NCF Nation: Paul Chaney
This was the toughest position to whittle down to five (actually, six), but here goes ...
2. Indiana: The Hoosiers return two of the Big Ten's top five receivers in Tandon Doss, a first-team all-conference selection, and Damarlo Belcher. They also add experience with Terrance Turner and exciting young players like Duwyce Wilson and Dre Muhammad. Overall depth is a bit of a question mark, but both Doss and Belcher will get the attention of opposing defensive backs after combining for 1,732 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns last fall. Max Dedmond returns at tight end after recording 18 receptions in 2009.
3. Wisconsin: I'm not completely sold on this entire group, although receiver Nick Toon and tight end Lance Kendricks should contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall. Isaac Anderson and David Gilreath both boast a ton of experience, but must take the next step in their development. Wisconsin could use a rebound season from Kyle Jefferson, and walk-on Jared Abbrederis continues to make plays in practice and should be a contributor this fall.
4. Purdue: Surprised by my choices so far? You won't be when the season starts. Like Michigan State, Purdue's depth will reveal itself this fall. The Boilers are led by Keith Smith, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009 and the league's top returning receiver (1,100 yards). He's joined by two veterans in receiver Cortez Smith and tight end Kyle Adams. But the real boost could come from young players like Antavian Edison and Gary Bush, as well as Justin Siller, the team's former starting quarterback who brings size and big-play ability to the perimeter.
T-5: Penn State: I'm tempted to rank the Lions a little higher but want to see how the entire group performs this season, provided they get the ball thrown to them. Derek Moye has all the tools to be an All-Big Ten receiver after recording 48 receptions for 765 yards and six touchdowns last season. Graham Zug is a very solid target who reached the end zone seven times in 2009. Although Chaz Powell moves to defense, Penn State boasts several exciting young wideouts like Devon Smith. Tight end is a big question mark after the departures of Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler.
T-5. Iowa: The Hawkeyes boast the league's top big-play tandem at receiver in Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt. DJK is on track to become the team's all-time leading receiver this fall, and McNutt averaged 19.8 yards per catch and scored eight touchdowns in 2009. I like the potential of guys like Keenan Davis and Paul Chaney Jr., who returns from a knee injury. Tony Moeaki is a major loss at tight end, but Allen Reisner returns and talented freshman C.J. Fiedorowicz enters the fold.
Just missed the cut: Ohio State, Michigan
Up next: Quarterbacks
More rankings ...
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The conference room outside Kirk Ferentz's office serves as a shrine to what Iowa football has accomplished in the last decade.
A case holding watches and rings from each of the seven bowl games Iowa has made during Ferentz's tenure as head coach rests on a table. The 2004 Big Ten championship trophy sits in a corner, and pictures from bowl games and Kinnick Stadium line the four walls.
It's an easy place for a coach to nod his head and take stock of what his program has accomplished since 1999.
Ferentz does none of that, and neither do his players.
"Nobody's going to mistake us with Southern Cal," Ferentz said. "So we better have an edge and we better be trying to maximize what we have."
What Ferentz has is a team that returns 16 starters, eight on a defense that finished fifth nationally in scoring (13 points per game), ninth in rushing (94 yards per game) and 10th in takeaways (32) last season. Iowa was the lone Big Ten team to win its bowl game, capturing six of its final seven games overall, and should enter the fall ranked in the top 20.
But there are question marks, and Ferentz recognizes them. Iowa remains young, with only 15 seniors and five three-year lettermen on the 98-man roster. The Hawkeyes lose Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene at running back and defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul, both four-year starters.
"You don't take nothing for granted," cornerback Amari Spievey said.
"Absolutely nothing," added linebacker Pat Angerer.
Ferentz likes the attitude he's seen so far this spring.
"So far, so good," he said. "This team has a chance to be a good football team. We've got a lot of work to do in a lot of areas, mentally and physically, but we have a good feel about it thus far."
Other notes from my coversation with Ferentz and several players:
- Ferentz sounds pleased with the development of junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who beat out Jake Christensen for the starting job last year and led Iowa to its strong finish. Ball security will be the primary challenge for Stanzi, who bounced back from mistakes well last year but can't afford to play with fire too much. Ferentz and tight end Tony Moeaki both recognized Stanzi's obvious development as a leader during the offseason.
"Last year, he was just a guy," Ferentz said. "He's just on a natural track of progression. Rick was just trying to play last year. Not that he wasn't a leader, but we've seen that expand, too. We're optimistic that he'll continue on. ... You hope from an experienced quarterback that he's going to be making better decisions with each opportunity, and I think we've seen that."
- The competition to replace Shonn Greene is under way, and Ferentz doesn't want to place unreasonable expectations on the team's next running back. Jewel Hampton, Greene's primary backup last season, missed the first third of spring ball with a mild hamstring strain but is back at practice and taking contact. Redshirt freshman Jeff Brinson missed the second third of the spring with the flu and is now back. Junior Paki O'Meara has participated throughout the spring.
- As for the void at defensive tackle, junior Karl Klug has stepped in well. Ferentz praised the spring performance of Mike Daniels and said Travis Meade has moved from offensive line to defensive tackle. Freshman Steve Bigach also is getting work this spring. Ferentz said starting ends Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard have taken on the leadership load with the line.
- Six players are out for the spring following surgeries: Tight end Tony Moeaki, safeties Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood, linebacker A.J. Edds, defensive tackle Cody Hundertmark, and right guard Andy Kuempel. Ferentz said there have been no major injuries this spring aside from players missing a few practices here and there. Moeaki was on crutches when we talked but expects to be back soon.
- Ferentz said Iowa will be playing three night games during Big Ten play: at Penn State (Sept. 26), vs. Michigan (Oct. 10) and at Michigan State (Oct. 24).
- There's some buzz around the program that wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos has fallen out of favor a bit after a strong finish last fall. Asked about the wideouts, Ferentz named four players Marvin McNutt, Colin Sandeman, Paul Chaney and Trey Stross -- before getting to Johnson-Koulianos, who led the team in both receptions (44) and receiving yards (639) last fall.
"He's got to improve just like everybody else," Ferentz said of the man known as DJK. "There's a lot of little things that he can do better. With receivers, when they make plays, it's pretty obvious, but there are a lot of things that go on during the game that go unnoticed by the average person watching. That's a challenge for all the guys."
- McNutt, who switched to wide receiver from quarterback, has "been intriguing," Ferentz said. He also praised Chaney and Stross for their performances this spring.
- Ferentz discussed the team's recent off-field problems, which included the arrest of his son, James, a sophomore center. Angerer, who admits he partied too much early in his career, also weighed in on the trend.
"We've all been there," Angerer said. "There's a lot of guys on the team that probably should have gotten in trouble, and I'm one of them. I've done some stupid stuff, I've had my fair share of fun, but it's never been as fun as playing in front of 70,000 people."
- Until this week the offseason has been very positive for Ferentz, who agreed to a new contract in February through the 2015 season. The NFL rumors likely will never go away for Ferentz, but the Big Ten's second-longest tenured coach sounds pretty comfortable in his surroundings.
"I'm 53, so I don't know how many more years I've got," he said with a laugh. "I don't think that far out, I really don't. We'll worry about this year, and then we'll go from there. But my plan is to coach for a long time, and my plan is to be here for a long time."