said. "He gets really excited for practice, especially when we go against the defense. You'd think we were playing the Super Bowl with how excited he gets when we execute well. We show up early for lifting and he is literally here every morning at 6 a.m., always ready to go.

"We all kind of feed off of that."

Vandenberg enjoyed his time with O'Keefe and showed promise in his first season as the starter, passing for 3,022 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. But after some struggles away from Kinnick Stadium and the team’s poor finish -- Iowa dropped three of its final four games -- Vandenberg also sensed a need for change.

"It's just new blood, which kind of re-energizes everybody,” he said. "It's making us work hard, and we're watching more film than we probably would in the spring. And it's making spring ball really competitive."

The changes on defense are more subtle. Phil Parker (no relation to Norm) said he"ll run "basically the same scheme" as his predecessor, sprinkling in some new ingredients and perhaps simplifying things for a group that is extremely young up front.

Parker is a new voice, though, and a powerful one.

"He's a go-getter," safety Micah Hyde said.

"I didn't think [the team] needed coaches leaving, that kind of change," Hyde continued, "but we haven't lived up to our expectations the last couple years. We definitely should have been playing better ball. It is a good thing, just to get some new input."

That a seven-win season equals disappointment in these parts resonates with Iowa players and coaches. Iowa hasn't had a losing regular season since 2000 and since 2001 has averaged 8.4 wins.

But Ferentz's critics point to his hefty salary, ranked in the top 10 nationally, and the fact that Iowa has had just one 10-win season since 2004. The team also needs to regain its mojo in close games, which have been the norm throughout Ferentz's tenure. After a terrific run from late in the 2008 season through most of the 2009 campaign, Iowa is 3-7 in games decided by seven points or fewer in the past two seasons.

"How we maximize those close situations usually determines how we end up," Ferentz said. "We haven't done a good enough job the last two years. Everybody would agree with that.

"That's documented, so what can we do?"

They've shaken things up. And just maybe they'll send shock waves through the Big Ten this fall.

Q&A: Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz

March, 23, 2012
3/23/12
10:11
AM ET
Change is in the air this spring at Iowa. The Hawkeyes have two new coordinators for the first time in Kirk Ferentz's tenure, one from the outside (OC Greg Davis) and one from within the program (DC Phil Parker). Ferentz also hired two new assistants, offensive line coach Brian Ferentz and linebackers coach LeVar Woods, and moved offensive line coach Reese Morgan to defensive line. For an Iowa staff built on continuity, this represents a a major shakeup. The coaches also will be working with a very young roster, as evidenced by the pre-spring depth chart issued this week. It all should make for an interesting spring in Hawkeye Country.

[+] EnlargeIowa coach Kirk Ferentz
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallCoach Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa Hawkeyes will enter the season with a revamped coaching staff.
The Hawkeyes opened practice Wednesday, and ESPN.com caught up with Ferentz on Thursday.

Here are his thoughts.

What is the atmosphere like this spring being on the field with this group after all the changes?

Kirk Ferentz: Certainly we have a lot of learning to do for two reasons. Number one, our youth and inexperience, and secondly, with some of the staff changes. We have a lot of different elements involved. It's certainly different than when we finished up in December. It's a lot of positions, and some of it's schematically and that type of thing. We're all on edge a little bit, and that's good.

You made some of your hires fairly recently. How do you feel about where the offensive and defense schemes are at this point?

KF: We're pretty well down the road that we need to be on. We've had some really good meetings over the last several weeks. A little bit more intensive on the offensive side with Greg being hired at the end of February, but I think we've had good meetings. He certainly has a good grasp of what he likes to do and what he's comfortable with. We've been able to blend and mesh things. I think we're pretty much on the same page right now. It's been fun actually, just invigorating to re-examine some things. And the players, they always pick it up faster than the older guys.

When you sat down and talked with Greg, how close was your offensive philosophy to his?

KF: One of the things that really impressed me so much is his experience with various styles of offense. He's been with a lot of different types of players, quarterbacks, going back to Eric Zeier at Georgia, the guys he worked with at North Carolina, and at Texas, they ran several styles of attack. There was a lot of evolution when they got Vince Young. The thing is, he has a system that's been proficient and that he's comfortable with. It really is very flexible and adaptable. That part has all been good.

Very impressed with Greg, starting with all the recommendations I got, people who I have a lot of respect for in football who spoke so highly of him as a coach and so highly of him as a human being. And after a month of being with him, I can see why all of those things were said. He's really been tremendous. We've been fortunate to have great coaches here. You're always a little nervous when you lose somebody as good as Ken, but Greg has been outstanding.

I read your comments from the other day and wanted to clarify something. Did you expect to make some changes even if you didn't have the coordinators leaving?

KF: Absolutely. I was entertained a bit reading the reports of the press conference. The headlines were a little bit overstated. But that was something Ken and I had talked about, and Norm [Parker] and I had talked about as the year went on last year. You're 13 years into it, and we're all feeling good about being here such a long period of time. The great thing about stability is we all know each other.

But the other point, too, and every year you look back at things, but I remember specifically in Cleveland one year in '94 where we looked back and went through our playbook step by step. Steve Crosby had become our coordinator after the '93 season. We went through everything. The advantage of doing it is if you've been somewhere for a while, you add this one year and then you add that, and things don't always mesh or make as much sense as they should, so there's a cumulative effect there. So it's a good exercise to do, and I think it was time for us to do that regardless. And in the case of getting new coordinators, you have to do that anyway. It's been really healthy, it's been invigorating, and hopefully we'll be a more efficient operating group here moving forward.

You've talked about wanting to see better execution. What can you stress in the spring to help you execute better as a team?

KF: That's always the challenge in football. There were complaints about us. The perception is we're a conservative offense, and we threw the second-most amount of passes we had in 13 years last year, so I said they must have been conservative passes because we didn't get any credit for that. But overall, that's the name of the game, whatever you're doing, offensively, defensively or special teams, the key is how you execute those things. Certainly what you call can affect that, but at the end of the day, it's about the team that executes the best. That's the never-ending battle.

You have some guys out on the defensive line, but it's definitely one of the younger groups you've had there. With Reese Morgan moving over to that side, how do you see that group shaking out in the spring, and how will Reese's experience help there?

KF: It's maybe not identical, but it's similar to what we went through in 2005. We graduated four guys that were all in NFL camps after that season. Three of those guys are still active players -- Jonathan Babineaux, who's done a good job in Atlanta; Matt Roth's had a nice career; Derreck Robinson continues to be rostered; and Tyler Luebke is the other guy, was with the Redskins as a free agent. That's the price you pay when you graduate some good players. The last two years we've had a high number of seniors go out both years, and some NFL players in that group. It's something we anticipated, we knew it was going to be a challenge, but all that being said, we're optimistic.

One of my motivating factors for moving Reese over to that spot is Reese is just a tremendous teacher. That's the No. 1 thing I saw in him when we hired him here. He took Pat Flaherty's spot. He's a real builder, and he's done that with the offensive line. You look at last year, we had Riley Reiff, who people are talking about, but we also had Markus Zusevics and Adam Gettis, who both I think are going to get drafted here. They were both roughly 225, 230 [pounds] when they came out of high school and built themselves into players. Reese was a key component of their development, and that's what he does a great job of. I think we've got the right guy with the right group. We've got a lot of work to do, but at the end of the day, that group will be fine, just like in '05.

What would you like to see out of James [Vandenberg] during the spring?

KF: Just continued improvement. We expect him to play his best football next year and lead even better than he did. He played well last year and he led well, but he's going to have to do better. With a young team like this, it's going to be imperative that our most experienced guys play their best and lead our football team. It sure helps when you're playing better. And he's totally capable. We have confidence in James.

Is Keenan [Davis] another guy who fits into that category, needing to play his best as an older guy?

KF: Most definitely. If you look at the improvement Marvin McNutt made throughout his career, from making a move [from quarterback] in the middle of the '08 season, to the records he set, it didn't happen just by accident or just by him hanging around. He worked hard, he got better each year, and his hard work and effort, certainly in production and yardage, that's what we need from Keenan. Marvin's not here, quite obviously, so Keenan has to be the guy and take a very prominent role as a receiver. And he's certainly capable, so we expect to see that growth from him.

What would you like to see from the running back group by the end of the spring?

KF: Development and maturation. We have three guys that are working at that position who are talented enough. They're all capable, but they're young. Jordan Canzeri missed a significant amount of time last year with a hamstring issue. Damon Bullock, we moved him around enough that it probably rendered him ineffective. We'll let him settle at the running back position. And we think De'Andre Johnson has potential as well, but he's got to mature. He missed his first year because he was coming off an ACL injury from high school, so he's a little bit behind that way. But he's got every opportunity to develop and be a good player. It sure would help our football team.

When you're this young, are you more tempted to play freshmen if they come in and show that ability, or do you have to work with the guys who have some experience?

KF: We'll have a better grip on where we are at the end of spring practice. We're going to need some help at some spots, that's a given. Bottom line is for the most part, the guys that demonstrate they can play and help us, they're going to get that opportunity. We had the case with Allen Reisner. Back in '07, we had to throw him in. He was a true freshman. He wasn't necessarily ready to go, but we ran out of guys, so he had to go in there. We hopefully won't be in that situation. But anybody [who] can help us win next year, if it's special teams or on offense, defense, we'll give them an opportunity.

Greg came in from the outside, while Phil Parker has been there. What's it been like seeing him in this role? Do you see him putting his personality on the defense?

KF: We're early into the process right now. To the casual fan, it's not going to look a lot different, probably, but there will be some subtleties and some things not only Phil, but the entire staff talked about. It's like anything else, you're always trying to evolve and progress, move forward a little bit without losing your identity. That's probably what you'll see from that group. Phil's a veteran coach. He's had several chances to leave here for BCS coordinator positions and has chosen to stay here, so I don't think there's any question he's ready to go. He'll do a great job. He's very detailed and he's a good leader.

From a leadership standpoint, do you have some guys in mind, especially on defense, who you could see moving into those roles this spring?

KF: Most definitely. The guys that we're really counting on, you start with Micah Hyde. He's probably our most experienced player on defense, most proven, so we're counting on that from him. James Morris and Chris Kirksey, they're only third-year students next year, but they've played a lot of football, too, and good football. They're playing a leadership position at linebacker. And up front, I'd say Steve Bigach's a guy we're really counting on to really help set the tempo of the group. He's already been doing that, and I think he'll do a good job.
The Big Ten saw an unprecedented number of coaching changes during the offseason, as three head coaches were dismissed, Wisconsin's staff lost six assistants and many other moves were made. Barring an unexpected change, only four teams -- Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern -- will return their full staffs intact for the 2012 campaign.

Although the coaching carousel hasn't quite reached its end, Big Ten teams have filled all of their coordinator vacancies for the coming season. The league will have 13 new coordinators at eight different programs.

It's time to pass out quick grades for the coordinator hires (co-coordinators are graded together):

ILLINOIS

Co-offensive coordinators Billy Gonzales and Chris Beatty
Previously:
Gonzales was LSU's receivers coach and pass-game coordinator; Beatty was Vanderbilt's receivers coach

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: C

Gonzales and Beatty both are strong recruiters who should help bring talented players to Champaign, but they're both young and unproven as playcallers. They should bolster Illinois' receiving corps, but I'd expect a few growing pains on game days as they adjust to bigger roles with a unit that flat-lined late in the 2011 season.

Brian Bennett: B-

Both are energetic guys who should adapt well to Tim Beckman's style, and both were considered up-and-comers. But as Adam mentioned, neither had led an offense before, so it's hard to give this too high a grade yet.

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks
Previously:
Co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Cincinnati

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: A-

After a very successful 2011 season, Illinois' defense is looking for continuity and Banks can provide it. His aggressive style and pressure packages should translate well for a unit that still has a lot of talent in the front seven with linebacker Jonathan Brown, defensive tackle Akeem Spence and others.

Brian Bennett: B+

Vic Koenning declined to stay, and Jon Tenuta took the job for about 20 minutes before deciding to stay at NC State. As a third choice, Banks is a really nice hire and a better fit, in my opinion, than Tenuta would have been. After a tough first year with a Cincinnati defense lacking depth and experience, Banks did a great job turning that unit around in 2011. At Illinois, he merely needs to keep it going.

INDIANA

Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell
Previously:
Offensive coordinator and tight ends coach at Arizona

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: B+

Littrell wasn't the reason Arizona made a coaching change in 2011, as his offense ranked third nationally in passing (370.8 ypg) and 15th in total yards (465.2 ypg). He comes from the fertile Mike Leach coaching tree and should help Indiana's offense become more balanced behind promising quarterback Tre Roberson.

Brian Bennett: A

It isn't easy to hire big-name coaches at Indiana, but Kevin Wilson got a good one as Littrell was left looking for a gig. The addition of Littrell already helped the Hoosiers land promising quarterback Nathan Sudfeld on the recruiting trail.

IOWA

Offensive coordinator Greg Davis
Previously:
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Texas (didn't coach in 2011)

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: B

Davis is an experienced coach who has coordinated offenses at the highest level and won a national title at Texas. He should help James Vandenberg's development at quarterback. The concern is he has been predictable at times and had his most recent success in a spread system, which Iowa likely won't use.

Brian Bennett: C+

Davis oversaw some record-breaking offenses at Texas, but he won't have the same kind of blue-chip talent at Iowa. Then again, in Kirk Ferentz's system, he won't be asked to generate 50 points per game. He's great with quarterbacks, and Ferentz will feel comfortable with a veteran coach who'll keep things simple. But to hire a guy who'd been out of football for a year was not very exciting for a program that probably could have used a battery recharge.

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker
Previously:
Defensive backs coach at Iowa

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: B

Parker knows the Hawkeyes' personnel and brings an energetic personality to the defense, but he's not the big-splash addition some were hoping for after Norm Parker's retirement. Phil Parker has coached defensive backs forever but has yet to serve in a coordinator role. It'll be interesting to see how much he actually tweaks the scheme in Iowa City.

Brian Bennett: B-

Parker knows the Hawkeyes defense in and out, and I doubt much will change with the approach now that he is in charge. There was a curiously long time between Norm Parker's retirement and his successor's appointment, and Phil Parker has never been a coordinator before, so that brings my grade down a notch.

NEBRASKA

Defensive coordinator John Papuchis
Previously:
Defensive line coach and special teams coordinator, Nebraska

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: B

Papuchis is a rising star and most likely a head coach in the near future. While I'm tempted to give him a higher grade, he hasn't been a playcaller and is just four years removed from being a football intern at LSU. Inexperience is the only main drawback here.

Brian Bennett: B-

Like Adam said, the grade level is held down here by a lack of previous experience. But every coordinator has to start somewhere, and Bo Pelini has been really high on Papuchis, who has done excellent work everywhere he's been put to use so far. Any growing pains should be offset by the knowledge Pelini can impart as a defensive-minded head coach.

OHIO STATE

Offensive coordinator Tom Herman
Previously:
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Iowa State

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: B+

Herman is regarded as a rising star and a sharp offensive mind who, with the help of Urban Meyer, will inject some life into a bland Ohio State offense. The only potential drawbacks are that he hasn't proven himself in a big-time job like Ohio State, and Iowa State's offensive numbers from 2011 don't exactly jump off the page.

Brian Bennett: B-

Ohio State fans were probably expecting a bigger name when Meyer promised to bring in the best staff in the country. But Meyer has an eye for offensive talent and will be heavily involved in the offensive game planning himself. Though Herman hasn't done it on a major stage, he'll be working with a lot more talent in Columbus, and this grade could easily prove to be an A in the future.

Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers
Previously:
Fickell was Ohio State's head coach; Withers was North Carolina's head coach

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: A-

There's a lot to like about this pair, as both men return to coaching defense after being put in awkward positions last season. It'll be interesting to see how Fickell fares as the primary defensive playcaller. Withers has a few blotches on his résumé (Minnesota 2007) but brings a lot of experience to the table.

Brian Bennett: A

The head-coaching experience both men got last year should only help their development as coaches, and both are excellent recruiters. My only concern is whether there are too many cooks in the kitchen, but there's no reason to believe that Fickell and Withers won't get along and accept their roles. If so, this should work out really well.

PENN STATE

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof
Previously:
Defensive coordinator at Auburn (briefly took Central Florida defensive coordinator job in December)

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: C+

While I loved what Roof did at Minnesota in 2008, his exit from Auburn after some struggles there raises a few red flags. The good news is he steps into a very good situation with Penn State's defense, and he has three good assistants: Larry Johnson, Ron Vanderlinden and John Butler, two of whom (Johnson and Vanderlinden) are holdovers from the previous staff.

Brian Bennett: C

Roof has some very bright spots on his long résumé, but he's also been a serial job-changer whom Auburn fans couldn't wait to see leave town despite the national title. Bill O'Brien could have retained Tom Bradley or promoted Johnson and probably done just as well, if not better. But he has a previous relationship with Roof, so the trust factor should be high.

PURDUE

Defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar
Previously:
Defensive coordinator for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: C

Both the change and the hire surprised me a bit, and Tibesar is a bit of a wild card coming back to college football from the CFL. He knows how to face the spread offense, a primary reason Danny Hope hired him, and had some success in Montreal. But his previous FBS stop at Kansas State resulted in some struggles (117th-rated defense in 2008).

Brian Bennett: C-

If Tibesar pans out as a successful defensive coordinator, perhaps Hope will start a trend of teams looking to the Great White North for assistant coaches. I'll give Hope some credit for making an unconventional choice, but I'm a little skeptical about just how well the CFL experience will translate to college.

WISCONSIN

Offensive coordinator Matt Canada
Previously:
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Northern Illinois

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: B

Canada has extensive coordinator experience, including four seasons in the Big Ten at Indiana, but he has been primarily a spread coach in recent seasons. While he had success running a pro-style system during his first stint at Northern Illinois (2003), he'll have to make some adjustments. The good news: he inherits a lot of talent and understands his main job is to keep the momentum going.

Brian Bennett: B-

I was surprised that Bret Bielema didn't chose someone who was a pro-style disciple through and through given his strong comments about not changing the offense much after Paul Chryst left. As Adam said, Canada knows his stuff and has done some good work as a coordinator. But anytime a coach has to adjust his style to a larger system and not the other way around creates a seed of doubt.

'Whole new world' springs upon Big Ten

February, 17, 2012
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Urban MeyerJamie Sabau/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer is one of six new head coaches hired by Big Ten schools in the past two seasons.
When the Big Ten football coaches gathered in Chicago for a meeting earlier this month, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald looked over to Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and joked, "Which one of us is the old man now?"

Fitzgerald was struck by the notion that at age 37, heading into his seventh year as the Wildcats' head man, he is now the second-longest-tenured coach in the league. That shows how much change the conference has experienced the past two years -- and illustrates why this spring looms as an important time for many of its teams.

Three schools -- Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois -- hired new permanent head coaches this offseason, following the three that did so last year (Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota). Add in Nebraska, and seven of the 12 Big Ten teams have coaches either in their first or second year of competing in the conference.

"That's unprecedented," said Big Ten associate commissioner Mark Rudner, who has worked for the league since 1979 and currently serves as the football coaches' liaison to the conference. "It's a whole new world."

The Big Ten used to be known as a collection of icons, the league of Woody and Bo and larger-than-life coaches. No school is less familiar with change than Penn State, which will begin a season without Joe Paterno as head coach for the first time since 1966.

All the new personalities lead some to wonder if the Big Ten will maintain its identity and culture. Already, new Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has made waves with some aggressive recruiting tactics, leading Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema to criticize Meyer and caution that the Big Ten does not want to become a northern version of the SEC.

Meyer and Bielema met to hash out their differences in that coaches' meeting earlier this month. Rudner took it as a positive sign that 11 of the 12 coaches attended what was a voluntary gathering just two days after signing day. The only coach who didn't attend, Penn State's Bill O'Brien, was preparing to coach in the Super Bowl.

"Everybody seems willing to throw in with everybody else, so hopefully that will make for a lot smoother transition," Rudner said.

[+] EnlargeNorthwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhAt just 37, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald is the second-longest-tenured coach in the Big Ten.
Transition will be the main buzzword thrown around most campuses when spring practice begins in early March.

Meyer will install the offensive system that helped the Florida Gators win two national titles as the Buckeyes begin their quest to regain Big Ten supremacy -- after the 2012 bowl ban expires, of course. Illinois is switching to a full-fledged spread attack under new coach Tim Beckman, himself a former Meyer assistant.

Jerry Kill at Minnesota and Kevin Wilson at Indiana will seek better things after disappointing first seasons, and each has brought in some junior college players to try to fill holes on the roster. Michigan won the Sugar Bowl in Brady Hoke's first year but still wants to move toward more of a pro-style offense, as long as it doesn't restrict the talents of QB Denard Robinson. Nebraska had its share of successes and setbacks in its first season of Big Ten play and now has a better idea of what it takes to compete in the league. The Huskers need to get stronger on defense but will have to do so without departed stars Lavonte David, Alfonzo Dennard and Jared Crick.

Even some of the most stable programs weren't immune to change. Wisconsin, which has gone to back-to-back Rose Bowls, lost most of its offensive staff when coordinator Paul Chryst went to Pitt and took several assistants with him. Purdue coach Danny Hope wasn't satisfied with making the program's first bowl since 2007 and reorganized his defensive staff. And as Big Ten dean Ferentz enters his 14th season at Iowa, he'll do so for the first time without defensive coordinator Norm Parker (who retired) or offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe (who left for the Miami Dolphins).

"We probably cheated time here a little bit," Ferentz said.

Some veteran staffs stayed intact, such as Northwestern and Michigan State. The Spartans figure to make another run at a Legends Division title if they can adequately replace QB Kirk Cousins, All-American defensive tackle Jerel Worthy and their top three receivers.

"Players just want to have consistency in vision and consistency in expectations," Fitzgerald said. "When you've had a position coach for four straight years, you know what to expect, and there's something to be said for that.

"At the same time, when there's change, there's a newfound sense of urgency. Our big challenge is making sure our guys don't feel like we're Charlie Brown's teacher going, 'Wah-wah-wah-wah,' and start getting bored."

There's nothing boring about the transition at Penn State. Paterno's reign came crashing down in shocking, controversial fashion before he passed away in January. For the first time in decades, the Nittany Lions will have several new assistant coaches, not to mention a new style of offense and leadership under O'Brien. Players can already see the differences in winter conditioning.

"There's a lot of excitement around here right now," linebacker Michael Mauti said. "It's just a whole new way of doing things."

They'll be saying that on a lot of Big Ten campuses this spring.

Spring previews: Legends Division

February, 17, 2012
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The 2012 Big Ten season doesn't kick off for six-and-a-half months, but spring football is just around the corner. All 12 Big Ten squads will hit the field next month for the first of 15 spring practices. There are plenty of new faces, as the winter months brought an unprecedented number of coaching changes to the Big Ten. Should be a fun and exciting spring around the conference.

Let's take a quick look at the Leaders Division:

IOWA

Spring practice start date: March 24
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • New coaching flavor: For the first time in the Kirk Ferentz era, Iowa will welcome new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Phil Parker isn't exactly new, having served as Iowa's defensive backs coach throughout Ferentz's tenure, but he now takes charge of the defense for the first time. Will he continue running Norm Parker's scheme or shake things up? Iowa also will have a new offensive coordinator (yet to be named) and several new position coaches, including Reese Morgan, who moves from offensive line to defensive line.
  • Running back auditions: Iowa once again needs to identify a featured back after Marcus Coker transferred to Stony Brook in January. Coker basically was the team's rushing attack in 2011, accounting for 77.3 percent of the rushing yards and 61.9 percent of the carries. Jordan Canzeri and Jason White will compete with several other unproven players this spring. The good news is Iowa has had little trouble developing backs. Keeping them is another story.
  • Reloading the defensive line: The running backs might get more attention, but defensive line is Iowa's most pressing need entering the spring. The Hawkeyes lose three starters from last season's squad, including NFL prospect Mike Daniels at defensive tackle. While D-line historically has been a strength for Iowa, the Hawkeyes haven't had so much uncertainty in quite some time. Morgan, who hasn't coached on the defensive side, has his work cut out this spring.
MICHIGAN

Spring practice start date: March 17
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Defensive line rotation: It's a good thing coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison focus so much on the defensive line. The unit needs some extra attention this spring after losing standouts Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. The defensive tackle spot will be particularly interesting. A lot of eyes will be on Will Campbell to see if the big man can finally blossom. Quinton Washington and others are in the mix.
  • Receiving orders: Michigan needs to develop more options in the passing game this spring. The team loses top wideout Junior Hemingway, and Darryl Stonum was dismissed from the squad in January following another legal issue. Roy Roundtree needs a big spring as he looks to re-establish himself as the team's No. 1 wideout after a production drop-off last season. Tight end Kevin Koger also departs, creating an opportunity for others.
  • Al Borges' offense, Take 2: The new offense had some highs and lows in Year 1, and Michigan will be looking to establish greater consistency this season. It'll be interesting to see how a full year in the system impacts quarterback Denard Robinson. Robinson must cut down on his interceptions after tossing 15 last season. The Wolverines also are looking for an offensive line anchor following the departure of All-American center David Molk.
MICHIGAN STATE

Spring practice start date: March 27
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Take it to the Max: Andrew Maxwell's time has arrived as he steps in for three-year starter and three-time captain Kirk Cousins at quarterback. It's a tall order, but Maxwell has been groomed for this moment and has shown good potential in practices. He'll be working with a new set of leading receivers, including Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett, who hopes to be cleared to play for the upcoming season. Maxwell must establish himself as a team leader this spring.
  • We're not Worthy: All-American Jerel Worthy is gone, and Michigan State needs a replacement for the standout defensive tackle. While Anthony Rashad White returns at the other D-tackle spot, the Spartans don't have much overall depth at the position. It'll be interesting to see what the coaches do with Micajah Reynolds, who has bounced between defensive line and offensive line during his career. It's a big spring for Vanderbilt transfer James Kittredge and a host of players who redshirted last season, including Damon Knox.
  • Receiving orders: Arnett seemingly would be Michigan State's No. 1 receiver if he's ruled eligible by the NCAA, but there are no guarantees and the Spartans must identify other options this spring. Bennie Fowler showed promise in 2010 before being slowed by a foot injury last season. He needs a strong spring. Michigan State also is moving Tony Lippett back to receiver from cornerback, where he started several games last season. Lippett is an excellent athlete who can provide a boost on the edge. The Spartans also will be looking for more from tight end Dion Sims.
MINNESOTA

Spring practice start date: March 22
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • The search for a pass rush: Minnesota should be improved on offense in Year 2 of the Jerry Kill era, but the team could sink or swim depending on the defense. It starts up front with a defensive line that hasn't generated much pressure for several years. Coordinator Tracy Claeys wants to be aggressive, but can he find difference-makers? The Gophers haven't had an elite pass-rusher since Willie VanDeSteeg in 2008.
  • Supporting cast on offense: Although quarterback Marqueis Gray had his ups and downs last season, he accounted for most of Minnesota's offense, leading the team with 966 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. Gray needs more help if the Gophers intend to take the next step this season. Minnesota will be looking for a featured running back this spring, as Donnell Kirkwood and others are in the mix. The Gophers also need more options at receiver after losing Da'Jon McKnight.
  • Troy Stoudermire: Stoudermire turned heads last spring with some big hits from the cornerback spot. After receiving an additional year of eligibility from the NCAA in January, he'll look to deliver more punishment. Minnesota desperately needs leaders and playmakers to emerge in the secondary, and Stoudermire's return could be huge after he missed most last season with a broken bone in his forearm.
NEBRASKA

Spring practice start date: March 10
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Star search on defense: No Big Ten defense loses more star power than Nebraska, which must replace linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, the league's top performers at their respective positions. David's departure is especially critical, as Nebraska lacked depth in its defensive midsection last season. Although Nebraska played most of the past season without defensive tackle Jared Crick, it needs some difference-makers to emerge in all three levels of the defense this spring.
  • Papuchis takes over: Like Iowa, Nebraska promoted a position coach to defensive coordinator, as John Papuchis takes control of a unit that fell short of expectations last season. Papuchis is young and energetic, and his rapid rise mirrors that of his boss, Huskers head coach Bo Pelini. Although no system overhaul is expected, it will be interesting to see how Papuchis puts his imprint on the defense this spring.
  • Taylor Martinez's maturation: Despite two years as the starter and the support of his coaches, Martinez enters a pivotal spring. Although Martinez remained healthy last season and showed improved decision-making at times, he also completed just 56.3 percent of his passes and didn't break off as many long runs. A full year in Tim Beck's offense could pay off for Martinez this spring, but he needs to continue to make strides. It will be interesting to see if the coaches even entertain the possibility of a competition, or if backup Brion Carnes gets more reps.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring practice start date: March 3
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Colter and the QB race: Northwestern will have a quarterback competition this spring as it looks for Dan Persa's replacement, but the hope among many is for Kain Colter to take control. Colter stepped in for Persa last season and emerged as the team's best all-around offensive weapon. But he needs to improve his arm strength and his accuracy and show he can be a more complete quarterback at this level. Although Colter will be on the field no matter what in the fall, he has the opportunity in spring ball to solidify himself as the starting quarterback.
  • Young defenders: The defense has been a big problem for the past year and a half, and Northwestern needs to identify more playmakers before September. The good news is the Wildcats played a lot of young players last season, particularly late in the season. Northwestern needs its youth to mature, beginning in the spring. Keep an eye on players such as defensive end Tyler Scott, safety Ibraheim Campbell, linebacker Collin Ellis and cornerback Daniel Jones. Northwestern needs several of them to take the next step.
  • Spotlight on the secondary: Few Big Ten units struggled more than Northwestern's secondary did last season. Making matters worse, the Wildcats lose three starters, including All-Big Ten safety Brian Peters and cornerback Jordan Mabin, a four-year starter. If Northwestern ever intends to turn the corner as a program, it needs to build better depth in the secondary, whether it's through recruiting or from moving players from other positions. It'll be interesting to see how the group performs this spring.
Iowa fans grew antsy while waiting nearly two months for head coach Kirk Ferentz to name successor to Norm Parker at defensive coordinator. But Ferentz said Wednesday that he wanted to take his time with the decision, which resulted in defensive backs coach Phil Parker (no relation) being promoted on Tuesday.

"I just didn't see any advantage to moving quickly," Ferentz said at a news conference. "Unless you have to, there's no real advantage to that. So I just wanted to kind of sift through it, and I'm really glad that I did because my mind was in a couple different places. ... You want to take your time and feel really good."

Ferentz said he eventually settled on Parker -- who has spent the past 13 years coaching the Hawkeyes secondary -- as the best fit for the program. He said Parker has had opportunities to leave to go to other BCS teams, including a top-10 program that offered him a coordinator spot.

[+] EnlargePhil Parker
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireIowa coach Kirk Ferentz, after some deliberation, promoted longtime assistant Phil Parker, seen here in 2010, to defensive coordinator.
Ferentz did not announce a new offensive coordinator or any specific plans to fill the role vacated when longtime playcaller Ken O'Keefe left for the Miami Dolphins last week. He said he knew about O'Keefe possibly leaving as soon as Joe Philbin -- a friend of O'Keefe's -- got the Dolphins job. Expect Ferentz to take his time with this hire, too, even though current assistant Erik Campbell looks like a strong candidate to become another in-house promotion.

In some ways, it's understandable why Ferentz isn't making these decisions quickly. After all, O'Keefe and Norm Parker were the only coordinators he'd had at Iowa until this point.

"We probably cheated time here a little bit," he said. "I don't think anybody envisioned the head coach or two coordinators making it for 13 years. ... Right now, I'd settle for 10 out of the next two guys. That would be great if we could get 10 I'll be, what, 66. I'll have to figure that out then. Somebody will feel sorry for me and come join us at that point."

Some other notes from Ferentz's press conference:

  • He explained his surprising decision to move offensive-line coach Reese Morgan to the defensive line by saying Morgan is an excellent teacher. The Hawkeyes will be very young on the D-line next season, and Ferentz felt Morgan was the right guy to get that group up to speed. He pointed to Morgan's excellent work of developing offensive linemen, including projected 2012 NFL first-rounder Riley Reiff, who came to school as a defensive end prospect.
  • With the offensive line job open, speculation is rampant that Ferentz will hire his son Brian, currently a New England Patriots assistant, to coach that position. The elder Ferentz addressed that by saying he's "open to anything" but added that his son has a pretty good job right now.
  • LeVar Woods was elevated from administrative assistant to a temporary coach during recruiting, and most expect him to be named the full-time linebackers coach. "He's still the interim coach as far as I know, at least," Ferentz said. "He's certainly interested in working here, and we'll let him go through the process. Hopefully he'll do well in the weeks ahead here and we'll find a seat for him."
  • Ferentz said he didn't think the athletic department's budget would be an issue in hiring new assistants. But he also added, "I don't think we're going to try to sign a superstar coach or anything like that."
  • A lot of Iowa fans wanted some change in the staff and many criticized O'Keefe's conservative game plans. Ferentz didn't rule out a major change with the new offensive coordinator, but odds are more likely that Iowa's style of play will look mostly the same. Ferentz said his next coordinator has to "believe in blocking" first and foremost. "As a head coach what I'm interested in is we've got to block. We've got to make the make-able plays and make sure we're doing a good job in turnover ratio. I think that's really critical if you're going to try to get somewhere."
  • Iowa will move the start of its spring practice back a couple of days, and Ferentz would like to have the staff complete before the Hawkeyes get going in late March. But, again, moving fast is not his top priority. "Right now I think we've just got to make sure it's the right guy, certainly before we leave on spring break. ... Spring ball to me is about teaching the basics. It's about executing basic plays and just getting things taught. We have a very young team right now so it's not like we can be on page 7 anyway, so we really have to start at the beginning. So I think that gives us a little wiggle room there, too."
Iowa waited nearly two months to promote a position coach to a coordinator role. And that's not even the surprising part of the Hawkeyes' announcement Tuesday.

Phil Parker is Iowa's new defensive coordinator. After spending the past 24 seasons coaching defensive backs, the past 13 at Iowa, Parker now will lead the Hawkeyes' defense. He replaces Norm Parker, who announced his retirement in December. Although Phil Parker, who isn't related to Norm, had been mentioned as a top candidate when Norm announced his retirement, the likelihood of a promotion seemed to decrease as the days went on with no announcement from Kirk Ferentz.

Some Iowa fans had been gearing up for a big-splash hire, whether it was Mike Stoops back in December or former Michigan defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann in recent days. The big splash never happened, and Phil Parker gets the job. Expect him to maintain a similar defensive philosophy after working under Norm Parker for so long.

OK, so here's the surprising part: Reese Morgan, Iowa's offensive line coach for the past nine seasons, is moving to defensive line. He replaces Rick Kaczenski, who left in December for the same post on Nebraska's staff. Morgan has only coached offense at Iowa, working with the team's tight ends from 2000-2002 after serving as a high school coach in Iowa City.

Morgan's move is, well, odd. Defensive line is Iowa's biggest question mark entering 2012 -- yes, even bigger than running back -- so we'll see early how Morgan fares with the transition.

Ferentz also announced that Darrell Wilson will move from linebackers coach to defensive backs coach. Iowa has one defensive staff vacancy to fill, and administrative assistant LeVar Woods, a former Hawkeyes linebacker, likely will be named the team's linebackers coach. Woods' appointment makes a lot of sense.
"Phil, Darrell and Reese have all done an outstanding job in our program for a significant period of time," said Ferentz. "I am confident they will have a very positive effect on our team as we transition forward."

Ferentz, who has a news conference scheduled for 5 p.m. ET Wednesday, still must name an offensive coordinator to replace Ken O'Keefe, who left last week for a post on the Miami Dolphins' coaching staff. He also must name an offensive line coach to replace Morgan.

Tuesday's announcement increases speculation that Brian Ferentz, Kirk's son and a New England Patriots assistant coach, will return to Iowa City in an assistant role. Don't be shocked to see Brian Ferentz named Iowa's offensive line coach.

That leaves the coordinator role, which could go to wide receivers coach Erik Campbell, if Ferentz once again promotes from within.

Should Ferentz go that route, he would be reaffirming faith in his guys rather than outsiders. The moves likely won't go over well with Iowa fans, who have seen the same two coordinators throughout Ferentz's tenure. Many fans naturally want big-splash hires from the outside. Phil Parker certainly isn't, and Campbell would fit into the same category. I think promoting Campbell makes a lot of sense, as he has paid his dues as a position coach.

We should learn more about Iowa's coaching plans Wednesday, so stay tuned ...
The Big Ten recruiting classes are signed and sealed, and although a few more recruits could come aboard, we have a good idea of what the rosters will look like heading into the 2012 season.

That means it's Power Rankings time. Again.

We're taking a post-signing day look at where the league stacks up. There aren't too many changes from our previous rundown, but some teams received a bump from strong recruiting classes.

As they say on Twitter, #legooo.

1. Michigan State: The Spartans' recruiting class didn't crack ESPN's top 25, but it features several strong prospects and is loaded up at wide receiver and defensive back. Mark Dantonio tells us he can't remember recruiting 10 athletes like the ones Michigan State added in the class. Michigan State already is one of the Big Ten's most athletic teams, so this bodes well for the Spartans as they look for another big season.

2. Michigan: Brady Hoke and his staff rode a fast start to 2012 recruiting and finalized a class ranked No. 7 nationally. The Wolverines started three freshmen on defense in 2011 and added several more who can contribute early in their careers, including linebacker Joe Bolden, cornerback Terry Richardson and defensive tackle Ondre "Pee Wee" Pipkins. If Michigan can maintain its momentum on defense after losing several stud linemen, it will be very tough to beat in 2012.

3. Ohio State: Urban Meyer announced himself with a superb recruiting class featuring arguably the nation's best crop of defensive line prospects. Ohio State would have been an improved team in 2012 after its first seven-loss season since 1897, but the recruiting class boosts the Buckeyes even more. The defensive front seven should be a deeper and stronger unit, and players like Noah Spence, the Big Ten's top-rated recruit, have a chance to contribute immediately.

4. Nebraska: The Huskers missed on their top signing day target (offensive lineman Andrus Peat) but still inked a solid class that should help at positions like linebacker, where Big Red lacked size and depth. Linebacker Michael Rose could contribute early in his career. Nebraska also addressed the departure of standout cornerback Alfonzo Dennard with talented juco addition Mohammed Seisay.

5. Wisconsin: Quality not quantity was the theme for Wisconsin, which signed only 12 players, the Big Ten's smallest class by five recruits. The Badgers lost two offensive line commits to other schools but added a decorated quarterback in Bart Houston and some solid players to the defensive back seven, including linebacker Vince Biegel. This is the type of season that will test Wisconsin's ability to reload and provide a true gauge of the program's progress under Bret Bielema.

6. Penn State: New coach Bill O'Brien and his staff had to scramble to keep the class together, and the 2012 recruiting haul didn't quite match what Penn State adds in most seasons. The coaches were able to keep some good prospects and fulfilled a need at wide receiver with Eugene Lewis and others. It'll be interesting to see how quarterback Steven Bench turns out after Penn State lost verbal commit Skyler Mornhinweg to Florida.

7. Purdue: The Boilers added speed in their 2012 class, and they loaded up on quarterback prospects for the future with four signal-callers. But Purdue also beefed up along the offensive line with Jordan Roos and others. With coaching changes and personnel changes throughout the Leaders Division -- not to mention Ohio State's bowl ban -- Purdue has an excellent chance to make some noise in 2012.

8. Iowa: The big story in Iowa City isn't so much the recent recruiting class but the seismic changes going on in one of the nation's more stable programs. After having the same coordinators for the past 13 seasons, Kirk Ferentz must replace both Norm Parker and Ken O'Keefe, who left late last week for a post on the Miami Dolphins' staff. Iowa will have new leadership on both sides of the ball, creating some uncertainty but also some excitement. The Hawkeyes added some nice pieces in the 2012 class, such as running back Greg Garmon and defensive end Faith Ekakitie.

9. Northwestern: Although the Wildcats' class didn't crack the national rankings, it looks like the best haul in Pat Fitzgerald's tenure as head coach. Northwestern picked up a potential difference-maker on defense in defensive end/linebacker Ifeadi Odenigbo. Malin Jones could be the team's answer at running back, a spot that has suffered during Fitzgerald's tenure. The Wildcats also added the league's top transfer in former USC receiver Kyle Prater.

10. Illinois: It might take a year for Tim Beckman and his staff to make a big splash on the recruiting scene. Illinois' 2012 haul didn't receive great reviews, but the Illini are pursuing several nationally elite 2013 prospects from within the state. Linebacker recruits Tajarvis Fuller and Tyrone Neal should help Illinois in the defensive back seven. There's enough talent on the squad to get back to a decent bowl, but Beckman and his staff have plenty of work ahead.

11. Minnesota: The Gophers inked a class that drew good reviews from ESPN's analysts. Jerry Kill and his staff retained several top in-state prospects, including offensive lineman Isaac Hayes, wide receiver Andre McDonald and quarterback Philip Nelson. McDonald and fellow wideout Jamel Harbison could be immediate contributors for an offense that needs more options. But defense must be the top offseason focal point for Minnesota, which added several juco defenders.

12. Indiana: Although the Hoosiers remain at the bottom, we liked their recruiting class, which should first and foremost provide immediate help on defense. Junior college defenders like Tregg Waters and Jacarri Alexander likely will step in right away for a struggling unit. Indiana also will increase the competition at quarterback with heralded prep prospect Nate Sudfeld and juco addition Cameron Coffman.
Iowa is now in the market for both an offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator.

The school announced Friday that Ken O'Keefe, the only offensive coordinator Kirk Ferentz has ever had with the Hawkeyes, is leaving the program. According to multiple reports, he is taking a job with the NFL's Miami Dolphins.

This easily qualifies as the most tumultuous turnover to hit Ferentz's staff, as Norm Parker retired as defensive coordinator after the season after working in that role for all of Ferentz's 13 seasons in Iowa City.

O'Keefe, 58, was known for tutoring quarterbacks and helped develop Heisman Trophy runner up Brad Banks, Drew Tate and Ricky Stanzi before handing the reins to James Vandenberg this past season. Vandenberg threw for over 3,000 yards and had 25 touchdown passes

But he also had become a target for increasing fan criticism because of Iowa's often buttoned-down style of play. Few days went by this season when I didn't get a question or comment from a Hawkeyes fan asking if Ferentz could just please fire O'Keefe and bring in a more wide-open style of play.

Fact is, though, Ferentz is very comfortable employing a more classic Big Ten offensive system and is unlikely to bring in someone who will deviate much from that approach. If you're expecting the next Gus Malzahn to stroll into Kinnick Stadium, keep dreaming.

And few folks were complaining about O'Keefe when Stanzi led the Hawkeyes to an Orange Bowl win or when Banks guided the team to the Rose Bowl in the 2002 season. Iowa averaged 27.5 points per game in 2011 and 28.9 points per game the year before, finishing in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten both times.

Still, some new ideas could freshen up a program that has seemingly stagnated since that Orange Bowl run. Ferentz has shown loyalty to his assistants over the years through thick and thin, and these are the most changes he's ever had to make. Highly respected defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski left for the same position at Nebraska this offseason, too.

Ferentz hasn't talked much about his staff since the Insight Bowl loss to Oklahoma, so we're not sure if he anticipated this move by O'Keefe. Given the close relationship between the two, it's hard to believe O'Keefe completely blindsided Ferentz with this news.

Yet this comes at a difficult time for Iowa, as many of the would-be attractive candidates are already locked into other jobs. Would Ferentz be interested in promoting from within? Assistant coach Erik Campbell, who has done a great job developing receivers and tight ends and knows the Big Ten inside and out, could be an interesting choice if the Hawkeyes look to go that route.

And then there's the small matter of hiring a defensive coordinator, a position that's been vacant for more than a month now. Iowa has given indications that it will announce Parker's successor next week. The Hawkeyes will certainly need to accelerate that hiring process for an offensive playcaller to get ready for spring practice.

One thing's for sure: it will be a fascinating offseason to follow in Iowa. Many Hawkeyes fans wanted big changes to be made with this program, and for better or worse, that's what they're getting.
The college football season is officially over. So it's time to break out the crystal ball and offer our projections for the preposterously-too-early 2012 Big Ten power rankings.

1. Michigan State: The Spartans must replace a lot of leadership, including quarterback Kirk Cousins, receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin and All-American defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. But nine starters return off the Big Ten's top overall defense, featuring Will Gholston, Denicos Allen and Isaiah Lewis as potential breakout stars. Le'Veon Bell could have a big year as the No. 1 tailback, and if Andrew Maxwell can adequately fill in for Cousins, the offense should be fine, especially if Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett gets his waiver to become immediately eligible at receiver. Plus, the road schedule (at Central Michigan, at Indiana, at Michigan, at Wisconsin, at Minnesota) is far more manageable than what the team navigated in 2011.

2. Michigan: A lot of things went right for the Wolverines in 2011, including a favorable schedule. That slate gets harder in 2012, beginning with Alabama at Cowboys Stadium and including road trips to Nebraska and Ohio State. Still, Denard Robinson and Fitz Toussaint form one of the most dangerous offensive duos in the league, and the second year under Brady Hoke and his staff should mean more familiarity and comfort. Coming off a BCS win, Michigan could start the season in the Top 10.

3. Wisconsin: The Badgers will have to overcome many challenges to reach their third straight Rose Bowl. The biggest concern is at quarterback, where there's no experience to replace Russell Wilson and his record-breaking efficiency level. Bret Bielema will have to remake almost his entire offensive coaching staff after Paul Chryst took several assistants with him to Pittsburgh. Still, Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball returns to keep the Wisconsin running game among the best in the country. And the two Big Ten teams who beat the Badgers in 2011 -- Michigan State and Ohio State -- must come to Madison in '12.

4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes aren't eligible to make the Big Ten title game, but don't be surprised if they put up the best record in the Leaders Division. A transition period can be expected as Urban Meyer takes over as head coach and installs an entirely new offensive system. But Ohio State had a small senior class in 2011 and brings back many talented players, such as defensive lineman John Simon, quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde. A schedule that features eight home games should equal much improvement over this year's 6-7 record.

5. Nebraska: Few teams will be as experienced on offense as Nebraska, which returns seven starters and just about every key skill player on that side of the ball. Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead should be even better with another year in offensive coordinator Tim Beck's system. The questions are on defense, where the Huskers struggled at times in 2011 before losing their top two players in linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. Nebraska must get tougher up front defensively to handle the Big Ten grind and has difficult road assignments looming at Ohio State and Michigan State.

6. Penn State: For the first time since 1965, we'll see what a Penn State team looks like that is not coached by Joe Paterno to start the season. New coach Bill O'Brien made a wise decision to retain defensive assistants Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden, and even without All-American lineman Devon Still, that side of the ball should stay stout with standouts like Gerald Hodges, Jordan Hill and hopefully a healthy Michael Mauti. O'Brien's biggest impact should come on offense. The former New England Patriots offensive coordinator will try to bring the Nittany Lions attack into the 21st century with a competent passing game. Tailback Silas Redd provides a nice crutch while that transition occurs.

7. Iowa: After two straight 7-5 regular-season finishes, the Hawkeyes will look to get back into Big Ten contention. But they'll have to overcome the losses of star receiver Marvin McNutt, offensive tackle Riley Reiff, defensive linemen Mike Daniels and Broderick Binns and cornerback Shaun Prater. When he's on, James Vandenberg is as good a dropback passer as there is in the Big Ten, but making up for McNutt's production won't be easy. Assuming Marcus Coker returns from suspension, the running game should be very good. The defense simply has to improve after giving up too many big plays in 2011, and Kirk Ferentz hasn't yet named a successor to veteran defensive coordinator Norm Parker, who retired.

8. Purdue: The Boilermakers have a chance to make a move in a Leaders Division that is marked by coaching changes. They return most of the major pieces of their Little Caesars Bowl-winning team, and the return of Rob Henry from his season-ending knee surgery opens up some interesting possibilities at quarterback. Kawann Short should be one of the top defensive linemen in the league if he decides to return for his senior year. We'd still like to see more consistency from Danny Hope's program before we rank Purdue too high, however.

9. Northwestern: Dan Persa and his record-breaking accuracy are gone, along with top receiver Jeremy Ebert. Yet we're not too concerned about the offense and like the multi-dimensional options that Kain Colter provides with his all-around athleticism. Northwestern's issue is whether it can fix a defense that had trouble stopping anybody. The fact that the Wildcats lose their top three defensive backs from a secondary that was routinely torched does not inspire confidence.

10. Illinois: New coach Tim Beckman has his work cut out for him in Year One. He has to completely revamp an offense that couldn't shoot straight in the back half of 2011 while implementing a new spread style. He has to try to maintain the defense without coordinator Vic Koenning or All-American defensive end Whitney Mercilus. And he faces a schedule that sees the Illini going to Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan, all three of which won in Champaign this past season. There's still talent on defense, led by promising linebacker Jonathan Brown. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase needs to build on his second-half showing in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

11. Minnesota: After a horrible start, the Gophers showed a lot more fight down the stretch in 2011, beating Iowa and Illinois at home. Jerry Kill knows how to build a program, and the team can't help but be better in 2012, especially if MarQueis Gray continues to develop at quarterback. But Minnesota still has some holes on its roster that can only be fixed through recruiting, and while the Gophers could make a run at bowl eligibility this year, they'll be hard-pressed to make too much noise in a stacked Legends Division.

12. Indiana: The good news for the Hoosiers is that they played a ton of freshmen in 2011, and the growing pains should start to pay off for guys such as Tre Roberson and Mark Murphy in 2012. The second year under Kevin Wilson should also bring progress. Still, this is a team that went 1-11 in 2011 with no wins over FBS teams, so it remains an uphill climb.
The Big Ten power rankings saw plenty of shuffling throughout the 2011 regular season, and the bowls brought some more movement. There's a new No. 1 team atop the rankings, and several squads helped or hurt themselves in the final analysis. We had a tough decision for the top spot between Michigan State and Wisconsin but went with the team that ended on a stronger note. The Badgers land the No. 2 spot ahead of Michigan, while there's a significant drop-off after No. 3.

The overall depth in the Big Ten isn't as good as we thought it would be entering the year, although the league packed more punch than it did in 2010.

Let's get to the rundown.

1. Michigan State (11-3): The Spartans ended a very good season on a high note, rallying to force overtime against Georgia in the Outback Bowl and winning in dramatic fashion during the third extra session. Mark Dantonio recorded his first bowl win as Spartans coach and quarterback Kirk Cousins went out on top, but the MSU defense carried the day in Tampa. Although the Spartans didn't win the Big Ten title, they looked like the league's top squad during the bowl season and could be the conference favorite entering 2012.

2. Wisconsin (11-3): It's amazing that a team this talented found ways to lose three games. As Badgers running back Montee Ball said after the Rose Bowl, "If you take a minute off our season, we'd probably be undefeated." But a few key plays in all three defeats leave Wisconsin wondering what if? Credit Wisconsin for winning the Big Ten and making consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. Ball and Russell Wilson were brilliant all season. But you have to wonder if Wisconsin has missed its window of opportunity.

3. Michigan (11-2): Winning is all that matters, and while we're still figuring out how the Wolverines prevailed in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, they walked away as victors to cap a rebound season under first-year coach Brady Hoke. Michigan's seniors came through in their final game, as receiver Junior Hemingway made two terrific touchdown catches and defensive linemen Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin helped keep Virginia Tech out of the end zone. It added up to Michigan's first BCS bowl win since the 2000 Orange. While we don't know how a Wisconsin-Michigan matchup would turn out, we think Wisconsin had the stronger overall season.

4. Nebraska (9-4): While it's tempting to drop the Huskers more after they melted down against South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl, there's really no other team to put in this spot. Nebraska had its great moments in its first Big Ten go-round and had talent in all three phases, but the team seemed too fragile at times. Three of Nebraska's four losses came by 17 points or more. Huskers fans aren't pleased with head coach Bo Pelini at the moment, and Pelini and his staff enter a crucial offseason.

5. Penn State (9-4): Here's another team that ended its season with a thud, although one that many expected after nearly two months of turmoil. A December locker-room scuffle left Penn State without starting quarterback Matthew McGloin (concussion), and the offense sputtered against a mediocre Houston defense in the TicketCity Bowl. Many of us expected more from the Nittany Lions' defense, but Case Keenum carved up Penn State in a 30-14 victory. The Bill O'Brien era now begins in Happy Valley, and Penn State has a chance to make noise in a wide-open division in 2012.

6. Purdue (7-6): We don't want to overvalue a bowl win against Western Michigan, but Purdue ended the season with consecutive victories for the first time in 2011. The Boilers' run game surged even without top running back Ralph Bolden (knee), as Akeem Shavers racked up 149 rush yards behind a punishing offensive line. Special teams also proved to be a big difference for Purdue, which converted two onside kicks and had a kick return for a touchdown by Raheem Mostert. Purdue still makes too many major mistakes, but the program enters the offseason with some much-needed momentum.

7. Iowa (7-6): For the second straight year Iowa hoped an Insight Bowl win would take the sting off of a disappointing season. This time, however, the Hawkeyes fell short in Tempe as Oklahoma shut down a Marcus Coker-less offense for three quarters. Iowa's defense performed admirably for retiring coordinator Norm Parker, but the offense lacked enough firepower and made too many mistakes against the Sooners. The Hawkeyes failed to capitalize on a favorable schedule and now reach a crossroads in 2012 in what should once again be a tough division.

8. Ohio State (6-7): A forgettable season in Columbus ended with a forgettable result, as Ohio State fell to Florida in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl because of special-teams breakdowns and not enough offense. The offense finished the season ranked 108th nationally in yards (318.2 ypg). Ohio State suffered its first seven-loss season since 1897 and ended with its first four-game losing streak since 1943. Can't see the Buckeyes being this far down for very long as new coach Urban Meyer inherits a young roster with the potential to make significant strides in 2012.

9. Illinois (7-6): A turbulent month ended with Illinois winning the Bizarro Bowl, er, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, to record postseason wins in consecutive seasons for the first time in team history. Credit interim coach Vic Koenning for keeping the team united and a very good defense focused for the bowl game. Still, beating a sub-.500 UCLA team only earns you so much, and Illinois still had a very disappointing season relative to expectations in August. New coach Tim Beckman now steps in to try to get the program to the next level beginning in 2012.

10. Northwestern (6-7): The monkey will be wearing a No. 64 jersey in 2012 as Northwestern failed to end its 63-year bowl losing streak. The Wildcats now have dropped nine straight bowls, tying Notre Dame's for the longest postseason slide in FBS history. While the Wildcats' defense had its typical problems, the offense didn't show up for nearly three quarters and put the team in a hole against a superior Texas A&M squad. Northwestern has now seen its wins total drop in each of the past three seasons.

11. Minnesota (3-9): As the Gophers watched bowl season from their couches for the second straight year, the focus turns to how Minnesota can improve in 2012. Quarterback MarQueis Gray leads an offense that should be more fluid in its second year in the system. The bigger questions are on defense, as Minnesota allowed 31.7 points per game and 403.1 yards per game. Safety Kim Royston is a significant loss, and Minnesota must find a way to generate a better pass rush in 2012.

12. Indiana (1-11): The youth movement this past fall should pay off in some fashion for Indiana in 2012, and it's not a stretch to suggest the Hoosiers will make noise on offense. But as we have stated over and over, Indiana's Big Ten breakthrough only will take place when the defense takes significant steps in all three levels. The defense has to be the focus throughout the offseason after Indiana ranked 109th or worse nationally in four major statistical categories (total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense).


Oklahoma ended a disappointing year on a high note, winning its third consecutive bowl game to record back-to-back seasons of 10 or more victories. Iowa's bowl magic vanished despite a plucky effort as the mistake-prone Hawkeyes lost in the postseason for the first time since 2006.

Let's take a closer look at the Insight Bowl:

How the game was won: Oklahoma's pressuring defense flustered Iowa and forced enough mistakes to buy time for Landry Jones and the offense to get going. The Sooners led 14-0 at halftime despite mounting only one productive drive, but their defense never backed down or broke down. OU made Iowa work for everything, and the Hawkeyes repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with penalties, dropped passes, poor throws, questionable play calls and other mistakes. Junior quarterback James Vandenberg and the Iowa offense established a rhythm midway through the third quarter and closed to within 21-14 with 6:56 left, but Oklahoma's power game, led by quarterback Blake Bell, responded to seal the victory.

Player of the game: Sooners cornerback Jamell Fleming. The senior set the tone early with an interception return to the Iowa 10-yard line, setting up the first of three Bell-dozer touchdown runs. Fleming also contained Iowa's All-Big Ten wide receiver Marvin McNutt, who had just four catches for 46 yards and appeared frustrated for much of the game.

Stat of the game: Oklahoma ran eight offensive plays in the first quarter, and had 12 yards and no first downs. But the Sooners led Iowa 7-0.

Candid camera: There was a scary moment late as ESPN's Skycam fell onto the field and nearly struck McNutt on a bounce. It delayed the game several minutes with 2:22 left to clear the wiring.

Second guessing: It's seems odd to question a Kirk Ferentz decision to go for a fourth-and-short situation, but Iowa really could have benefited from points following a 13-play, 68-yard drive midway through the first quarter. Down 7-0, the Hawkeyes marched to the Oklahoma 6-yard line before failing on third-and-4. Rather than kick the short field goal, Ferentz went for the touchdown and Iowa lost 3 yards on fourth down. Iowa didn't score until early in the fourth quarter.

What it means for Oklahoma: The Sooners ended on a positive note and showed they could be motivated to win a bowl despite a disappointing regular season. After being shredded by rival Oklahoma State, the Oklahoma defense responded very well against Iowa, controlling play for the first two and a half quarters. For a unit that endured inconsistent play in October and November, this was a good ending. The victory sends the Sooners into a crucial offseason, which begins with Jones' decision on whether to stay for his senior season or enter the NFL draft. Oklahoma loses some key seniors but still should enter the 2012 season as one of the top contenders for the Big 12 title.

What it means for Iowa: Hawkeyes fans can't be disappointed with the effort, but a team that repeatedly made mistakes away from its home field couldn't survive them again Friday night in Tempe, Ariz. The defense played very hard for retiring coordinator Norm Parker, but Iowa needed a cleaner performance to upset Oklahoma. Iowa sees its wins total drop for the second consecutive season, and the team now enters a critical offseason. Ferentz soon will name a new defensive coordinator, and he needs to put a stop to the revolving door at running back. Iowa loses key parts but should be more experienced at several spots. However, Hawkeyes fans expect more from their program and its well-paid coach, and they should. The Big Ten is only getting harder, and Iowa should be mirroring what Wisconsin and Michigan State have done rather than falling back into the pack. Not much has gone right for this program since the 2010 Orange Bowl victory.

Insight Bowl: Iowa vs. Oklahoma

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
1:00
PM ET
If you'd told Iowa fans before the season they'd be playing their bowl game in Arizona against Oklahoma, they would have been thrilled at the thought of making the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Instead, both teams underachieved and find themselves in Friday's Insight Bowl:

WHO TO WATCH: Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg and receiver Marvin McNutt. With starting running back Marcus Coker suspended, the Hawkeyes likely will have to rely on the passing game more than ever. That means Vandenberg and McNutt, who hooked up 78 times this season but were stymied in the season-ending loss at Nebraska. Oklahoma, even without the suspended Ronnell Lewis, can pressure the quarterback and finished the season ranked seventh nationally in sacks. The Sooners' pass defense, though, has been vulnerable at times this season, so Vandenberg will have a chance to make some plays if his offensive line protects. McNutt will wrap up a fantastic career in the desert; he needs four more catches to set the school's single-season record and seven to break the Hawkeyes' career mark.

WHAT TO WATCH: Who will run the ball for Iowa? Coker was a workhorse all season, averaging over 23 carries per game. Backup Mika'il McCall's status is still unclear, perhaps leaving rushing duties to sparingly used freshmen De'Andre Johnson, Jordan Canzeri or Damon Bullock. Coker himself emerged as a star in last season's Insight Bowl after the suspension of Adam Robinson, but a similar situation developing this year would come as more of a surprise. Also keep an eye on the Hawkeyes' defense, which often struggled this season to stop big plays and rush the passer. They will need Mike Daniels and Broderick Binns up front to create some havoc and for Micah Hyde and Shaun Prater to guard the back end to slow down Landry Jones and the Sooners' passing attack.

WHY TO WATCH: Oklahoma was ranked No. 1 in the preseason and for most of the first month of the season. Even with some key injuries and suspensions, the Sooners still have loads of talent and will give Iowa one of its toughest tests of the season. The Hawkeyes, though, have won three straight bowl games under Kirk Ferentz, including last year's Insight Bowl in an exciting game against Missouri. Their defense should be motivated to perform in the final game for retiring defensive coordinator Norm Parker. Many have pegged Iowa as the biggest underdog of bowl season, but Oklahoma's motivation has to be questioned as the team had much higher aspirations than this. The fact that Sooners coach Bob Stoops is an Iowa graduate and close friend of Ferentz adds some drama to the proceedings.

PREDICTION: Oklahoma 27, Iowa 20. The Hawkeyes hang around as Oklahoma comes out a little flat. But the loss of Coker is just too much to overcome and will force Iowa to be too one-dimensional on offense. The Sooners' defense picks off Vandenberg a couple of times and holds on for the win.

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