How Did Iowa Get Here?
How did the Iowa football program get to where it is right now, which is a team that is struggling to be average and not winning that battle as of late? How does it get better?
I typically wait until after a season is finished before going down these roads and this off season will see a great deal of analysis on this front. But given the unrest within Hawkeye Nation, a lot of fans are already asking these questions.
I saw a post on the message boards saying that Iowa has talent in the program and I don’t disagree, based on the recruiting rankings of the past two years relative to their Big Ten peers. We all know recruiting rankings are not guarantees as to how teams will turn out, but this staff has a proven track record of player development.
So how did Iowa get to this point, which is a 4-4 team who has played a soft schedule and is probably worse than their record would indicate?
Let’s start with the Recruiting Class of 2008, or the players who are now (or would be) fifth year seniors.
SIGNING DAY 2008: 25 members of the class, though Jake Reisen was a grayshirt and is a 4th year junior. So let’s readjust the number to 24. Of those 24:
Players who have left the program or never made it in (10):
Players who haven’t seen the field or haven’t seen it much at their recruited position (5):
Right there is 15 of the 24, or 62.5% of the entire class, who have made little to no on field contributions as position players in their careers and none of the 15 is making an on-field contribution to the 2012 team as a position player. While Wienke has made contributions in holding kicks and as a plus-50 punter this year, he was recruited to play quarterback and was an EA Sports Elite 11 quarterback coming out of high school. He originally committed to Michigan, but backed out of that after Lloyd Carr resigned. Mossbrucker was Iowa’s #1 placekicker at one time but was passed on the depth chart by former walk on Mike Meyer during the 2010 season.
Nate Guillory was a juco transfer in at RB who never made it through fall camp but would not still be here.
Players who exhausted their eligibility in four years or left early to NFL (3):
Players who have been reserves during their Iowa career:
Players who have been regular starters at some point during their Iowa careers:
James Vandenberg: Nightmarish 2012 campaign
James Ferentz: One of Iowa’s most consistent players
Steve Bigach & Joe Gaglione: While I admire their toughness and wish Gaglione had one more year to play, the reality is these two players probably wouldn’t have seen the field in 2002-2004 and 2007-2010.
There’s your entire recruiting class of 2008 and we’re looking at four regular starters out of the 24 man class (sans Reisen). That is an incredibly low number. Kirk Ferentz has said over the years that for Iowa to have a chance to be successful, it’s seniors have to be playing the best football of their careers. Iowa has two different fourth year seniors on the roster right now who are starting: Keenan Davis and Micah Hyde. They have a walk on senior starter in Matt Tobin.
But on the whole, they have just four different starters who are fifth year seniors, or members of the Recruiting Class of 2008 plus Greg Castillo who has been a key reserve during his career. That’s five meaningful contributors as position players from this class for the 2012 team. Take away Reiff, Prater and Herman from the 24 man total and we are talking about five of 21, or just 23.8 percent of the 2008 recruiting class who are making meaningful contributions to the 2012 team from a position player standpoint.
That’s incredibly poor and a big part of why Iowa is not a good football team right now.
I have always used recruiting rankings more as entertainment, given how Iowa has done so well at developing players. But the 2008 class was ranked 7th of 11th in the Big Ten and the 2009 recruiting class, or those players who will be fifth year seniors next year, was ranked 11th out of 11th. That was an 18 man recruiting class and 10 of those 18 are either no longer with the program or their careers have been cut short due to injury. However, six of those players may be starters for Iowa next year.
Add those 18 to the 24 from the 2008 class and you get 42. Then add up the attrition numbers; eight from 2009 and 10 from 2008 to get 18 of 42, or 43 percent of your two oldest recruiting classes still on campus who are not around or unable to compete for you.
Some of those players have seen injuries shorten their careers but most either just left or never got on to campus. Then factor in the five who have not had a significant impact on the depth chart from the 2008 class and we’re talking about a recipe for trouble in Iowa City, which is what we are seeing play out right now.
None of this lets the coaching staff off the hook. Recruiting is an imperfect science in the projection sense and sometimes in the character sense. You just never truly know which players are going to pan out and turn into good football players. Most won’t and some attrition is to be expected. Yet the Class of 2008, from a meaningful on field performance standpoint, has been worse than most of Iowa’s classes in the Ferentz era, rivaling the once heralded Class of 2005 as far as attrition goes.
There were far more recruiting misses than hits with the Class of 2008 and that will be the case with the Class of 2009 once we close the book on that group after next season.
What of the future?
Iowa’s two-deep roster from the Northwestern game showed 44 positions players combining both sides of the ball. Here is the class breakdown:
Senior: 11 (two walk ons)
75 percent of Iowa’s two deep roster returns for next season. This doesn’t include current soph’s Andrew Donnall and Brandon Scherff who are injured and out for the season. Scherff should be ready to go in the winter but Donnall may have suffered an ACL tear which could put his 2013 availability in doubt.
The offense will lose two senior starters on the line, in addition to Keenan Davis and James Vandenberg. The loss of James Ferentz will be a challenge to replace but Iowa has loads of talent along that side of the line of scrimmage. Davis’ production will be missed but there are some young candidates ready to step in and step up.
Given the play from Vandenberg at this point in time, one may be able to confidently say the quarterback position can’t be any worse in 2013 than it is this year. I think the defense will be better on the whole than it is this year and Iowa returns both kicking specialists.
The good news is that Iowa returns a lot of players and there is some good talent in the last two recruiting classes who were rated 3rd and 4th in the Big Ten.
The bad news is that we’re talking about a lot of faith that the players currently getting time will make big strides and the young players waiting in the wings are going to pan out more often than they don’t.
Try going through this exercise; how many position players from this 2012 team would have started in 2002 or 2009? The only one who comes to mind is Micah Hyde. Perhaps you find a slot for Scherff somewhere on the line in 2009, maybe Ferentz, too. Extend that exercise to the 2004 season and Hyde is the only player on defense, for certain. None of Iowa’s skill position players gets that nod (other than a warm body at running back in 2004 due to the decimating injuries).
The reality for most good football teams is your oldest two classes lead the way and dominate the depth chart. While 24 of the 44 players on the depth chart are from those classes, they are not performing like similarly aged players did from Iowa teams of the past decade. Iowa has a talent issue and a bill that was coming due in 2012; I just thought the soft schedule might have been enough to soften the blow.
Sure, there are execution issues and I think Greg Davis has been doing a good job as far as play calling goes, but how much of Iowa’s offensive problems can be traced to the change in offensive system? The defense is turning into what I expected it would be back in March, as teams are starting to gut the Hawkeyes on the ground. Iowa lost too many defensive linemen to transfer over during the past four years and the bill was coming due this year.
That’s not something that can be waved off as ‘one of those things’, either; perhaps Ferentz stuck with Rick Kaczenksi too long as his Defensive Line coach, someone who turned out to be a square peg in a round hole from a program perspective. It’s up to the boss to take care of things like that and perhaps that issue lingered too long. Either way, Iowa is paying the price right now.
Looking forward, we’re talking about a lot of faith and hope as it relates to the program getting back on solid footing as far as ‘good football’ is concerned, but those two words aren’t settling too well within the fan base right now.
This isn’t the last item we’ll write like this and there will be deeper examinations into the coaching staff once the season is over. But any item devoted to recruiting attrition and players not panning out is in and of itself an examination on those who run a program. In this area as it relates to the 2008 Recruiting class, it’s one of the worst wipe outs of the 14 year Kirk Ferentz era.