Brandon Scherff put an end to the speculation today.
In a brief statement, the all-Big Ten offensive tackle announced that he will return to Iowa for his senior season and discard the notion of an early exit for the NFL draft.
Scherff first told his hometown radio station in Denison, Iowa, that he would remain a Hawkeye, then offered words issued through the university that he believes he has more to accomplish at the collegiate level.
“I am excited to say that I will staying at the University of Iowa for my senior season in 2014,” Scherff said in a statement. “I am looking forward to the 2014 Outback Bowl and playing an outstanding opponent in LSU, and then working as hard as possible with my teammates to prepare for my senior year as a Hawkeye.”
With that, Scherff dismissed the lure of the pro game and an opportunity that will likely still be there in another year.
He plans to take out an insurance policy to protect his decision, which came after conversations with coach Kirk Ferentz.
The Iowa coach said Sunday that he had spoken to Scherff about the matter, but did not disclose the outcome.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Ferentz said. “It’s no secret that he’ll have a chance. He’s a very good football player.”
Ferentz said there was “no urgency” for Scherff to make a quick decision.
“When it’s time for him to comment on that, he will do so. He’s done a great job,” Ferentz said. “We just have a lot of good young people on this football team and he is one of them.”
That will continue when Scherff is part of an offense which will return eight starters as it works to build on its efforts during the current 8-4 season.
Along with center Austin Blythe and right guard Jordan Walsh, Scherff will continue to anchor an offensive line which will be matched in experience by a defenseive front which returns all four starters.
That gives the Hawkeyes a good starting point for 2014 even before the 2013 season concludes.
Brandon Scherff put an end to the speculation today.
It was to be expected, given the number of conference title games between the nation’s elite this weekend but this turned out to be the second straight shake-up Sunday on my Associated Press college football poll ballot.
Florida State held onto the top spot after steamrolling an overmatched Duke team in the ACC final, but with three of the top five on last week’s ballot losing on Saturday there are many other changes at the top this week.
Because of Ohio State’s loss and in spite of anything resembling a defense taking the field in the SEC title game, I bumped Auburn up to the No. 2 spot this week.
Michigan State, which has been in my top 10 for a month now, moves from sixth to third following its win over Ohio State. The growth the Spartans have shown on offense since winning their Big Ten opener in Iowa City on Oct. 2 has been impressive. MSU’s defense has been one of the nation’s best throughout the season and was expected to be strong but Connor Cook’s development at quarterback has helped create a memorable season for the couch-burning faithful in East Lansing.
Idle Alabama and Pac-12 champ Stanford round out my top five this week.
Big 12 champ Baylor, Ohio State, South Carolina, Oregon and Oklahoma fill the spots 6-10.
Losses on Saturday move Oklahoma State and Missouri into the 12th and 13th spots this week.
The only newcomer on my ballot this time around is Iowa, which I slotted in the 25th spot this week. The Hawkeyes are one of two four-loss teams on my ballot.
When this season started, I did not antiicpate casting a vote for Iowa or Iowa State this year. I have done so in the past and I’ve always felt like seeing teams on regular basis, you see both the good and bad perhaps a little more than a casual observer would.
Much like Michigan State, this has been a season filled with growth from the Hawkeyes. The progress made by Iowa’s defensive line, its offensive front and the steady play of first-year starter Jake Rudock at quarterback have all factored into the team’s success.
Iowa was among the teams that I considered for one of the last couple of spots a week ago following consecutive wins against Michigan and Nebraska, but I opted to slot three-loss Miami and Texas onto my ballot last Sunday. I knew that Texas had a date at Baylor on Saturday and that they would either earn a likely chance to move up or play their way out, which they did.
That led to me to today’s decision, which essentially in the end came down to picking between four-loss Georgia and Iowa teams.
The Bulldogs have lost to Clemson (10-2), Auburn (12-1), Missouri (11-2) and Vanderbilt (8-4) this season, while the Hawkeyes’ setbacks have come against Ohio State (12-1), Michigan State (12-1), Wisconsin (9-3) and Northern Illinois (12-1).
This week, I gave the nod to Iowa and slotted them at 25.
Whether the Hawkeyes will make it onto my final ballot after the bowl season ends remains to be seen. They’ll have to earn that on the field.
Here is my ballot for this week’s Associated Press poll:
1. Florida State
3. Michigan State
7. Ohio State
8. South Carolina
12. Oklahoma State
18. Arizona State
20. Fresno State
21. Texas A&M
22. Northern Illinois
23. Miami (Fla.)
In most seasons, Iowa senior James Morris would have been a cinch for first-team all-Big Ten honors.
It is easy to make a case for Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey to be considered among the league’s elite as well.
But, this isn’t most seasons.
The group of linebackers in the Big Ten this season is as deep and talented as any to have ever stepped on the field in the same year.
That depth left Morris on the outside looking in at the first team when all-Big Ten honors were announced late this afternoon.
Morris and Hitchens did land spots on the second team selected by the coaches while Morris was a second-team choice of the media panel which selected its team. Kirksey received honorable mention.
Both the coaches and media found consensus in the three players who received first-team honors.
Votes for Wisconsin’s Chris Borland, Michigan State’s Max Bullough and Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier finished in the top three on ballots of both coaches and media.
Both groups agreed on Morris and Denicos Allen of Michigan State as second-team choices while the spot filled by Hitchens on the coaches team was filled by Illinois’ Jonathan Brown on the media ballots.
The coaches agreed on just one pick – Borland was the only unanimous pick among the group. The other two simply received more votes than the rest of the field in what was likely a close ballot.
I have participated in the media ballot in the past, but did not this year. I can tell you it is a responsibility that is taken seriously and frequently, the differences between players can be miniscule.
I suspect the depth of Iowa’s linebacking corps probably led to a few split ballots and that the strength of that group, a key reason the Hawkeyes were able to put together an 8-4 season, may have impacted how votes went for the individuals within that group.
Morris had his moments, as did Hitchens and Kirksey and this past week’s game at Nebraska is an example of that. Morris and Kirksey both received national defensive player/performer of the week honors for their work against the Cornhuskers, illustrating how different eyes view the same thing in different ways.
It was a crowded field at linebacker in the Big Ten this season, a year when a collective effort by three talented performers helped the Hawkeyes craft a winning season.
After a crazy weekend on college football fields from coast to coast, including results which led to my first change at the top of my Associated Press poll ballot this season, I found myself wrestling with a number of decisions this week.
Those choices included deciding how far to drop Alabama and how much to bump up Auburn, which I had ranked sixth on my ballot a week ago.
Eventually, I opted to treat the Tide no differently than I would any team that loses. Typically, a loss averages a five or six spot drop on my ballot from one week to the next and that’s what I settled on.
I moved Florida State and Ohio State into the top two slots, with Auburn jumping idle Oklahoma State for third.
With Clemson’s lopsided loss to South Carolina, I moved Missouri and Michigan State into the fifth and sixth spots ahead of Alabama. The Tigers and Spartans win differently, but both have earned their way up the ballot with strong late-season performances.
Mizzou has proven it belongs among the SEC elite – four of my top 10 are teams from that league – and Michigan State is the first team in Big Ten history to go unbeaten in league play and win each of its games by double figures.
Still, the Spartans have won with defense and that creates an interesting contrast of styles next weekend in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title.
Behind the Tide, Stanford, Baylor and South Carolina round out my top 10.
Seven teams on my ballot from a week ago suffered losses over the weekend, resulting in an overall shake-up throughout my ballot which has one team – Oregon in 11th – holding down the same spot it held a week ago.
I dropped Fresno State nine spots following its first loss of the season, which also moved unbeaten Northern Illinois up a copule of spots to 14th as the Huskies and Jordan Lynch appear to be on the brink of another BCS bowl berth.
I dropped Wisconsin nine spots as well following its home loss to Penn State, a setback which will likely knock the Badgers out of BCS bowl contention.
Miami and Texas move into the final two spots on my ballot this week.
I gave four-loss Iowa some consideration for one of the final spots – the Hawkeyes’ losses are to teams with a combined 44-4 record and Iowa finished the regular season with impressive wins over Michigan and Nebraska – but I eventually opted not to add any four-loss teams this time around.
Here is my ballot for this week’s AP poll:
1. Florida State
2. Ohio State
4. Oklahoma State
6. Michigan State
10. South Carolina
13. Arizona State
14. Northern Illinois
22. Texas A&M
23. Fresno State
24. Miami (Fla.)
Before packing their gear and leaving Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium following a 38-17 rout of the Cornhuskers, the Iowa football team took care of a little unfinished business.
The Hawkeyes let out a little emotion, an ear-piercing scream that filled the Iowa locker room and spilled into the surrounding hallways and the makeshift media room. For more than 10 seconds, the Hawkeyes screamed at the top of their lungs. All 70 Hawkeyes.
The racket combined the excitement and conclusion of an 8-4 season with a chance to let out one final primal scream to send last season’s 4-8 record back to the stone ages and toss aside memories of the two-year streak of getting duped on fake punts which ended in the second half.
Christian Kirksey, who put an end to Iowa’s fake punt misery when he dropped Sam Foltz for an eight-yard loss, served up the idea to his teammates at the suggestion of linebackers coach Jim Reid.
“Kirksey said just scream, let it out and we did,” receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said.
Players held their helmets up.
The Heroes Trophy was hoisted above the group.
And then the Hawkeyes’ howled.
“It felt great,” Kirksey said. “Just let it out.”
Martin-Manley said the scene was unreal.
“Everybody has put a lot into turning this thing around and to just take 10 seconds, scream and enjoy it together, it was a great way to end a great day,” he said. “We’re all going to remember this one for a long, long time.”
And the sounds of that successful team scream will likely echo through the underbelly of Memorial Stadium for weeks.
The Hawkeyes worked the clock and found success on the ground in today’s win over the Cornhuskers, taking advantage of good field position throughout much of the afternoon. Nebraska actually out-gained Iowa 288-281, in part because of the short fields the Hawkeyes frequently found themselves with created by turnovers and the punting game. Iowa started seven of its drives inside Nebraska territory, using the strength of Mark Weisman and the quickness of Jordan Canzeri to pile up 155 rushing yards on 44 carries. Quarterback Jake Rudock had a decent day, completing 9-of-17 passes for 126 yards and two scores while shedding the interception problems he had a week earlier against Michigan. Iowa converted on 6-of-15 third-down opportunities.
For the second straight week, Iowa created plenty of pressure and in this case, it was enough to frazzle first-time starter Ron Kellogg and prevent Big Ten rushing leader Ameer Abdullah from reaching 100 yards for just the second time this season. The Cornhuskers averaged just 2.4 yards per carry and finished with 89 yards on the ground, 144 yards below their season average. Iowa linebackers Christian Kirksey, James Morris and Anthony Hitchens were dominant, starting with interceptions by Hitchens and Morris which ended Nebraska’s first two drives of the day and continuing with eight-yard loss Kirksey delivered on a botched fake punt. It was a performance that opponents only rarely impose on Nebraska and that allowed the Hawkeyes to hoist the Heroes Trophy.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
From Connor Kornbrath punts of 55 and 45 yards leaving Nebraska on its own 1- and 3-yard line in the second quarter to Mike Meyer’s perfect day to a kick coverage unit which trimmed 12.5 yards off of Kenny Bell’s Big Ten-best average of 29.5 yards per return, the Hawkeyes were solid. Jordan Cotton busted a 40-yard kick return as well as part of a well-above average which facilitated the Hawkeyes’ first win over Nebraska since 1981.
The game plan was solid. From the defensive pressure deployed by front seven on an injury-weary Nebraska offensive line and a first-time starting QB to an effective mix of the pass and run, the Hawkeyes completed an 8-4 regular season with a pair of impressive performances against Michigan and Nebraska. This has been a season of growth for an Iowa program which is now seemingly comfortable with the multitude of staff changes which have taken place over the past two seasons. The inconsistencies of last season, created in part by the first coordinator changes after 13 years of staff stability, seem to largely be in the rear view mirror.
Four things the Iowa football team can do to put itself in a position to bring the Heroes Trophy to Iowa City for the first time:
1. Establish the run. Nebraska’s front seven on defense is young, but has shown signs of growth in recent weeks. They will test what has been an effective Iowa rushing game. Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock, benefitting from rest during the bye week prior to the Michigan game, and Jordan Canzeri are providing Iowa with an effective three-back rotation. Their blend of styles is well-suited for mixing and matching carries against opponents.
2. Stay creative. Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker assembled an effective combination of aggressive and creative package of blitzes and stunts last week to keep a wobbly Michigan offense off balance. With the inexperience Nebraska has at quarterback, a similar approach will likely lead to similar results. Iowa needs another stout defensive effort from start to finish.
3. Pass with poise. One of the best traits Jake Rudock has shown this season has been the ability to move beyond mistakes, both his own and those of the personnel around him. Nebraska’s defense has given up its share of yards this season, but the Cornhuskers have also played a little defense. Among Big Ten teams, only Ohio State has recorded more than the 33 sacks Nebraska has delivered this season and only three Big Ten teams have more than the 13 interceptions the Cornhuskers have recorded. Rudock will need to avoid a repeat of his three-interception game against Michigan and continue to deliver at his season-long completion rate of 60.1 percent.
4. Be road warriors. There were reports that music was blaring over the PA system at Kinnick Stadium on Wednesday, preparing the Hawkeyes for the racket they will hear when they step into the third-largest city in Nebraska on Friday, Memorial Stadium. The Hawkeyes have played some of their best football away from home, winning at Iowa State and Minnesota and competing at Ohio State. They’ll need the same steady-type of performance against Cornhuskers if they hope to become the first Iowa team to win four on the road since 2009.
Four things Nebraska can do to reach the nine-win plateau for the sixth straight season in Friday’s game against Iowa:
1. Establish the run. I-back Ameer Abdullah has topped 100 yards in 10 of the Cornhuskers’ 11 games this season and he will need a similar effort against an Iowa defense which has thrived at denying opponents a ground attack. Only four Hawkeye opponents have topped 150 yards on the ground against Iowa this season and it will take a strong effort by Abdullah, who has collected 1,483 yards on 231 carries, and Imani Cross for Nebraska to win. While Abdullah leads the Big Ten in rushing, Cross has carried the ball into the end zone a team-leading 10 times for the Cornhuskers.
2. Get something from the passing game. With Taylor Martinez sidelined, Nebraska’s air attack has been placed in the hands of of a pair of relatively inexperienced quarterbacks. Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong, who has started the seven games that Martinez hasn’t, is listed as questionable because of an ankle injury. If he can’t go, senior Ron Kellogg will make the first start of his career in his final home game in a Nebraska uniform. The Omaha native initially walked on to the Cornhuskers program. Kellogg throws a solid ball and did toss the game-winning touchdown pass in Nebraska’s win over Northwestern earlier this month. Both quarterbacks are capable and Quincy Enunwa provides Nebraska with consistency at the receiver spot.
3. Stack the box. Nebraska’s defense is young. Only one senior is expected to be among the Cornhuskers’ starting front seven on Friday but the group has improved since surrendering 602 yards in its season-opening game with Wyoming. Line-up positions have been solidified and junior college transfer Randy Gregory has emerged as one of the top defensive ends in the Big Ten. Gregory leads the conference with 8.5 sacks and is second in the league with 14.5 tackles for a loss this season.
4. Make special teams special. The Cornhuskers have the Big Ten’s leading kick returner in Kenny Bell, who averages 29.5 yards on his 17 returns this season. He had a 99-yard return for a touchdown in the third quarter of last week’s game at Penn State. The Cornhuskers’ Sam Foltz is a freshman punter who averages 42.3 yards per punt and kicker Pat Smith was kicking a year ago for Western Illinois. A senior walk-on who prepped at Quincy Notre Dame, Smith has hit 10-of-11 field goal opportunities this season for Nebraska, including game-tying and game-winning kicks at Penn State last week which led him to Big Ten special teams player of the week honors.
Iowa football players spent a lot of time today being asked if the two-year series between the Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers had developed into a rivalry in the two seasons since Nebraska joined the Big Ten.
Folks on both sides of the Missouri River will tell you that it takes two to tango and so far only one team has found how just how heavy the Heroes Game Trophy is.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz sees that as a necessary step for this to become a true rivalry.
He also understands that it won’t be easy. Nebraska joins Alabama, Boise State and Oregon as the onlly teams in the nation to have won at least nine games in the past five seasons.
The Cornhuskers will attempt to the Tide and Ducks in making that six straight when Iowa shows up at Memorial Stadium for Friday’s Heroes Game.
Ferentz doesn’t mind that challenge, one reason he believes that this series – one of five games Iowa will play annually against teams from border states when realigned divisions begin next season – has a chance to be remembered by future generations much like games against Minnesota and Wisconsin are talked about by today’s Hawkeye fans.
“For us to have a chance to go line up against (Nebraska), it’s a great challenge but it makes our conference stronger,” Ferentz said. “It makes the competition stronger. That’s probably not great for coaches and their job security, but that’s the nature of sports, too. It’s made our conference I think a stronger conference.”
And success against Iowa’s newest border rival will strengthen the Hawkeye program as well.
Give it time.
This has a chance to become the same type of intense and somewhat unpredictable match-up that Iowa has had against Minnesota and what Nebraska enjoyed against Colorado in its 15 years as a Big 12 member.
The bar at Nebraska is set high.
Bo Pelini appreciates that as much as anyone but as the Cornhuskers coach prepares an injury-riddled team for Friday’s Heroes Game match-up, he found himself spending time today as his weekly news conference talking about his future.
It’s a situation Pelini found himself addressing even before Nebraska won in overtime last week at Penn State after being approached by players on his team questioning the validity of rumors that were circulating that their coach had submitted his resignation.
Pelini dismissed those rumors as “crazy talk,” and then watched his team improve to 8-3 withi the road win.
That, though, is life in Lincoln.
Pelini understood that when he took the job and while he has a 57-23 record in six seasons at Nebraska, he shares concerns of fans as the Cornhuskers have endured a three-loss season including a 41-21 setback to UCLA, a 34-23 loss at Minnesota and a 41-28 loss at home to Michigan State.
“Am I happy with 8-3? No. I’d be lying if I told you anything else,” Pelini said. “We have goals of championships and the standards will remain high as long as I am the coach here.”
Pelini has a new boss in athletic director in Shawn Eichorst, who replaced Tom Osborne a little over a year ago.
Eichorst has said he won’t discuss the status of Pelini or any of the coaches on his staff while their season is ongoing. That is not uncommon, but in this instance it has only added to the speculation about what may or may not transpire at the end of the season.
As for Pelini, he’s concentrating on the present, which this week means Iowa and putting together another patchwork lineup.
The Cornhuskers’ offensive line has been decimated with injuries this season and with Taylor Martinez out and Tommy Armstrong questionable, it is possible that senior walk-on Ron Kellogg could become the third quarterback to start for Nebraska this seaosn when it kicks off against Iowa at 11 a.m. Friday.
Pelini will approach the game as he approached the 11 which came before it.
“I’m not coaching to save my job. I do want to be here, but if they do not want me to be here, I’ll move on and go on my way,” Pelini said. “But until that day happens, I’ll do everything I can to make this team as good as it can be.
“I will say this, I know I can look myself in a mirror every night and feel good about what I see for the program.”
Pelini believes the Cornhuskers “are close” to competing at the championship level that both he and the program’s fans want. He believes the experience younger players have received this season because of injuries suffered by veterans will only help the program in future seasons.
“These guys are giving me everything they’ve got,” Pelini said. “That’s all I can ask.”
Only a handful of teams — six to be exact including the top three — find themselves in the same spots on my AP college football ballot for this week.
Late-season losses with plenty on the line by Baylor, Oregon and Texas A&M have reshaped my top 10 which still starts out with Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State in the top three spots.
Clemson and Oklahoma State climb into my top five this week, with Auburn, Michigan State, Missouri, Stanford topping Baylor to round out my top 10.
I bumped both the Bears and Ducks down six spots following losses on Saturday. Baylor’s 49-17 loss at Oklahoma State was not all that surprising in my mind. The Cowboys opened the year as a top-10 team on my ballot and other than a slip up at West Virginia to open Big 12 play, they’ve been solid all season. The Oregon loss to Arizona and Rich Rodriguez by a 42-16 score was a bit more stunning, and does allow me to rank Stanford ahead of the Ducks which I’m more than comfortable with given their win over Oregon earlier this month.
Among the teams’ sitting in the 10th through 23rd spots on my ballot from a week ago, UCLA at 18 was the only loser and there is minimal movement in those slots. The Bruins moved down five spots following a five-point loss to Arizona State, which slips ahead of UCLA on this week’s ballot.
There are currently only four three-loss teams on my ballot, LSU at 17, USC at 19, UCLA at 23 and newcomer Nebraska at 25.
Despite a pile of injuries, the Cornhuskers have won three of their last four games including road wins at Michigan and Penn State and have lost only to UCLA, Michigan State and Minnesota this season.
Here is a look at my ballot fo the week:
1. Alabama, 2. Florida State, 3. Ohio State,4. Clemson, 5. Oklahoma State, 6. Auburn, 7. Michigan State, 8. Missouri, 9. Stanford, 10. Baylor, 11. Oregon, 12. South Carolina, 13. Wisconsin, 14. Fresno State, 15. Louisville, 16. Northern Illinois, 17. LSU, 18. Texas A&M, 19. USC, 20. UCF, 21. Oklahoma, 22. Arizona State, 23. UCLA, 24. Duke, 25. Nebraska