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.
When 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.''
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)
A survey sent by the Iowa athletics department to football season ticket holders this week has created a bit of a buzz. Playing off of the department's core emphasis of "Win. Graduate. Do it Right,'' it asks fans who have invested in the Hawkeye program to rank on a scale of 1-to-10 with 10 being the highest how important each of those three components are to them. The survey also asks if the response would be the same from the individual if they were asked the same question about each of the 24 sports Iowa offers and then it asks fans to prioritize the three. While Iowa officials have determined in their minds that each is an equally important component of what they want all student-athletes to achieve and how they want to accomplish it, there are some things to be learned from the results. Fans, ultimately, want wins. They're being asked to weigh that compared to other elements as they form responses to the survey. Some may criticize the survey's intent or are suspicious of why the questions are being answered. Iowa responded to those notions on its Twitter account this evening, suggesting that the survey is merely another way to connect with fans. Much like the telephonic town hall meetings the university has conducted with season ticket holders to the survey it sent fans on the game-day environment at Kinnick Stadium, Hawkeye officials are looking for a way to engage customers of the university's athletic department and perhaps get them to think a bit. There's nothing wrong with that, no matter how strange the questions may seem on the surface. As a series of Tweets concluded, "The objective is to know what is important to the people who are important to us.'' That seems to make perfect sense.
There are plenty of reasons why Iowa's season-opening football opponent will present the Hawkeyes with a number of challenges. Illinois State is a veteran team that finished as the runner-up in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision a year ago, winning a school-record 13 games. Two of the reasons the Redbirds will be among the preseason favorites at the FCS level again this year can be found on the list of 22 players announced today as preseason candidates for STATS FCS offensive player of the year award. Senior quarterback Tre Roberson - who Iowa fans may recall giving the Hawkeyes fits when he was lining up behind center for Indiana - and senior running back Marshaun Coprich are two of the three players from the Missouri Valley Football Conference named to the list. Roberson was chosen as the newcomer of the year in the Missouri Valley last season after transferring from Indiana. He earned first-team all-conference honors a year ago while throwing 3,221 yards and rushing for 1,029 yards. The 6-foot Indianapolis native averaged 283.3 yards per game while throwing for 30 scores and rushing for 11. Roberson will be making his second start at Kinnick Stadium. He completed 16-of-24 passes for 197 yards and one touchdown in addition to rushing 16 times for 84 yards for Indiana in a 45-24 loss to the Hawkeyes in 2011. Roberson had suffered a season-ending injury by the time the teams played in 2012. Coprich, who has been reinstated following a brief suspension from the team this spring following his arrest on charges that he sold marijuana to a police informant, was the Missouri Valley's offensive player of the year last season. Coprich pled guilty to the charge, was placed on probation and was reinstated to the team. Nicknamed the "Baby Bull,'' the 5-9, 205-pound senior was a first-team all-American last fall while leading the FCS with 2,274 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. Coprich finished fifth in balloting for FCS offensive player of the year honors last season.
It won't receive much ink, but a hiring announced today by Nebraska illustrates how intercollegiate athletics are changing. Tucker Zeleny was introduced as the director of sports analytics and data analysis for the Nebraska athletics department. He will held a new office that will work with all of the school's 24 intercollegiate programs to collect, analyze and summarize data related to team and individual performance. He won't be working alone. Zeleny will head a staff which will have a responsibility of providing data that can help Cornhuskers teams gain a "competitive advantage.'' "Our sports teams and departments stand to benefit significantly from the information Tucker and his staff will provide,'' Steve Waterfield, Nebraska's senior associate athletic director for performance and strategic research said in a statement announcing the hire. Sports analytics is a growing field and Zeleny's staff will be tasked with dissecting the numbers of everything from performance on the practice field and competition to measuring potential in recruits from a statistical basis. This isn't your father's Oldsmobile, folks. This is how decisions are being made and the data collected is guiding coaches and staff to those decisions. A Nebraska native, Zeleny holds a doctorate in statistics from Nebraska. His dissertation involved multivariate time series on multiple time scales with applications toward weight lifting data collected by the Cornhusker football team. He previously worked as a data analyst for the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital and the Nebraska Athletic Performance Laboratory.
Jake Rudock is seemingly settling in at Michigan. Iowa's starting quarterback the past two seasons told The Detroit News that he is adjusting to his new home and finding himself in a familiar position -- competing for a starting job. "I want to play, that's the biggest thing,'' Rudock told the publication. "Every guy who's in that locker room wants to go out there and play. I had to compete every single year at Iowa, so this is very similar in that regard. Big Ten football, you've got to earn everything you get. It's just the name of the game, that's how football is.'' Rudock arrived on the Michigan campus the day after he picked up his diploma at Iowa. As a graduate transfer, he knew he had learn and learn quickly because there is no shortage of quarterbacks in the Wolverines program. Shane Morris is the only one who has ever taken a snap in a game for Michigan, but Rudock finds himself as one six quarterbacks on the roster, most angling for an opportunity. During a break a high school quarterback camp hosted by Michigan last weekend, Rudock told The Detroit News that he has spent his time in Ann Arbor trying to get to know his teammates and figure out what makes each tick. "Every guy responds differently. Some guys need a little encouragement, some guys need a little kick in the butt,'' Rudock said, adding "all the guys have been really receptive. Everyone wants to win here.'' Rudock told the News he is settling into his new surroundings, preparing to compete for a starting job for a team he once competed against. He described the first week as "weird,'' but said his initial transition seems to be reinforcing the decision he made once C.J. Beathard was elevated to the top of the Hawkeye depth chart. "I still have great friendships at Iowa,'' Rudock said. "... Never thought (I'd) transition schools, but now I'm feeling a lot more comfortable definitely with the guys and the city and just with the team as a whole.''
The Big Ten's annual football kickoff is a little over a month away, signaling that the start of the season can't be far behind. Coach after coach will stand behind the podium and talk about the potential he sees in his team for the upcoming season. Everybody will be a champion, at least until the first game kicks off. That's the way of the world now, but it hasn't always been that way. Turn back the clock to 1939. Eddie Anderson was preparing his team for its season opener against South Dakota and the Hawkeyes' new coach was blunt in assessing what he saw on the practice field. "Iowa's 1939 football is not likely to be a great team, but it is going to play football,'' Anderson told The Daily Iowan a little over 10 days before his team played its first game. A copy of that paper made its way into the Times' office this week, the byproduct of Karl Hickerson of Davenport cleaning up around the house and deciding to dispose of some old papers that were edited by his father, Loren Hickerson. That 1939 team that did not impress its coach went on to be known as Iowa's famed Ironman, noted for its lack of depth but quality. The team finished 6-1-1 and was led of course by the Hawkeyes' only Heisman Trophy winner, Nile Kinnick. Oscar Hargrave, the Daily Iowan sports editor at the time, encouraged fans to be patient with the new system that Anderson was introducing that season. "So don't expect too much of the Hawkeyes in 1939. But also don't think they will not give some of their favored opponents terrific fights, with maybe a surprise or two along the line,'' Hargrave wrote. "Iowa should play good, sound football, perhaps with a touch of the spectacular at times. Whether it will be good enough to cope with the high caliber of the opposition will be answered by the proceedings on the Saturday afternoons.'' Two months later, the university president was calling off classes to celebrate Iowa's first win in a decade over Minnesota -- referred to as the "Northern Invaders'' in headline type. By then, the Hawkeyes had earned their "Iron-Man'' nickname and the words used to describe a 13-9 win in Iowa's home finale say it all. "In Iowa's gigantic stadium, packed with 50,000 nerve-shattered human beings, only the scoreboard could tell without emotion that the Hawkeyes had turned back the golden blizzard of the northland with two unforgettable aerial raids in the closing moments,'' Hargrave wrote. Anderson's preseason crystal ball proved to be somewhat inaccurate that season - and as interesting and unlikely as it would be for a coach today to tell people not to expect anything from his team - it does illustrate one the reasons sports holds the intrigue of the populace. Until the games are played, you just never know what might happen.
After last year's 7-6 season, the College Football Playoff national championship may seemingly be a million miles away for Iowa but the title game might be closer to home than you think. Detroit and Minneapolis are among the cities being considered as potential sites for the championship game in future seasons. While things can be a bit brisk in Michigan and Minnesota in early January, it seems only right that the northern cities be in the mix of possibilities as a host site. As Ohio State demonstrated in January, there is quality football played north of the Mason-Dixon line and playing an occasional title game in the upper Midwest is something the selection committee should give a serious look at. The two cities that have applied -- Detroit for 2019 and Minneapolis for 2020 -- aren't the only ones that should be considered over time. There are plenty of NFL-quality venues in the region that could capably host the event. The inaugural final was played in Arlington, Texas, in January and the next two champs will be crowned in Glendale, Ariz., next January and in Tampa in 2017. The organization announced today that organizers in the Bay Area = new 49ers facility in Santa Clara, Calif. - and Houston have submitted applications for 2018, 2019 and 2020. Other areas under consideration for 2018 are Atlanta and South Florida, for 2019 Charlotte, Detroit, New Orleans and San Antonio and for 2020, Charlotte, Minneapolis, New Orleans and San Antonio.
If there is one spot on the field where incoming freshmen may help the Iowa football team, it may be receiver. The Hawkeyes' needs at the position include developing early depth to complement the collection of returning players. Receivers coach Bobby Kennedy likes what he has seen from the players already in Iowa's camp, but he said last month he likes the potential he sees in the three receivers who are part of the Hawkeyes' 2015 recruiting class. He said the three -- Adrian Falconer of Leesburg, Fla., Emmanuel Ogwo of Mesquite, Texas and Jerminic Smith of Garland, Texas -- all have an opportunity to find their way onto the field next fall for the Hawkeyes. On the surface, Falconer and Smith are the most polished in part because Ogwo did not play football during his junior year at Horn High School while competing in track. Ogwo continued to demonstrate the kind of speed that intrigues coaches about his potential on the football field at the Texas state high school track championships last weekend. Ogwu finished fourth Saturday in the 400-meter dash in Class 6A for the second straight year, crossing the finish line in 46.68 seconds. A Junior Olympic national champion in the same event, Ogwu brings a dynamic in speed to the Hawkeye receiving corps. As much as anything, Kennedy likes the competition that the newcomers will provide for Iowa's returning receivers. "I think guys get put in those situations when they are pushed a little bit, they rise up or they wither,'' Kennedy said. "Competition is good for everybody. So, hopefully we can get these (new) guys to a base understanding of plays this summer and also in camp where they are able to compete. "The toughest thing for a guy coming from high school to college, just like it is going from college to the National Football League, there is volume in what they are asked to do. What happens when guys tend to overthink or think too much, their athletic ability slows down, their speed slows down because their mind locks them up. So, hopefully we can get a jump on that and see what guys can do.''