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Typical Drew

February 27th, 2016
Drew Ott sat down at a table today in Indianapolis, surrounded by a handful of reporters at the NFL Combine who were curious about what it felt like to be Drew. As a Big Ten eligibility committee continues to research the merits of the Iowa defensive end's request for an additional year of eligibility after an injury-filled senior season that kept him off the field for eight of the Hawkeyes' 14 games, limited him in others and ultimately led to both Tommy John and ACL surgeries, Ott's future remains in limbo. If possible, he wants one final year with the Hawkeyes. If not, he's laying the groundwork to move forward and he's doing so on his own. Ott is maneuvering his way through the NFL pre-draft thicket this week in Indianapolis on his own. He was given permission by the NCAA to attend, but cannot hire an agent because of his desire to return to the college game. He took a spot in the interview room with other combine participants and admitted that the process has taken a little longer than he thought it might initially, but conceded to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, "I'm doing OK.'' Typical Drew. He's rolling with the flow, just as he always has. The paperwork for Ott's request was filed before Iowa packed its bags for Pasadena. The Big Ten eligibility subcommittee that reviews those requests held its first meeting since that time earlier this week. It did not announce a decision, which is not all that uncommon and sometimes is reflective of a desire to collect more information. Ott indicated in Indianapolis he believes he will know something within the next couple of weeks. If the Big Ten rejects his request, he can appeal the decision to the NCAA and coach Kirk Ferentz has indicated that an appeal is likely if needed. Ott said he understands that the people on the eligibility are making sure the request is what it is and doesn't fault them for being thorough in their work. While some people would be up in arms about the length of time this all has taken, Ott isn't whining or carping about it. He told reporters he's ready to deal with whatever comes his way when the group ultimately makes its call. "I've been dealing with it for a couple months now,'' he said. "I'm not too worked up about it. I'll be fine either way.'' Truer words may have never been spoken. Ott said that former Hawkeye Aaron Kampman, who now lives near Solon after concluding his own NFL career, has been helpful in providing guidance. In the meantime, Ott continues to work on rehabbing his body from the late-October surgeries. Spring football at Iowa begins on March 23. The NFL Draft runs from April 28-30. Ott figures he'll know where his future well before then and if history tells us anything - remember that Ott played five days after being tossed off his scooter following a collision with a vehicle - he'll be ready to cope with whatever comes his way. That, too, is typical Drew.

A different perspective

February 5th, 2016
Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz plans to be in the stands Sunday at Super Bowl 50, viewing things from a different perspective. With son James contributing on special teams and as a back-up center for the Broncos, Ferentz has a rooting interest in what takes place on the field in Santa Clara when Denver faces Carolina late Sunday afternoon. As has been the case when he's had a chance to watch his sons play before, he'll watch it as a parent and have same type of perspective that many Hawkeyes players have when they watch their sons play at Iowa. "When you're coaching, you're working obviously,'' Ferentz said. "When you're playing, you're competing, but when you're a parent, it kind of takes the fun out of everything because it's either black or white. That's good or bad. That's just kind of how it goes.'' This will be the second Super Bowl that Ferentz has attended in recent years, getting a chance to be there when his son Brian was coaching tight ends on the Patriots staff when New England played in the 2012 Super Bowl. Ferentz, the parent, is happy for his son and what he has accomplished. Three years removed from his final college season at Iowa, James Ferentz took a year off and worked at Randy's Carpets in Coralville before making the Texans practice squad a year ago. He was cut by Houston before the start of the 2015 season, but signed one week before Denver opened the current season and has been on the team's active roster all year. The Iowa coach fought back a tear or five when taking about his son this week. "It's a good story. He's sticking with it, chasing the dream a little bit,'' Ferentz said. "I was teasing him, I said he's gone from a day-to-day contract to now having a week-to-week contract. So, he's improved his lot in life. But that is the reality in the NFL. "... The reality is it's a temporary profession, but why not chase it? Why not go after it? Really happy for him, and the Super Bowl is just the cherry on top.'' As proud as he is of what James Ferentz has accomplished, Ferentz, the coach, thinks Sunday's game leaves a bit to be desired. "What I don't like about the Super Bowl is just all the hoopla and the fact that halftime is instead of 12 minutes it's 30 minutes. I really think that's disrespectful to the players and the coaches, which are key parts of any football game,'' Ferentz said. Still, he welcomes the chance to be there Sunday. "It's really exciting, and you know, we'll be cheering for Peyton Manning and the Broncos,'' Ferentz said. He'll also be cheering for dry weather, recalling sitting through rain at one of the two Super Bowls that have been played in rainy weather. "My wife takes great delight in that, A, I didn't get dropped off by the team bus right at the entrance to the stadium and B, that when it started raining nobody gave me a raincoat,'' Ferentz said. "So, I got soaked and I froze. My wife thoroughly enjoyed that. She was home.''

Showtime nears

February 1st, 2016
When college football's future signs on the bottom line on Wednesday, the first time current high school recruits can sign binding letters of intent, it will be greeted with the usual fanfare across the country. There will be signing ceremonies, photos and cakes at high schools from coast to coast. College coaches will announce the newest collection of players, celebrating the additional of recruits who are perfect fits for their programs. Some will follow a traditional routine. As letters of intent arrive at a school's football office, they will announced on social media. It's a big day for both the athletes involved and for coaches whose future relies on making good decisions as they build rosters and fill needs of the programs. There tends to be a little more glitz these days as recruits are announced. After all, it wasn't all that long ago that Hayden Fry announced his recruits in three waves - instate, out of state and junior college - in order to receive three days worth of news coverage of who the Hawkeyes are signing. Now, TV cameras are rolling as letters of intent are received. There will be live coverage as the next generation of SEC players hits the send button to cement their future plans. And in Ann Arbor, it will be showtime. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who hasn't hesitated to draw attention to his program whenever possible, will introduce the Wolverines' new recruits at an event that is being billed as "Signing of the Stars'' and will attract a number of celebrities to an auditorium on the Michigan campus. It's just the latest attention-grabbing attempt by Harbaugh who attracted attention recently by participating in a well-publicized sleepover at a recruit's house after raising the ire of SEC coaches after the Michigan staff hosted a series of clinics in the heart of some of the nation's most fertile recruiting territories last summer. This time, Harbaugh and Michigan has teamed up with The Players' Tribune for a two-hour event to announce the Wolverines' newest recruits. Former Michigan quarterback Tom Brady, who isn't working this week after the Patriots were eliminated from the NFL playoffs, and Derek Jeter are the latest members of a star-studded cast scheduled to appear. Grammy-nominated Josh Gracin, pro wrestler Ric Flair, NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski, rapper Migos, former Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, Texas Rangers pitcher Derek Holland, former NFL coach Mike Shanahan, former college coach Lou Holtz and former Wolverines Desmond Howard, Jon Jansen and Denard Robinson, are all scheduled to appear and help introduce Michigan's newest football talent. Plans also include participation at the invitation-only event by new players who enrolled early and are already on campus. The event will be live streamed, and it only seems likely that future prospects are well aware of the latest collection of bells and whistles Harbaugh is utilizing to draw attention to his program. Michigan's current recruiting class, by the way, ranks fifth nationally right now and is regarded as the second best in the Big Ten behind Ohio State.

The sad and simple truth

January 27th, 2016
There is no getting around the sad and simple truth surrounding the death of Tyler Sash. The game he loved and the passion and intensity he played that game with throughout his life contributed to his death last fall at the age of 27. Sash was a spirited competitor, dishing out hits and taking them from the time he first ran onto the old high school field dug into a ravine in his hometown of Oskaloosa to the stadiums of the Big Ten and ultimately the NFL. His tragic death from what has been determined to be an accidental drug overdose at his home in Oskaloosa on Sept. 8 saddened Hawkeye fans, former teammates and coaches. Last night, they learned part of the reason behind the death of a player who had seemingly accomplished so much. According to a report in the New York Times, Sash's brain had been impacted by advanced stages of CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated trauma. Sash dealt with repeated concussions during his playing career, at least five before the New York Giants released him the one-time all-Big Ten defensive back in 2013. Two of those concussions took place in high school, one while he was playing at Iowa, according to the published report. Sash's family members told the New York Times that he was dealing with bouts of confusion and memory loss and that his behavior at times had become irregular. Sash's mother donated her son's brain to have it tested for CTE, and last week representatives of the Concussion Legacy Foundation and Boston University notified the family that CTE had been diagnosed and had advanced to a stage rarely seen in someone so young. Multiple studies on the impact of concussions and tests on potential ways to limit both their occurrence and their impact on the body when they do occur are underway across the country. Rules on the field have changed. Toughened targeting rules are in place. The way tackling is being taught has changed. Still, the risk remains. Football is a contact sport, as is soccer and hockey and at times, even baseball. At its core, the object for any defensive player on a football field is to tackle the person with the ball. Tyler Sash excelled at that part of the game. Sadly, that may have contributed to his much-too-soon demise. Some suggest that the sport he loved has a questionable future at best. His life, and his demise, only add to those questions. As others work to determine the answers and find solutions, the clock is ticking. That, too, is the sad and simple truth.

Big weekend

January 22nd, 2016
Iowa basketball and wrestling programs will look to remain unbeaten in the Big Ten at home this weekend, but it's a big weekend for the Hawkeye football program as well. Iowa will host its biggest recruiting weekend of the year, welcoming 22 prospects to campus. Of those, 18 are players who have verbally committed to be part of Iowa's 2016 recruiting class and are expected to sign binding letters of intent on Feb. 3. The rest of the players who have already committed to the Hawkeyes are scheduled to make their official visits to Iowa City next weekend. The four uncommitted players include a pair of offensive linemen, a top instate player and a North Carolina kicker. Both of the linemen hold scholarship offers from the Hawkeyes. Matt Farniok is a 6-foot-6, 290-pound offensive tackle from Washington High School in Sioux Falls, S.D. The brother of former Iowa State lineman Tom Farniok has already made official visits to Michigan State and Nebraska and the South Dakota Gatorade player of the year will likely be reminded of other natives of that state who have enjoyed success in the Iowa program. The other visiting offensive lineman is 6-7, 285-pound Alaric Jackson of Renaissance High School in Detroit. His stop in Iowa City is the first of three he has scheduled for the next two weeks. Jackson also has trips planned to Iowa State and Nebraska before the end of the month. Iowa's Gatorade player of the year also is visiting the Hawkeyes this weekend. Noah Clayberg of Pella was offered a gray shirt opportunity by Iowa earlier this week, meaning that he would enroll at Iowa in the fall, pay his own way and join the program on schoiarship at mid-year during the next academic year. Clayberg quarterbacked the Dutch to the Iowa 3A state title, but has been recruited by Iowa as a safety. The 5-11, 202-pound Clayberg has also been offered a preferred walk-on opportunity by Iowa. He holds scholarship offers from Western Illinois, South Dakota and South Dakota State. Keith Duncan is the kicker who is scheduled to visit Iowa this weekend. He also has been offered a preferred walk-on opportunity. Duncan has earned all-state honors in North Carolina the past two years while competing for Weddington High School in Matthews, N.C. Offered a half-scholarship by Furman at the FCS level, Duncan hit 22-of-29 field goal attempts last fall will all seven of his misses coming on 12 attempts from 50 yards or longer. The visits come at the end of a week that has seen Iowa coaches crisscrossing the country, making a number of in-home visits with both players who have committed and those the Hawkeyes are still seeking commitments from. Iowa currently has verbal commitments from 23 players for its 2016 recruiting class and is expected to sign as many as 25 in this year's group.

The big catch

January 18th, 2016
With commitments from four instate players, Iowa was already off to a solid start in piecing together its 2017 football recruiting class. Securing a commitment from one of the country's top prospects in A.J. Epenesa on Sunday only added the promise of a recruiting class the Hawkeyes won't sign for another 54 weeks. Ranked as a top-30 recruit nationally by all of the major scouting services, Epenesa will likely end up as the highest-ranked recruit to sign with Iowa in Kirk Ferentz's tenure as the program's head coach. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound junior at Edwardsville High School in suburban St. Louis is what Iowa likes in its recruits, an exception multi-sport athlete whose abilities beyond the confines of the football field define why Epenesa had his choice of nearly every program in the country. Beyond his skills as a defensive end, and strength that makes him a school-record holder in the discus, Epenesa's athletic ability make him a force on state-ranked basketball team. He leads Edwardsville in both scoring and rebounding, displaying good foot speed for an athlete of his size as well as a good shooting touch. Epenesa has everything a college program looks for in a defensive end today. He has size. He has quickness. He has flexibility and has demonstrated that he can move. He has a great future and will only develop further once he becomes a regular in Chris Doyle's strength and conditioning program. Epenesa demonstrated something perhaps more important in reaching his decision now and in how he delivered that decision to Iowa coaches. He was surrounded by his entire family when he told coach Kirk Ferentz on Sunday that he was committing. The son of former Hawkeye defensive tackle Epenesa Epenesa posed for a picture with his parents, brothers and sister taken during the family's visit to Iowa City on Sunday. As was the case when his sister, Sam, committed to play volleyball at Purdue, the entire family was present when A.J. Epenesa announced that he would follow in his father's footsteps and play for Iowa. He has watched games at Kinnick Stadium since he was in elementary school and his commitment is not only about fulfilling his own dream of one day playing for Iowa but about having an opportunity to help the Hawkeye program continue to grow. His early commitment facilitates that. It will provide Iowa with some early momentum in recruiting and should help attract other top players to the program. Epenesa joins four linemen and a tight end in as the initial members of the Hawkeyes' 2017 recruiting class, a statement of where Iowa's initial priorities in recruiting are at as they continue to build off of the momentum started on the field in 2015 with a run to the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl. The big catch that Epenesa provides allows Iowa to build off of that success even before its 2016 recruiting class signs on the bottom line in a little over two weeks.

The final countdown

January 12th, 2016
Alabama and Clemson put on quite a show in the national title game and are deserving the top two spots in the final Associated Press college football poll. My ballot includes Stanford, Ohio State and TCU, all bowl winners in the third through fifth spots. Michigan State, Oklahoma and Iowa, which filled those spots in my last ballot in December and were blown out in bowl games, moved down as a block in the sixth through eighth spots in the my final ballot. I contemplated moving the Hawkeyes into the ninth spot they ultimately ended up in on the final poll - flipping them with a one-loss Houston team that finished eighth - but settled on moving the Spartans, Sooners and Hawkeyes together after all ended up with similar results against similar competition. The 10th spot on my final ballot went to Notre Dame, which I just noticed was the same spot I voted the Irish on my preseason ballot. Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa are among six Big Ten teams on my final ballot. I voted Michigan in 11th following its dominant win in Orlando on New Year's Day and positioned Northwestern and Wisconsin in the 16th and 17th slots, with the Wildcats dropping five spots and Badgers rising three following bowl performances. Here is a look at my final AP ballot: 1. Alabama 2. Clemson 3. Stanford 4. Ohio State 5. TCU 6. Michigan State 7. Oklahoma 8. Iowa 9. Houston 10. Notre Dame 11. Michigan 12. Mississippi 13. Baylor 14. North Carolina 15. Oklahoma State 16. Northwestern 17. Wisconsin 18. Oregon 19. Navy 20. LSU 21. Florida State 22. Utah 23. Western Kentucky 24. Toledo 25. BYU

The early view

January 7th, 2016
This year's champion won't be crowned until Monday night but Athlon Sports is already taking an early look at the college football landscape for 2016 and it ranks Iowa as a top-20 team nationally at the team to beat in the Big Ten West Division. In its early top 25 released this week, Athlon ranks the Hawkeyes 17th overall and has Iowa fourth among four Big Ten teams in its poll. From where things stand in early January, the Hawkeyes probably do rate as the favorite in the West Division based on their success this season and a collection of returning starters that includes eight players on one of the league's most dominant defenses. In its assessment, Athlon writes, "Kirk Ferentz 3.0 was nearly enough for Iowa to reach the College Football Playoff in 2015. The Hawkeyes won't fly under the radar in 2016, as Iowa should open next season as the favorite in the Big Ten's West Division. "Quarterback C.J. Beathard had a breakout season in 2015 and returns to anchor the offense. Replacing running back Jordan Canzeri, receiver Tevaun Smith and offensive linemen Jordan Walsh and Austin Blythe top the priority list for coordinator Greg Davis this spring.'' It goes on point out that the Hawkeye defense "received a boost with the announcement top cornerback Desmond King would return for his senior year'' and mentions the possibility of Drew Ott returning as well. The publication also notes Iowa's changing schedule. "The schedule is also a huge advantage for Iowa, as Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska all visit Iowa City in 2016.'' Athlon lists Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State as its top four heading into 2016, but points out the Buckeyes have plenty of holes to fill following nine early exits for the NFL and a schedule that includes a road trip to Oklahoma as well as consecutive games with Michigan State and Michigan in the final weeks of the regular season. Athlon ranks the Wolverines seventh and the Spartans 11th in its early poll. It includes Northwestern and Wisconsin in an alphabetically listed group of 10 teams to watch just outside of its top 25.

A refreshing choice

January 6th, 2016
It would have been easy for Desmond King to take the money and run. But, the Iowa cornerback who won the Jim Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in college football this season opted to return for his senior season in a Hawkeye uniform. It's a refreshing choice. And, it probably was the right thing to do. King confirmed on Instagram on Tuesday what his mother let the world know on Monday night -- that he planned to return to Iowa next fall, planning not only to earn a degree but to continue to work to grow his game. "Feels good to finish my education and be with my brothers for my senior year,'' King wrote. "There will be those that say my decision is wrong but it's what's best for me. Let's make it a good one fellas.'' It's a decision that shows some maturity on the part of a player who celebrated his 21st birthday less than a month ago. King and his mother, Yvette Powell, have placed a value on education and he has said all along that would factor into his decision. What we also don't know is what King learned from the NFL draft advisory committee, which provided him with some insight about where he might end up in this year's draft. King wisely talked things over with family members and coaches before reaching his decision. He showed tremendous growth in his game this past season, but both King and coaches see work that remains to be done. Prior to the Rose Bowl, coach Kirk Ferentz said he believes King has the ability to grow his game to an entirely different level with continued progress. Remember, he was thrown into action for Iowa as an 18-year-old true freshman. In terms of age, another year of seasoning at the college level should benefit him. In a secondary which returns Greg Mabin at the other corner and Miles Taylor at strong safety among eight returning starters on defense, King becomes part of a group which has a chance to become of the strongest defenses in Hawkeye history. He has a chance to lead that effort and with continued growth become one of the most decorated defenders to ever play for the Iowa. King seems to want to make that happen.

Four-down territory: Stanford

December 31st, 2015
Four things the football teams from Iowa and Stanford can do to position themselves for a win Friday in the Rose Bowl: STANFORD (11-2) 1. Ride the horse Christian McCaffrey has been a be-all, do-all player for Stanford and that won't likely change against Iowa. The sophomore earned his selection by the Associated Press as its national player of the year and his runner-up finish in Heisman Trophy balloting with his entire body of work in 2015. He leads the Cardinal in rushing, receiving and in returning both kicks and punts. He's carried 319 times, 270 times more than Stanford's second-leading rusher. McCaffery averages 142.1 passing yards and 41.5 receiving yards per game. In addition, he's totaled 1,042 kickoff return yards this season. 2. Win the arms race. Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan has quietly gone about his business as McCaffrey has collected awards. He'll start in his third Rose Bowl on Friday and working in tandem with an offensive line that includes four senior starters, Hogan has a lot to do with the efficient operation of a Cardinal offense which averages 37.2 points and 436 yards per game. He's competed 68.6 percent of his 283 passes this year, throwing 24 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. 3. Put together a healthy defensive effort. Stanford's defensive numbers are skewed a bit because of the inordinate number of spread offenses it has seen playing in the Pac 12. The Cardinal surrender 227.6 yards per game through the air, but improved health should help Stanford compete. The Pac 12 leader in tackles, linebacker Blake Martinez, and experienced cornerback Ronnie Harris have had time to heal nagging late-season ankle sprains. Martinez has 131 tackles this season while Harris ranks third in the Pac 12 with 10 pass break ups. Martinez, along with linebackers Peter Kalambayi and Kevin Anderson, will give the Cardinal a chance to disrupt the flow of the Iowa offense. 4. Enjoy another day at the office. The Cardinal will be in their comfort zone at the Rose Bowl. This is the team's third appearance in four years and Hogan makes his third start in the game as well against an Iowa team that last played Pasadena in 1991. The Cardinal should be comfortable in this game, while the Hawkeyes could deal with a couple of wide-eyed moments early. Settling into the routine early because of that experience could help Stanford. IOWA (12-1) 1. Establish the run. The return of a healthy Jordan Canzeri only adds to the possibilities for Iowa's most effective rushing attack in more than a decade. After spraining an ankle early in the Big Ten title game against Michigan State, Canzeri needs 24 yards on Friday to become the Hawkeyes' first 1,000-yard rusher since Marcus Coker in 2011. He'll complement the abilities of LeShun Daniels, Akrum Wadley and Derrick Mitchell. Iowa's chances of adding to its collection of 192 rushing yards per game starts with up front, where center Austin Blythe and guards Jordan Walsh and Sean Welsh have joined senior fullbacks Macon Plewa and Adam Cox in plowing open the paths to make the Hawkeye rushing attack work. 2. Use time management skills No team in the nation has held the football more than Stanford, which averages 35 minutes, 23 seconds of possession time per game. That's nearly four minutes better than what Iowa has averaged at 31:31 per game and the Hawkeyes' ability to work the clock and get the Cardinal closer to a 50-50 proposition could potentially be the most significant thing Iowa can do to put themselves in a position for success. 3. Play takeaway Iowa has thrived at taking the ball away from opponents this season. The Hawkeyes are tied for 10th in the country with a plus 12 turnover margin on the year and are tied for 14th in the FBS level with 26 takeaways on the year. Desmond King with eight interceptions, Josey Jewell with three and Greg Mabin with two lead the Hawkeyes in picking off passes while eight Iowa players have recovered fumbles this season. 4. Play big on the big stage. Quarterback C.J. Beathard has embraced the role he was cast for when he was elevated to the top of the depth chart last January. The junior has completed 61.4 percent of his 329 passes while orchestrating an attack that averages 32.1 points and 391.yards per game.