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A second look

January 23rd, 2015
Lost in the hustle and bustle of the week was the death of an individual who deserves a second look for his work which has given us all a second look. Tony Verna, the inventor of instant replay for television sports, died earlier this week at the age of 81 in Palm Desert, Calif. A television director and producer, Verna invented instant replay 51 years ago and it was first used on Dec. 7, 1963 during a CBS telecast of the Army-Navy football game. According to the Associated Press, Verna developed a method which allowed tape to be cued at a point where it could replayed immediately after the actual play took place. The idea at the time was so radical that when Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh scored a touchdown in that game, legendary announcer Lindsey Nelson offered a warning to viewers. Nelson said as the replay was aired coming out of a commercial, "This is not live. Ladies and gentlemen, Army did not score again.'' Verna said in a 1998 interview that at the time he invented the concept at age 29 he was simply trying to fill gaps between plays during a telecast. An Emmy Award winner, Verna's career including directing five Super Bowls, the famed Ice Bowl game from Green Bay's Lambeau Field and 12 Kentucky Derbys during a career which covered more than five decades.

History lesson

January 21st, 2015
As if winning games wasn't tough enough, an internal feud with director of athletics Forest Evashevski that became very public is among the legacy Ray Nagel left at Iowa. Nagel died last Thursday at the age of 87, long after his six-year run as Iowa's football coach ended with a 3-6-1 season in 1970. Six months before he coached his final game, a 22-16 win over Illinois that completed a 3-6-1 season, turmoil was the name of the game in the Iowa athletics department. On May 19, 1970, a long-simmering feud between Evashevski and Nagel came to a head. Evashevski, a decade removed from leading Iowa to two Rose Bowl appearances in three years resigned his administrative position and Nagel was "reluctantly relieved'' of his coaching duties by the Iowa Board in Control of Athletics. Nagel vowed to fight his firing, and ultimately was allowed to coach what proved to be one final season at Iowa. The situation arose at a time when the Iowa Attorney General's office was investigating the alleged falsification of travel vouchers by members of Nagel's coaching staff. The investigation by Iowa Attorney Gen. Richard Turner recommended that no criminal prosecution be made, but suggested improved accounting practices in regards to recruiting-related expenses. The investigation did uncover that six assistant coaches had allegedly received a total of $1,231.64 after filing what Turner said were "false bills or receipts which were made or filed to cover actual out-of-pocket expenditures they had incurred for bills in excess of Evashevski's limitation for the expenses of lodging ($15 per day) and meals ($8 per day) and for dinners, liquor and entertainment in connection with football recruiting trips.'' Nagel and the involved assistants claimed that Evashevski told them in a meeting to "pick up another receipt'' to cover such expenses, only to later claim that no such directive had occurred. Turner said his conversations led him to not believe Evashevski and said he was convinced that a jury would not believe him either. "As I view it, on the basis of the facts now available, coach Nagel and his assistants acted in accordance with the directions of their boss,'' Turner told the Davenport Times-Democrat, a predecessor of today's Quad-City Times. He added that while the practice was "morally wrong,'' it was not a violation of state law. At the time the board reversed its decision to keep Nagel on staff, Nagel had insisted that he had a valid and binding contract to coach the team running through Dec. 31, 1970. The coach and the Iowa's top athletics administrator had been embroiled in a dispute which played out in public beginning in January of that year but had been brewing for some time. Nagel accused Evashevski of failing to support the football program, and Evashevski hinted publicly and said privately that he was no fan of Nagel's coaching. Nagel described his relationship with Evashevski as "ugly,'' and claimed that he was being "harrassed'' by the former football coach after being informed by one of his assistants that Evashevski had asked, "How can we get rid of Nagel?" Nagel alleged at that time that Evashevski had reduced the number of training table meals the football team was allowed, took parking privileges away from players, reduced mileage payments for assistant football coaches while maintaining them for others in the athletic department and repeatedly interrupted football staff meetings. Nagel eventually went public with his displeasure of Evashevski's words and actions, and seeing no way out of a situation that included Turner's investigation, ultimately the Board in Control of Athletics opted to accept a resignation offered by Evashevski and tried to force Nagel out. Four days after he was fired, Nagel was reinstated by the Board in Control, but reprimanded for "past conduct and failure to cooperate'' with university officials. The university's alumni association had issued an endorsement of Nagel and several Iowa City businessmen were circulating a petition at the time demanding the reinstatement of Nagel. Samuel Fahr, the chairman of the Board in Control, told the Times-Democrat that Nagel was being reinstated after agreeing to cooperate with the Board in the future and "conduct the program in full compliance with board and university policies and regulations.'' Nagel, who also had the support of his team, returned to coach that fall but a 1-5 start sealed his fate and he went on to work as the director of athletics at Washington State. Newly-hired director of athletics Bump Elliott hired Frank Lauterbur to replace Nagel in 1971, only to fire him after going 4-28-1 over three years.

Dollars and sense

January 19th, 2015
It seems that every other comment I get or conversation I have with a reader about Iowa's football program includes an addendum complaining about the salary that coach Kirk Ferentz is paid. Frankly, I don't think the amount of the coach's paycheck has anything to do with what has transpired on the field. It's simply an easy dart to chuck on top of the real issues that must be the aim of Hawkeye coaches if they want to move Iowa forward from this season's 7-6 reality. At the time Gary Barta and Ferentz agreed to a 10-year extension to his contract, the $3.8 million that was included was on the high end of the Big Ten salary scale. Today, it's pretty much middle of the pack and if current trends continue by the end of the deal Iowa may be getting a bargain. That's the real time reality of the marketplace. One reader suggested that Iowa cut ties with Ferentz and "go get somebody between $2 million and $3 million.'' In today's Big Ten, the reality of that will get you Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald ($2.2 million), Purdue's Darrell Hazell ($2.16 million) or Maryland's Randy Edsall ($2.03 million). Again, that's the marketplace at work. The salary Ferentz receives currently ranks fourth among his Big Ten peers, trailing Ohio State's Urban Meyer ($4.61 million), Penn State's James Franklin ($4.5 million), and both the old and new Michigan coaches, Brady Hoke ($4.15 million) and Jim Harbaugh ($5 million). I bring this up today following the weekend release of updated salaries of the staffs at Nebraska and Michigan State. The defensive and offensive coordinators of the new Cornhuskers' staff will be paid $550,000 and $500,000 per year, respectively, according to figures published by the Lincoln Journal-Star and four members of the staff will receive at least $400,000 annually. At Michigan State, the Detroit Free Press details contract changes that follow staff realignment following the departure of defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. The new Pitt coach was the Big Ten's top-paid assistant last season with an annual salary of $907,033. Coach Mark Dantonio will split the responsibilities between Mike Tressel and Harlon Barnett, paying each $378,000. MSU's salary structure for its assistants in 2015 also includes $387,000 for co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner and $378,000 for Jim Bollman, who shares that title. The point here is that Iowa's assistants are rewarded handsomely for their work, but are far from among the best-paid assistants in the country. Last season, there were 14 assistant coaches in the Big Ten from nine different schools who were paid more than the $380,000 and change that Iowa coordinators Phil Parker and Greg Davis received. That includes three assistants at Ohio State, two each at Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin and one each at Illinois, Maryland, Michigan State, Nebraska and Rutgers. The new staff at Nebraska will raise that bar this year. Parker ranked 87th in the country in compensation among assistant coaches, one spot ahead of Davis. Here is a breakdown of what Iowa assistants earned in the most recent fiscal year, dollars that in most respects reflect the experience of the assistants: Phil Parker, defensive coordinator, $380,721 Greg Davis, offensive coordinator, $380,037 Jim Reid, linebackers, $311,457 Reese Morgan, defensive line. $309,440 Bobby Kennedy, wide receivers, $309,375 Chris White, running backs, special teams, $299,003 Brian Ferentz, offensive line, $277,656 LeVar Woods, linebackers, $258,320

A general plan

January 15th, 2015
Kirk Ferentz "sensed a need to talk,'' and that's what he did today as he fielded questions at a rare January news conference. Contrary to rampant message board speculation, the ground under Kinnick Stadium and Iowa's new football complex didn't shift in the 35 minutes Ferentz talked about his program. That shouldn't come as a surprise. If Iowans should have learned anything about the Hawkeyes' football coach during his first 16 years on the job, they should have learned that Ferentz will never stray far from his core beliefs and that when he does change something it usually is a changed based in plenty of thought and consideration. Ferentz didn't call a news conference - director of athletics Gary Barta said the sit down with reporters following a 7-6 season was the idea of the coach - to throw assistants overboard or announce that the Hawkeyes were going to reinvent the wheel next season. Instead in typical Ferentz fashion, he acknowledged a need for a change in the way the Hawkeyes go about their business. Some of it may be noticeable, some of if may not, but change is coming to a football program that enters the 2015 season looking to rid itself of a three-game losing streak and the sting of unfulfilled expectations. "Football-wise, we've got to look at everything,'' Ferentz said. The makeover starts with the head coach, who said he must put in more time researching the game he has coached for more than three decades. He said he must spend additional hours watching tape, dissecting trends and looking for avenues for Iowa to adjust to today's game. Ferentz expects to spend time talking with other coaches at both the NFL and college level, looking for avenues that may lead the Hawkeyes to more consistent success. He will encourage his staff to do the same and said he continues to study how to best utilize the personnel Iowa has on its staff. He wants them to study not only what is being taught to Hawkeye players, but how it is being taught. If better methods can be found to teach that lead to higher levels of performance and greater consistency, Ferentz said he is more than willing to adjust. He has not ruled out shuffling responsibilities, but said he wants to take more time to thoroughly think through things rather than change simply for the sake of change. "The big thing is that before we change things we want to make certain we are making the right changes. There's no sense to change things to simply change things,'' Ferentz said. "There will be some things that will be different. I don't know how dramatic they'll be, but I do know that they will be different here.'' The substance of those changes, whether schematic or a realignment of personnel, remains a work in progress. Ferentz said the early depth chart released last week is reflective of staff-wide discussions held early last week and the changes on that depth chart are a result of what he said were productive and far-ranging meetings. Iowa has changed the starting point for its returning quarterbacks, shuffled starters at every linebacker position and moved a couple of bodies around on the offensive line. Evaluation will continue through spring and eventually fall camp, but the pieces to the puzzle in several cases will begin from different positions. Ultimately, Ferentz knows that the bottom line will determine if Iowa can regain its edge in a Big Ten where Ohio State winning the national championship this week has raised the competitive challenge for every team in the league. Personally, he said his work starts with a greater commitment to football work, even if that means having to say "no'' to some requests for appearances and that type of thing. "I've got to do a better job as a head coach, spend more time in the building with our people and less time on the outside,'' Ferentz said. He said he is in tune with the needs of the program and the work that needs to be done. He said he is committed to making that happen and Barta said he is "100 percent'' behind giving Ferentz a chance to work things out. "We've got to move forward. That's our goal,'' Ferentz said. "Maybe it's a good thing that we won seven games and people consider it a low point. But, the bottom line is that we could do better and we need to.'' The details will come with time, but conceptually, Ferentz has a realistic grasp of what needs to take place.

B1G finish

January 13th, 2015
Ohio State added the exclamation point to an impressive finish by the Big Ten in the 2014 college football season. Underdogs in each of the 11 postseason games it played, conference teams finished with a 6-5 record in the bowls and playoffs and restored a bit of the respect the league has been working to rebuild. My final ballot for this year's Associated Press college football reflects that late-season surge. Ohio State, obviously, is in the No. 1 position. I went with playoff outsider TCU in second followed by an Oregon team I've liked all season. I actually had both the Ducks and Buckeyes in the top of five on my preseason ballot. Of course, that was sent in three quarterbacks ago for Ohio State, which makes the job done by Urban Meyer's team that much more impressive. The Buckeyes hoisted the trophy because of the depth of talent in their program and the development of players. Ohio State opened the year with four first-year starters on the offensive line and some holes to fill on defense as well. This team grew as the season progressed and as Oregon found out, the Buckeyes' offensive line developed into something special by building on the experiences it had this season. I placed Michigan State fourth on my final ballot, followed by Baylor, Georgia Tech, Alabama and Florida State, Georgia and UCLA. The good news for Iowa is that it plays neither Ohio State or Michigan State in 2015. The Buckeyes and Hawkeyes don't play again until Nov. 4, 2017 at Kinnick Stadium a little over a month after the next scheduled meeting between Iowa and Michigan State. The Hawkeyes visit the Spartans on Sept. 30, 2017. I have Wisconsin in 13th and Nebraska in 25th on my final ballot - Iowa plays both on the road next season - which can be found in its entirety at the end of this blog. But that's old news now. If I had to cast a ballot today for the 2015 preseason poll, here is how the top 10 would look: 1. OHIO STATE The 2015 season was the year that Urban Meyer believed Ohio State would be positioned for a title run. They'll have a target on their back now, but return the talent to make it happen. No matter who their quarterback is, the Buckeyes are positioned to make a run at a repeat. 2. TCU With Trevone Boykin returning, the Horned Frogs will have a Heisman frontrunner on their roster and a desire to fight their way into the playoffs on their list of goals. 3. ALABAMA They're Alabama. Enough said. 4. OREGON With or without Marcus Mariota, the Ducks will be the preseason pick in the Pac-12 and if he does opt to return, they may climb a spot or two by August. 5. FLORIDA STATE It will be interesting to see just how good the Seminoles can be without the Jameis Winston circus sideshow as a distraction. 6. BAYLOR Even without Bryce Petty, the Bears have the talent to be TCU's top threat in the Big 12. 7. MICHIGAN STATE Stability has been big for the Spartans, so it will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi's move to Pitt as its new head coach will impact Michigan State's program. The talent is there for MSU to challenge Ohio State in the Big Ten, but they'll have to perform when needed to do it. 8. GEORGIA Bulldogs fans have plenty of reasons to look forward to 2015, starting with running back Nick Chubb and a wealth of returning talent on defense. 9. USC JuJu Smith and Cody Kessler will be the preseason centerpieces on the top team in the Pac-12 South 10. MISSISSIPPI One hit wonder? Nope. The return of receiver Laquon Treadwell from injury and the addition of another highly-regarded recruiting class only adds to what Hugh Freeze is building. There will be plenty of time to dissect all of that other contenders in the future. Here is my final ballot for 2014, as submitted late Monday night to the AP: 1. Ohio State, 2. TCU, 3. Oregon 4. Michigan State 5. Baylor 6. Georgia Tech 7. Alabama 8. Florida State, 9. Georgia 10. UCLA 11. Mississippi State 12. Arizona State 13. Wisconsin 14. Mississippi 15. Missouri 16. Clemson 17. Kansas State 18. Boise State 19. Air Force 20. Marshall 21. Arizona 22. Louisville 23. USC 24. Auburn 25. Nebraska.

Fast forward

January 8th, 2015
Following a forgettable performance last week in the TaxSlayer Bowl, the Iowa football program is moving forward. Quickly. For the first time since Kirk Ferentz became the Hawkeyes' head coach, Iowa has released a depth chart in January and for the first time, junior C.J. Beathard has sole ownership of the top line at quarterback. That is a reflection of his performance and the play of 25-game starter Jake Rudock in bowl game and the evaluation of coaches during the first part of this week as they push the reset button for 2015. Spring semester classes at Iowa do not begin until Jan. 20 and it is then that offseason work begins for the Hawkeyes. Ferentz, in a statement, indicates that the depth chart released late this afternoon is simply a starting point. Beathard, who connected on six of his first 16 passes before hitting his final seven during two-late scoring drives against the Volunteers, is now in a position where the starter's job is his to retain or to lose based on his daily performance. It also sends a message to Rudock that goes beyond his 2-of-8 passing performance while sharing the job with Beathard against Tennessee. Iowa's collective inability to hold onto late-game leads against Iowa State and Nebraska created much of the frustration that accompanied Iowa's 7-6 season. Some of that, but certainly not all of that, is on the play at the quarterback position. Today's depth chart creates a starting point for both quarterbacks, as well as for redshirt freshman Tyler Wiegers, when offseason work and eventually when spring practices begin. While there is understandably plenty of buzz about the quarterback position, looking deeper into today's depth chart provides an idea of where the Hawkeyes are heading at a number of positions. There are changes. Austin Blythe returns to the top spot at center he filled during the first half of the season and all three linebacker positions undergo a makeover from where Iowa lined up against the Volunteers with Josey Jewell moving into the middle spot filled by Quinton Alston, Bo Bower shifting from outside to weakside to replace Jewell and Ben Niemann replacing Bower on the outside. Miles Taylor, joining Niemann among three true freshmen to play for Iowa last season, is listed at the top of the depth chart at the strong safety spot John Lowdermilk filled last season. The chart also illustrates that sophomores Boone Myers and Ike Boettger will start the offseason at the offensive tackle spots filled by Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal last season. There is also room for five freshmen who redshirted last fall to be listed as back-ups, reflective of the progress that handful of individuals made during their first fall on the practice field. Two, Ross Reynolds of Waukee and Keagan Render of Indianola, are instate recruits who join Cole Croston, Eric Simmons and Riverdale alum Mitch Keppy as second-team picks on the offensive line. Reynolds is listed as the back-up to Sean Welsh at left guard, while Render opens behind Boettger at right tackle. Both top 300 pounds. Two redshirt freshmen fill second-team slots at defensive end where senior starters Nate Meier and Drew Ott return. Matt Nelson, a 6-foot-8, 255-pounder from Cedar Rapids Xavier who picked Iowa over Stanford, is listed behind the 6-2 Meier on the left side, while 6-3, 215-pound Parker Hesse of Waukon fills the back-up spot behind Ott. Hesse was a high school quarterback whose aggressive style on defense caught the eye of Hawkeye recruiters. The other redshirt freshman on the depth chart is also a product of Iowa's high school football programs. Brandon Snyder, a West Lyon product who quarterbacked and played defensive back for a state championship football team and played the point for a state title-winning basketball team is listed behind Miles Taylor at strong safety. Like back-up defensive tackle Kyle Terlouw, a senior from Sully, Iowa, who transferred to the Hawkeye program a year ago from Iowa Central Community College and now listed at No. 2 behind Nathan Bazata, Snyder has worked his way onto the depth chart on the practice field. Iowa won't be back on the practice field for a couple of months, but as it works to move beyond 2014, the Hawkeyes at least now have a starting point.

Report card: Tennessee

January 2nd, 2015
The Iowa football team's report card from its season-ending loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl tonight: OFFENSE: C- A 3-of-11 conversion rate on third down and the inability to convert its lone fourth-down attempt illustrate Iowa's issues. The Hawkeyes turned the ball over twice. There were some bright spots, starting with Jordan Canzeri. His 120 rushing yards helped Iowa pile up 244 yards on the ground, the team's second-best effort of the season. That was countered by a 15-of-31 passing performance and the inability to really sustain much of anything until the game was out of hand. DEFENSE: D A lack of consistent tackling continued to be an issue for Iowa. The frustrating thing for coaches is that they see weekly improvement on the practice field that isn't translating into success in games. The Hawkeyes gave up 461 yards of offense, struggled to get a handle on Josh Dobbs all night and watched Tennessee pick apart Iowa on the perimeter as it successfully took Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat out of the game. Tennessee struggled late to convert on third down itself, moving the chains on five of its 12 tries, but the Volunteers didn't even need a third down until after it had opened up a 28-0 lead. SPECIAL TEAMS: D What was Jonathan Parker thinking when he attempted to throw the ball before stepping out of bounds on a kick return following Tennessee's fourth score? Why did Iowa average 35.8 yards per punt while rotating two punters? There continued to be more questions than answers on special teams and 13 games into the season, that's not a good situation. COACHING: D This game was out of decided before Iowa had a chance to deploy much of its gameplan or establish any sort of rhythm with its quarterback rotation, so it is tough to say exactly what the Hawkeyes hoped to accomplish. Coach Kirk Ferentz and players both said Iowa more than ready and well prepared, but it didn't appear that way in the first quarter. That's probably one of the more frustrating things about this team that has struggled to find an identity and consistency since it started this roller coaster of a season in September. It will be a busy offseason for Iowa coaches, and Ferentz may have some decisions to make, but there is plenty of work to do be done in all areas if Iowa hopes to meet its own expectations in 2015, much more so than those of the fans.

A cold spell

January 2nd, 2015
Kirk Ferentz understands that the Iowa football team he has coached for the past 16 years is returning to frigid conditions in the Midwest. Things may have even gotten a little colder after the Hawkeyes' performance tonight in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Iowa believed it could lessen the frustration of everybody - from the fans to most importantly themselves - with a strong performance against Tennessee. That didn't happen, and the howls in the heartland will only grow louder after what transpired on the slightly slippery turf at EverBank Field. Spotting Tennessee a 28-0 lead in just 18 minutes of action was exactly what the Hawkeyes didn't need. Iowa struggled to tackle. It struggled to make plays. And special teams were anything but. It had an all-too familiar look. It looked like Minnesota, it looked like Maryland, two teams Ferentz spent the week telling anyone who would listen that reminded him of the test that awaited Iowa. But when the Hawkeyes took the field tonight, one team looked interested in being there. The other was Iowa. Hawkeye players insist that wasn't the case. They say they were more than ready. Ferentz said Iowa may have the best month of preparation and progress it has had since he has been the Hawkeyes' coach. Tennessee had motivation as well, playing in its first bowl since 2010 and wanting to prove that its late-season surge was no fluke. That is of little interest to Iowa's fans, but that does factor into the dynamics of things. Still, inconsistent Iowa frustrated again as it wrote the final chapter of a 7-6 season. Ferentz acknowledged the reality of it all. When asked where his program stands, he said simply, "We'll, we're 7-6. .. We've been 7-6 before. We've been 4-8. We've been 11-1, 11-2. That's where we're at. Your record is what you say it is, you're record says what you are. We came up short this year in several games.'' Among Iowa's six losses, half were by three points or less and a fourth was by seven points. Ferentz understands that fans don't want to hear that. He understands the risks and rewards that come with putting your livelihood in the hands of 19, 20, 21 and 22 year olds. "We had a coach to the west of us that won a lot of football games that got fired,'' he said, referring to Nebraska's Bo Pelini. "If you're in this profession, that's part of the deal.'' Ferentz said he believes his best interest is to focus on what he can control, working to find solutions to problems. He finds it a waste of time to put much thought about what is being said on message boards or call-in shows. "If I'm going to sit around listening to the temperature, reading the temperature on the outside, I'm not going to be putting the energy where I need it that I can put towards the job and put on improvement,'' Ferentz said. "That's typically what we've tried to do for 16 years.'' As he does that he would be advised to slip on a jacket. And maybe a hat and a pair of gloves. With no bowl wins since 2010 and a string of records that reads 8-5, 7-6, 4-8, 8-5 and 7-6 since ending an 11-2 season in 2009 with a win over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, it's gotten awfully chilly outside. Ferentz will find the air even colder than he might expect when the Hawkeyes return from their Florida excursion..

Four-down territory: Tennessee

January 1st, 2015
Four ways the football teams from Iowa and Tennessee can position themselves for success in Friday's TaxSlayer Bowl: IOWA (7-5) 1. Establish the run. Iowa has had only two 100-yard rushing efforts this season and if Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal from the tackle spots can lead the Hawkeyes to a third on Friday, they'll put themselves in a position to earn their first bowl win since the 2010 Insight Bowl. Iowa's offensive line has a physical edge on a young Tennessee defensive front. The Volunteers ranked ninth in the SEC in defending the run, allowing 168.1 yards per game. 2. Mix and match successfully. Iowa plans to use both Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard in the first half and if the Hawkeyes' version of dual threats at quarterback works, it should lead to more consistent point production from an offense that averages 28.2 points. That total is Iowa's second best in the last six seasons. Tennessee has been somewhat disruptive, led by the 21 combined sacks of Curt Maggitt and Derek Barnett. Kevonte Martin-Manley and Tevaun Smith lead Iowa's receiving corps, with Martin-Manley needing three receptions to pass Derrell Johnson-Koulianos as the Hawkeyes' career leader in catches. 3. Do the responsible thing. Fulfilling assigned responsibilities will be as anything Friday for the Hawkeye defense. Iowa cannot afford to let Volunteers quarterback Joshua Dobbs have the same type of success that Maryland's C.J. Brown and Minnesota's Mitch Leidner had in mixing the run and pass from the quarterback spot. Iowa's inability slow those two players led to losses as the Terrapins piled up 212 yards on the ground three weeks before the Golden Gophers rushed for 291 yards. Dobbs has thrived in that role since replacing injured Justin Worley, throwing for 1,077 yards and rushing for 393 in the Volunteers' last five games. 4. Be special on special teams. Two long punt returns helped Nebraska work its way back into a game and force overtime in the Hawkeyes' season-ending loss. Iowa needs a mistake-free day from specials that have been inconsistent this season, from the struggles at punter to a lack of return yardage, there have been issues. Marshall Koehn has provided Iowa with consistency at kicker, ranking among the national leaders in touchbacks. He has also hit 12-of-16 field goals, missing all three of his tries from 30-39 yards. Tennessee counters with Aaron Medley, who is 19-of-25 in field goat attempts and has been 1-for-6 in tries beyond 40 yards. TENNESSEE (6-6) 1. Play beyond their years. Among the reasons the Volunteers have played 23 true freshmen this season - the most among any program at the FBS level - is that coach Butch Jones has recruited players capable of playing right away. Riding the roller coaster of youth has led to some inconsistencies at times and a 6-6 record. The insertion of Joshua Dobbs into the lineup at quarterback has seemingly stabilized the offense in addition to changing its look. Jones has started as many as seven true freshmen in a single game - doing so as recently as two games ago in a loss to Missouri - and the qualifying for the program's first bowl appearance since 2010 cannot be an end game if Tennessee wants to win against an Iowa team that has 12 seniors on its two-deep roster. 2. Run strong. Dobbs has played just five games but his 78.6 rushing yards per game leads Tennessee. Jalen Hurd, a heralded freshman from Hendersonville, Tenn., leads the Volunteers in rushing for the season with 777 yards. Tennessee ranks 13th in the SEC in rushing, numbers impacted by 42 sacks allowed by the Volunteers' offensive line which includes five first-year starters. 3. Step up at wide receiver. Injuries have created a revolving door at wide receiver for Tennessee this season and the Volunteers will need someone to step up again in Friday's bowl. Starter Jason Croom suffered a knee injury during bowl practices and will miss the game, positioning freshmen Vic Wharton and Ryan Jenkins for additional snaps. Pig Howard leads Tennessee with 52 catches on the year, while running back Jalen Hurd is second on the team with 33 receptions. 4. Keep on keeping on. Tennessee brings some serious late-season momentum into Friday's game, winning three of the four games it has played since Joshua Dobbs moved in to the starting quarterback's role. The team has averaged 35 points and 424.3 yards of offense since he took over behind center. That brings a very confident team to EverBank Field on Friday and early success against an Iowa defense which has struggled against dual-threat quarterbacks would be a significant help to a young Volunteers team.

The only choice

December 31st, 2014
Before the start of a regular season that resulted in a 6-6 record and a game against Iowa in Friday's TaxSlayer Bowl, second-year Tennessee football coach Butch Jones said he was leading an "expansion team.'' The Volunteers were so young, so green, and the building task seemed some ominous. In many respects, Jones believed he was starting from scratch. So how do yet a bunch of 17-year-old kids - Tennessee has played 23 true freshmen this season and has started as many as seven in a single game - to line up against a bunch of 22, 23 year olds in what is regarded as the toughest conference in the country? You give them a choice. The only choice. It's the only way Jones ever knew. Tennessee's second-year coach brings a passion to everything he does. From energy on the practice field to building a mentality that has allowed America's youngest football team to play older than it is, Jones has approached it with passion. "I love the word,'' he said. He embraced the notion as a youth growing up in the resort town of Saugatuck, Mich., one of 62 students in his graduating class in the village that sits on the shores of Lake Michigan. His father was the chief of police. His mother, a hospital administrator. They sent their 14-year-old son out to work a job as a dishwasher in a local restaurant. When he didn't like it, they sent their 14-year-old son back out to work a job as a dishwasher in a local restaurant. They made him pay his own way through college, where he walked on and then went on to earn two letters in football at Ferris State. He got into coaching after college, working as an intern with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then a graduate assistant at Rutgers. Jones said he finally "found work,'' in 1993, paid $17,000 on a nine-month contract to work as the offensive coordinator at Division III Wilkes University where he also was in charge of intramurals and coached men's tennis. "I knew nothing about coaching men's tennis, but I coached it, and I drove the van,'' Jones said today during a news conference. He returned to his alma mater, then spent eight years coaching at Central Michigan before leaving in 2005 for a two-year stint coaching wide receivers on Rich Rodriguez' staff at West Virginia. In 2007, Central Michigan made him their head coach. He was offered the job in a villa next door to the one at Sawgrass where he is staying this week with his team. "There are a lot of memories coming back here this week, a lot of thoughts about how fortunate I have been and how much work has gone into things,'' Jones said. The work continues for Jones, who coached at Cincinnati before being named the Volunteers head coach in 2013. His first team finished 5-7, and a 24-17 win over Vanderbilt in this year's regular-season finale prevented a repeat of record and gave Tennessee the chance to face Iowa in a bowl this year. "This experience will benefit our program in future years,'' Jones said. "We're not where we want to get to, but we're on the path. We're putting in the work that is making it happen.'' As Jones understands, that is only choice.