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Elbow room

September 2nd, 2015
It wasn't unexpected, but expect a little extra elbow room Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. For the first time since 2003, the Hawkeyes will likely play in front of fewer than 60,000 fans at a home game. Iowa had sold 57,600 tickets for its 2015 season opener against Illinois State, a number that compares with the 66,805 fans who showed up a year ago when the Hawkeyes opened against Northern Iowa. A drop in season ticket sales is the primary cause. Iowa announced last month that season ticket sales were down 16 percent from a year ago, meaning that the general public and faculty/staff had purchased around 7,000 fewer tickets per game than they purchased in 2014. Iowa's late-season struggles on the field - the Hawkeyes enter 2015 looking to end a three-game losing streak - and a home schedule that leaves plenty to be desired are factors. Games against Iowa State, Nebraska and Wisconsin are all on the road this season and Big Ten heavyweights Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State are nowhere to be found on the Hawkeyes' eight-game schedule in the new-look Big Ten. The downturn wasn't unexpected. Iowa budgeted for a drop of $2.85 million in football ticket revenue this season. Pushing group sales and a pair of rare night games - Iowa hosts Pittsburgh and Minnesota under the lights at Kinnick - Iowa officials continue to work to fill seats. Winning always has been and always will be the solution to that issue, something coach Kirk Ferentz has pointed out multiple times. That won't fill seats this weekend, a holiday weekend when projected 90-degree temperatures and an opponent which sold only 1,200 of its 4,000 allotted seats only add to the complexity of the situation. "Our fans have been great and we know they will continue to support us,'' Ferentz said. "Our job is to win games and give them something to feel good about. None of us were pleased with how last season ended. It wasn't representative of the type of program we have and our players have been working since January to turn that around.'' Fans will likely return to Kinnick Stadium once the Hawkeyes return to their winning ways. Until then, extra elbow room will be available. The Hawkeyes last played in front of a crowd of less than 60,000 fans at home on Sept. 6, 2003 when 54,471 fans showed up for a game against Buffalo. That was Iowa's second home game after going undefeated the previous season in Big Ten play and reaching the Orange Bowl. The first game at Kinnick that year against Miami (Ohio) attracted a crowd of 54,128. Iowa opened that year with four straight wins and filled all of the 70,397 seats - then the capacity at the stadium - for its remaining five home games during a 10-3 season.

Measuring stick

September 1st, 2015
Kirk Ferentz won't put a number on how many victories will constitute a good season for this Iowa football team. The Hawkeye coach said today that the measuring stick for any team can take a number of different forms, but if you're looking for him to put a numerical value on it keep looking because that won't happen. "To me, it's more about how we play,'' Ferentz said during his weekly news conference. "I know that sounds mundane or whatever, but when you watch the game tape after you come off the field it's all about whether or not you maximized the opportunities that presented themselves. How did you compete? How did you maximize opportunities to give yourselves a chance to be successful.?'' Ferentz said that approach has been a constant throughout his tenure at Iowa. He gets that fans love to put numbers to it all. Just don't expect him to jump on that opportunity. "The ultimate goal is to win the football game, first and foremost. This isn't ninth grade football. I've got different thoughts about that,'' Ferentz said. "For what we do, that's our goal. The bigger challenge is how do we play? How do we maximize what we have and what we are? Sometimes you play teams that play better than you. That happens. But, it's always about how you play. So, that's how we will evaluate each game and the how we will evaluate the season.''

Home of the Hawkeyes

August 25th, 2015
Ten days before the 2015 season kicks off, the Iowa football team is settling into its new home. While bricks and mortar will never matter more than the people working inside the walls of the Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center, the new $55 million home of the Hawkeyes provides an efficient, updated facility that will prepare Iowa football players for competition and keep the program competitive with facilities elsewhere across the country. Media members were given a close look at the amenities of the Hawkeyes' new surroundings this afternoon. It was a chance to see everything from hand sensors that provide players and staff with areas where they need to work to the well-stocked nutrition area tucked along one wall of a 23,000 square-foot strength and conditioning facility. A locker room for Hawkeyes in the NFL who train at the facility sits along one wall. "We had 19 NFL guys in here training on one day in February,'' strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle said. "For our current players to have those guys around means a great deal for our program.'' The facility includes a locker room with secure oak lockers with doors that close and a nearby drying room where "wet and sweaty gear'' is placed immediately, ensuring that the Hawkeye locker room doesn't smell like a like a locker room at all. Adjacent equipment and laundry facilities are located near a loading dock, where equipment can be loaded efficiently and deliveries can be received with ease. The locker room areas are attached to training facilities that including three therapy pools that can be heated or cooled to varying degrees, taping tables where the tape that protects the ankles and hands of Hawkeyes is built into the cabinetry. An orthopedic room provides and a physician's office provide convenient space for injured or ill players to be attended to without having to trek across campus to a sports medicine facility located west of Mormon Trek Road. The upper level includes meeting rooms -- both position group rooms and a team room filled with leather chairs etched with a Tiger Hawk logo that can hold up to 500 pounds. There are also coaches and staff offices, space for the program's video personnel to do their work and a player's lounge to provide the Hawkeyes with a chance to "get away'' without leaving the facility. There's a pool table, a ping pong table, gaming stations and computers and most importantly, an opportunity for players to get to know each other and bond as a team. Wide hallways run from the front of the facility to the back, where doors lead to the indoor practice facility. The backdoor there leads to Iowa's outdoor practice fields. The halls are lined with visual reminders of the program's tradition and the opportunities it provides. One wall contains programs and details of every bowl game Iowa has played in. As Hawkeyes walk out of the team meeting room, there are visuals of current Hawkeyes in the NFL as a subtle reminder of the possibilities that exist. On a second-story glass wall that overlooks the strength and conditioning facility, the name of every Iowa academic all-American and the name of every Hawkeye letterwinner is etched. The first floor includes display cases that include throwback uniforms, helmets and areas to display team strength and agility measurements. Coach Kirk Ferentz said the finished product, which Iowa has been settling into during the spring and summer months, is every bit what he hoped it would be. "We wanted a building that was going to be first class, but not opulent,'' Ferentz said. "We wanted a place that was going to be functional and this place if functional at every turn.'' Ferentz estimates the walk from his office at the front of facility -- which includes the first window he has had in any of the five offices he has had during his time at Iowa -- to the most remote practice field is no more than 300 yards. He remembers driving from an office at the Iowa Field House to practice facilities located north of Kinnick Stadium when he first arrived at Iowa as an assistant on Hayden Fry's staff. From practice, coaches and players went to Hillcrest Dormitory to eat, went back to their offices, then returned to meeting spaces scattered in several campus buildings before returning to the practice field. "The efficiency we have here now is incredible and we find more reasons to like it every day,'' Ferentz said. The facility was funded entirely with private donations and dollars generated by the athletics department. Ferentz took time to thank donors large and small for their contributions. "It all helped give us a facility that we are awfully proud of,'' he said. Offensive line coach Brian Ferentz said the position group meeting rooms provide excellent teaching space, with floor-to-ceiling white board walls and video projection capabilities on the front wall. Rows of long tables, not unlike those found in labs across campus, cross the room to the back where the walls are lined with bold visual images of Hawkeye all-American offensive linemen. Down the hall, a smaller space with filled with a triangle-shaped table is the centerpiece of the quarterback meeting room. The same white board and video projection system fill one wall. On the opposite end, the best quarterbacks to ever play for Iowa are pictured. Iowa director of football operations Paul Federici was among staff members who visited facilities on 10 other campuses across the country to gather ideas as the Hawkeye facility was in the planning stages. At each stop along the way, from Connecticut to Texas A&M and points between, they collected ideas that shaped Iowa's new football home. And others are now visiting the Hawkeye facility. Strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle said he has already had visitors in from "five or six power-five conference institutions'' who wanted to a closer look at Iowa's new facilities. "We have a lot of room here, very flexible, functional space that can be reconfigured from one day to the next all to help our players,'' Doyle said. And at the end of the day, that is what the entire facility is about. "At some places, they collect players,'' Doyle said. "At Iowa, we build players and we now have one of the best, if not the best, place in the country to help them reach and move beyond their goals.''

A starting point

August 23rd, 2015
When the Associated Press releases its preseason college football poll this afternoon, my ballot will again be among those that formulates the coast-to-coast measuring stick of the college game at a given point in time. I've written this before, and probably will do so again, but I'm not a big fan of early-season polls. They are more a reflection of what has happened and what teams have the potential to do rather than based in the reality that will form ballots later in the season. Ohio State is in the first spot on my initial ballot for the 2015 season, based on returning talent and the potential that exists within Urban Meyer's team. An opening weekend test at Virginia Tech may prove if the Buckeyes are worthy. TCU, Alabama and Baylor, three teams I also considered for the No. 1 position, fill the next three slots. I opted for USC in fifth, selecting the Trojans over fellow Pac-12 member Oregon. I like the Ducks' potential as well. They are in the eighth spot behind Michigan State and Auburn.. The only other Big Ten team I have rated initially is Wisconsin at 19th. I also considered Minnesota, which will get a season-opening test from TCU a week from Thursday in Minneapolis, and Nebraska before settling on my final initial ballot. I tend to look at this ballot as a starting point. Nothing more. Nothing less. It should be noted the ballot was due a couple of weeks ago and was submitted prior to that, so training camp injuries and such are not reflected in this week's ballot. Teams will move up and down based on what transpires over the next few months on the field. I'm sure I'll hear from some of you over time as well. While the AP poll does not factor into qualification for postseason playoff, the passion of fans from across the country is evident from time to time and that's fine. The main thing to remember is that each ballot is a one-week snapshot and things can and do change over time. It's mostly for good "coffee talk,'' as Hayden Fry use to put it. He's right, and any discussion is good discussion. The preseason poll is a sign that the season is nearing, something we can all look forward to. Sit back, and get ready to enjoy the ride. Here is my preseason ballot for the 2015 AP college football poll: 1. Ohio State 2. TCU 3. Alabama 4. Baylor 5. USC 6. Michigan State 7. Auburn 8. Oregon 9. Georgia 10. Notre Dame 11. Florida State 12. LSU 13. UCLA 14. Georgia Tech 15. Mississippi 16. Arizona State 17. Clemson 18. Oklahoma 19. Wisconsin 20. Arkansas 21. Missouri 22. Stanford 23. Boise State 24. Tennessee 25. Arizona

A little one on one

August 15th, 2015
Dealing on a daily basis with senior defensive end Nate Meier, Ike Boettger is getting a taste of what he can expect as a starting right tackle for the Iowa football team this fall. On the other end of the offensive line, first-year starter Boone Myers is experiencing the same as he copes with what Drew Ott is dishing out. Today, that combination led to an inconsistent offensive performance and a dominant day for the two senior defensive ends. Although he couldn't wrap his arms around C.J. Beathard and sack him, Ott seemingly spent nearly as much time in the Hawkeye backfield as LeShun Daniels did in his limited action at today's Kids Day scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium. "You know exactly where you're at,'' Boettger said. "When you're going up against guys like that every day, you get a pretty clear picture of where you need to be and what it takes.'' That's the point. There are two schools of thought about how teams scrimmage as they prepare for the season. Former Iowa coach Hayden Fry never let his starters line up against anybody other than the Hawkeye reserves. It was always a ones vs. twos situation, with Fry wanting his starters to walk off the field feeling good about their practice work on a daily basis. If that led to a 65-7 outcome in a spring game, so be it, according to Fry's philosophy. That left the reserves knowing exactly where they've stood as well. Coach Kirk Ferentz prefers a different approach. He has and continues to pair his first-team offense against first-team defensive players on a regular basis, with reserves generally competing against their peers from the other side of the ball. "There is no right way or wrong way to prepare, but I've always felt for the best way for guys to learn, for them to understand the tempo, was to experience it,'' Ferentz said. The results, when a veteran guy is facing a lineup newbie, can be eye opening. Ferentz has seen a little of that this year as new linemen adjust. "It's painful at times and it's not always pretty, but we've found the end results to be what we want,'' Ferentz said. Iowa's one on one method of preparation forces players in starting roles to grow, long before the Big Ten's best make their way to Kinnick Stadium. It's just the way Ferentz prefers for his team to learn. He does recall the day he tested Fry's patience and foot speed, lining up his offensive line starters in practice across from the Iowa starting defensive line coached by Dan McCarney, whose North Texas team visits the Hawkeyes on Sept. 26. "I'm not sure either of us had seen coach Fry run so fast in his life,'' Ferentz said. "Once he realized what was going on, that didn't last too long.''

The right fit

August 8th, 2015
It's a situation linebackers coach Jim Reid doesn't mind one bit. The number of quality players the Iowa assistant is working with and the experience most of them gained while suffering some growing pains a year ago has energized their coach. "It's a good position to be in,'' Reid said. "We have five guys who gained a lot of experience last year and I wouldn't count Aaron Mends out of things either. The six guys on that depth chart right now can play the game.'' Bo Bower and Josey Jewell started a year ago, but the graduation loss of Quinton Alston has moved Jewell to Alston's middle spot and shuffled Bower from the outside to an interior position. Ben Niemann, who stood out on special teams as a true freshman last fall, is now listed at the top of the depth chart on the outside. Seniors Cole Fisher and Travis Perry both received playing time a year ago as well that should benefit the entire group. All endured the good, the bad and the occasionally ugly of some on-the-job training year ago after Iowa graduated Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey and James Morris the previous year. As Hitchens, Kirksey and Morris continue to work in NFL camps, their replacements are now settling in at linebacker where the parts may continue to move around from one spot to another over the next few weeks. "It's a different deal now,'' Jewell said. "Last year, we all were in the same situation trying to figure things out. We have a year of experience to draw on, and that should help us all.'' There's also plenty of motivation. "The way things ended last season left us all with a pretty sour taste, but all we could do was learn from it, move on and use it as motivation for this year,'' Bower said. "We're counting on that. We've all put a lot into it this offseason and we know that now we have to take that next step.'' Reid believes that will happen. "I've told them all just to go out and compete. Do it without a fear of failing,'' he said. "We can fix anything that goes wrong. Just go hard. Go fast. That's where it starts for us. I like what I see. I think we have five, six guys we can put in there and be successful with.''

A Hawkeye home run

August 6th, 2015
On the first day of football practices at Iowa, the Hawkeye wrestling team hit a home run at Kinnick Stadium. If that makes about as much sense as putting up a wrestling mat in the middle of a football field on a November morning in Iowa, then get ready to put on a jacket and have some fun. The two most tradition-rich programs in the sport, Iowa and Oklahoma State, will continue their annual series of duals but will do so on the turf at Kinnick Stadium eight hours before the Hawkeye football team and Minnesota battle for Floyd of Rosedale at the same venue. The idea is a good one. If hockey can be played outdoors in football stadiums and basketball teams can take a makeshift court on an aircraft carrier, why not wrestling on a football field? Cowboys coach John Smith said when Hawkeyes coach Tom Brands approached him with the idea, he didn't have to think too long about it. "I think it's something that will be fun,'' he said. Iowa is counting on it being a popular draw with fans as well, hoping to set an NCAA record for attendance. Contingency are in place in case the weather doesn't cooperate. Tom Brands suggested that fans might want to grow a beard and throw on a hat if temperatures are below the average Nov. 14 temperature of 51 in Iowa City that day. And if things are worse? The only way to buy a ticket now is to purchase an Iowa season ticket, but the first 15,000 tickets sold will also guarantee fans a seat at Carver-Hawkeye Arena if the dual has to be moved indoors. Anyone who purchases a ticket beyond that 15,000 would be able to exchange their ticket for a seat at any of Iowa's remaining home duals during the 2015-16 season. The dual will kickoff -- couldn't resist the football pun -- what should be six months of incredible wrestling in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes will host Minnesota in an important Big Ten dual on Jan. 30 and will host the Big Ten Championships on March 5-6 before the 2016 United States Olympic Trials are held at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in April. But, the "fun'' will begin on the turf at Kinnick and Iowa officials deserve credit for putting in the logistical legwork to make it happen.

Egg-citing endeavor

July 31st, 2015
It's just Drew. From driving his scooter 10 hours to his family's home in Nebraska to downing raw eggs complete with the shell, Drew Ott marches to the beat of his own drummer in addition to rating among the elite defensive ends in the Big Ten this season. A video of Ott devouring an egg made its way into cyberspace earlier this summer and at the Big Ten Kickoff, a reporter showed up complete with a Grade A opportunity. Would he be willing to down an egg? No sweat. Ott performed the feat, then explained that he first performed the trick when offered $5 by an uncle who dared him to do it when he was a little kid. It's become a more common occurrence lately, in part because Ott said at times he has become too lazy to cook. That's Drew, who coach Kirk Ferentz labels "a character with character.'' Teammates aren't surprised by anything Ott might opt to come up with. His wardrobe includes a t-shirt that proclaims him as the "No. 1 Dad.'' There's just one hitch -- Ott isn't a father. "He's just the kind of guy who doesn't care about all that stuff. He'll just do whatever,'' Iowa center Austin Blythe said. "He's the kind of guy who flies by the seat of his pants.'' Ott has an easy explanation for the t-shirt as well. He bought it for "less than five bucks'' on a sale rack at an Iowa City Wal-Mart. "People do ask me about it,'' he said, adding that he has not fathered any children. "It's a talker.'' Just like eating raw eggs. It's just Drew.

Yastrzemski and Hawkeye football

July 30th, 2015
yazWhen Carl Yastrzemski waved to the crowd at Boston's Fenway Park on Tuesday after being introduced at a ceremony where the jersey of Pedro Martinez was retired, he caught the eye of Iowa football fans. Underneath is sports coat, Yastrzemski was wearing a "Hawkeye football'' polo shirt, complete with a golden tiger hawk logo. Shortly after the close-up look appeared on television and a picture popped up on social media, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz realized something had happened. "I heard pretty quickly from John Bridge, who I taught school with in Worcester. He wanted to know how I pulled that off,'' Ferentz said today at the Big Ten kickoff. Ferentz couldn't take credit. That went to assistant coach Chris White, whose father played baseball with Yastrzemski at Notre Dame. "They apparently still golf all the time and are good friends. It was great to see, some good publicity,'' Ferentz said. In some ways, Ferentz figures 'Yaz' was simply returning the favor. "I used to have a 'Yaz' bat when I was a kid, a real thin-handled bat,'' Ferentz said. "I didn't hit like him, though, but that type of a bat seemed to work for him.''

The unanimous decision

July 27th, 2015
Cleveland.com has assembled its annual preseason Big Ten football poll, seeking the opinions of journalists from throughout the conference to rank teams from top to bottom. A total of 40 individuals participated this year and they agreed on one thing - that defending national champion Ohio State is the team to beat this season. All 40 first-place votes went to the Buckeyes and in the East Division, Ohio State and Michigan State were ranked 1-2 on every ballot. Things were a little more scrambled in the West, where Iowa was picked to finish fourth. Wisconsin was listed first on 32 of the 40 ballots, with Nebraska receiving five votes and Minnesota gaining the other three. The Badgers, Cornhuskers and Gophers finished in that order in the poll, with Iowa, Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue rounding things out. The poll, which has been conducted for the last five years, originated in part because the Big Ten has never released a top-to-bottom projection of how the league will play out. It did until 2011 ask those attending the Big Ten media day to rank their top three teams and then released that ballot. Since that time, the league has not asked that question. The Big Ten will, as it has done in recent years, release a watch list of 10 players in the league - five from each division - when conference begins its annual kickoff event in Chicago on Thursday. Here's how this year's poll played out, with first-place votes in parenthesis: EAST 1. Ohio State (40) 280 2. Michigan State 240 3. Penn State 186.5 4. Michigan 163.5 5. Maryland 95.5 6. Rutgers 78 7. Indiana 76.5 WEST 1. Wisconsin (32) 272 2. Nebraska (5) 231.5 3. Minnesota (3) 197 4. Iowa 158.5 5. Northwestern 125 6. Illinois 77 7. Purdue 59 And when asked to pick the winner of the Big Ten Championship Game, the Buckeyes made a clean: Ohio State over Wisconsin (32) Ohio State over Nebraska (5) Ohio State over Minnesota (3)