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For the love of the game

March 25th, 2015
The voice of Iowa home football and basketball games for a generation of Hawkeye fans died Tuesday at the age of 92. Reverend Canon Robert E. Holzhammer, better known at Kinnick Stadium, the Iowa Field House and later Carver-Hawkeye Arena as "Father Bob,'' was the public address voice for Iowa football and basketball games for more than a quarter century. He worked his first game at Kinnick in the fall of 1974 and began working basketball games that winter. He sat behind the mic at his final basketball game in 1999 and called his final football game in the fall of 2000. A native of Bellevue, Iowa, Father Bob grew up in Jackson County and began his college career at Iowa after serving as a flyer in the Air Force in World War II. After earning his undergraduate degree at Iowa in 1949, he earned a Master's in Divinity from the Virginia Theological Seminary in 1952 and a Master's in American Church History from the University of the South in 1971. Holzhammer served parishes in Iowa Falls, Webster City and Dubuque before moving to Iowa City in 1962, becoming the rector at Trinity Episcopal Church. I first met Father Bob on my first assignment for The Daily Iowan, the perfect assignment for a green-behind-ears newbie. I was to write a personality feature which was published in the student publication's football Pregame section one day before the Iowa-Iowa State football game in September, 1980. We talked in his office at Trinity Episcopal, located just east of downtown Iowa City. He talked about his passion for sports. He once convinced the editor of the newspaper in Iowa Falls to let him work as a stringer, covering high school sports games in that area. He kept statistics and one week when the regular PA announcer was ill, Holzhammer was asked to fill in at an Iowa Falls football game. He became a regular and following his move to Iowa City, word of Father Bob's second "job'' reached the desk of Iowa director of athletics Bump Elliott. Iowa was looking for a PA voice to replace Bud Sutter in 1974 and Holzhammer was asked by Elliott to announce the spring football game. Calling himself a Hawkeye fan "for what seems like forever,'' Holzhammer attended his first Iowa football games in the Ironmen era as a youth. He accepted Elliott's offer and when Elliott liked what he heard Father Bob became the voice of Iowa athletics beginning that fall when new football coach Bob Commings worked his first game on the Hawkeye sideline. Holzhammer told me during that 1980 interview that he simply tried to be himself. "Jim Duncan of the Drake Relays has his (own style), Frosty Mitchell has his and I have my own,'' Holzhammer said. "I try not to give play by play. My intention is to pretend that I am a fan and I try to supply information that will add to the spectators' enjoyment of the game.'' His role, from the lean years of announcing games coached by Commings and Dick Schultz to Rose Bowl runs with Hayden Fry and a Final Four year with Lute Olson, was truly a labor of love. The small-town guy had a chance to rub elbows and get to know his heroes, both from the past and from teams whose names he called. "Announcing means a great deal to me,'' Holzhammer said. "I get far more out of it than what I contribute.'' Holzhammer is survived by a son, David of Iowa City, a daughter Mary of Deerfield, Ill., six grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents and his wife, Meredith. Services will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 11 at Trinity Episcopal Church and the family will welcome friends to a time of fellowship and celebration of his life at the Paul Brechler Press Box at Kinnick Stadium from 1-3 p.m. that day.

Mulling his options

March 11th, 2015
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz does not plan to address roster changes until Iowa opens spring football practices on March 25, but today's report that Jake Rudock plans to spend part of his spring break next week investigating a graduate transfer possibility that could lead him to Michigan indicates that the two-year starter is more than mulling his options. Rudock, a microbiology and pre-med major, will earn his degree at Iowa in May and under NCAA rules, he can become eligible immediately as a graduate transfer at another institution as long as he enrolls in a graduate program not offered by Iowa. Former Hawkeye Cody Sokol followed that same path a year ago and started last season at Louisiana Tech. Rudock's situation has been fluid in reality since the end of the 2014 season. While his statistical performance improved in every measurable way from 2013 to 2014 - with the exception of the team winning one less game - Rudock's spot on top of the depth chart changed as the Hawkeyes began bowl prep. After a second-half collapse against Nebraska, a situation impacted as much by special teams issues and defensive lapses as the offense's inability to sustain drives, Iowa coaches allowed both Rudock and back-up C.J. Beathard to compete as the Hawkeyes prepared for the TaxSlayer Bowl. The pair shared snaps in Iowa's loss to Tennessee, and neither were particularly effective. Beathard did lead a pair of late touchdown drives, long after the outcome of the 45-28 game had been determined. Iowa coaches provided more than a hint that things were fluid at the position when they positioned Beathard at the top of a depth chart released in January. At that time, Ferentz indicated that the transfer of a quarterback was a possibility, but offered few details other than to suggest "it could be a fluid process.'' Multiple sources have indicated that Rudock has not been participating with the team in its offseason individual work, working out instead with last year's seniors as they prepare for the upcoming NFL draft and Iowa's March 23 pro day. That is where things stand today. Rudock has not spoken to the media since the end of Iowa's late November game against Nebraska, and those around him have declined to speak as well. That creates a situation that basically clouds a picture that is truly becoming clearer by the day, even if not much is being said.

Shaking things up

February 12th, 2015
Nobody brought any tar or feathers. No one found their bags packed by the side of the railroad tracks that run beside Kinnick Stadium. As promised, the offseason realignment of the Iowa football coaching staff is a byproduct of several weeks of thought and study by coach Kirk Ferentz. The Hawkeye coach said last week that he anticipated that several seats might change on the Iowa staff, but he didn't see any of the faces changing. That proved to be the case, with offensive line coach Brian Ferentz gaining an expanded role in the newly-created run-game coordinator position, linebackers coach LeVar Woods becoming Iowa's tight ends coach and Seth Wallace moving from a role in assisting Reese Morgan with the defensive line to working with cornerbacks and nickel backs, joining defensive coordinator Phil Parker in coaching players in the Hawkeye secondary. Ferentz did not outline responsibilities Brian Ferentz will have beyond continuing to coach Iowa's offensive line, but it can be assumed he will work alongside offensive coordinator Greg Davis. The run-game coordinator title is one that is fairly common anymore in college football, moving all aspects of the running game under the watch of one coach in hopes of developing greater cohesion. That certainly would not hurt that segment of an Iowa offense which sputtered on the ground during its 7-6 2014 season. Injuries at the running back position and fullback played a role in that, but the Hawkeyes' rushing attack was not what his has been in recent seasons. Despite the criticism of Davis from fans -- offensive coordinators tend to be a lightning rod for critics whether the last name is Davis or O'Keefe -- Iowa's offense showed statistical growth last season. The Hawkeyes averaged better than 400 yards for the first time since 2005 and averaged 28.2 points per game. By assigning Brian Ferentz to his new role and by moving a full-time assistant in Woods to tight end, a renewed emphasis on the offense is apparent in the changes Kirk Ferentz made. In shifting Wallace to the secondary, a position he coached at Iowa as a graduate assistant and as an assistant at Valdosta State for four years, he is providing defensive coordinator Phil Parker with a greater chance to oversee that side of the ball while allowing him to continue to coach safeties after working with the secondary a year ago. Wallace, who remains the head of Iowa's recruiting staff, will coach cornerbacks and nickel backs after working with Morgan a year ago. Jim Reid will have responsibility for coaching all of Iowa's linebackers after sharing those duties with Woods the past two seasons. Kirk Ferentz said the moves will add efficiency and productivity to his staff. He, as well as those involved, should have a handle on just how much of a difference it will make. The changes, while not the major overhaul some fans have been seeking, do allow Iowa to build on one of the strengths of its staff. The group's experience as teachers with a reputation for developing talent is beneficial at a time when Ferentz and even the grumpiest of Hawkeye fans can agree on one thing. The Hawkeyes must perform at a higher level with greater consistency if they hope to achieve the success that everyone from coaches to players to those fans on the outside looking in desire for the Iowa program. That starts with what they learn on the practice field, long before fans are lining up for a $7 hot chocolate on a chilly November game day.

A different look

February 4th, 2015
The impact of the restructuring of Iowa's football recruiting staff headed by Seth Wallace won't likely be fully known until some point down the road, but there are signs that Hawkeye recruiting is taking on a different look. Wallace has been on the job in Iowa City since last June, jumping in at midstream of what has really become a year-round endeavor. Coach Kirk Ferentz said Wallace has brought new perspective to the table, ideas and methodology which will benefit the Hawkeyes as they work toward 2016 and beyond. "It's a lot like the (impact of Iowa's) new facility, I think the impact is going to be better judged down the road a little bit but I thought we covered a lot of ground, covered a lot of prospects,'' Ferentz said. He believes Iowa coaches are working more efficiently as they recruit and he wants to see continued progress in that area under Wallace's watch. "Seth is a guy who took charge, he's a go getter, very aggressive guy and he's used to giving directive,'' Ferentz said. "I think, and I thought, he did a really good job of giving us direction and I thought the guy did a great job of working during the (recent January recruiting) period.'' Wallace has Iowa coaches looking in different directions, and understanding the continuing changing culture of the recruiting business. The Hawkeyes knocked on a few more doors this year of players who had verbally committed elsewhere, gauging interest and pursuing opportunities when they were there. That approach led Iowa to land Anthony Nelson of Waukee, the son of former Hawkeye Jeff Nelson and initially an Iowa State commitment. Iowa was interested in offering Nelson dating to last summer, but an early ISU commitment slowed the process. "We just never had an opportunity really to present the offer the way we wanted to and present the campus and the university to him the way we wanted to,'' Ferentz said. ".. We're just very appreciative that we got the opportunity to do that later on and obviously, we're excited that he chose to come here.'' A former Iowa grad assistant and Grinnell, Iowa, native, Wallace returned to Iowa from a coaching position in Georgia. He has helped the Hawkeyes become more active participants in recruiting the talent-rich southeast portion of the country and is working to re-establish historical ties with Texas. Iowa signed four Texas preps today, something Ferentz wants to see more of in the future while continuing to search for talent close to home. Ferentz said assistants Bobby Kennedy and LeVar Woods have invested a number of man hours in searching for Texas talent that can help the Hawkeyes, particularly adding quickness to the roster. "Every time I go down there I think it becomes more obvious that we'd be foolish not to invest time there because it seems like there is a new high school in every neighborhood,'' Ferentz said. "It's a state that's growing for a lot of different reasons, but with that the football has always been very good there, the coaching is outstanding and now you've got a population that is growing. I think it makes sense for us.'' Ferentz said it also makes sense for the Hawkeyes to look forward. Iowa already has two players committed to its 2016 recruiting class and has a verbal for 2017 as well. The Hawkeyes are offering more players and offering scholarships earlier than they ever have in the past. "I feel like if you're not doing that, you're probably going to get left behind,'' Ferentz said. "We still do it fairly conservatively, I guess you'd say, but I think in this day and age if you're not throwing your name in, you run the risk of getting left behind. It's a calculated risk.'' And at the end of the day, Ferentz believes that bringing recruits to campus still presents Iowa with its best chance to land a prospect. "I tell every prospect we recruit that it's all about them finding the right thing for them and being happy with their decision,'' Ferentz said. "To me, all we can ask is that they come look at our place, examine every possible aspect that they can, get to know the people as well as they can and really get a good feel for what their experience is going to be like. After that, they've got to do what is best for them.''

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.