Hawkmania football & basketball blog

More than a passing interest

August 19th, 2014

Gene Taylor is as curious as anyone to know if Iowa’s football season opener will truly be one of the final games the Hawkeyes play against an opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision.
Hired in June as a deputy athletic director at Iowa and in the midst of his first month on job in Iowa City, Taylor made the career move after spending the past 13 seasons as the director of athletics at North Dakota State.
His job at Iowa includes handling football scheduling, and while he has not yet had the chance to talk scheduling philosophy with coach Kirk Ferentz, Taylor sees the landscape changing.
Iowa currently has FCS teams on its schedule in each of the next three seasons, including this year’s game with UNI and games the next two seasons with Illinois State and North Dakota State.
With strength of schedule a component of how teams for the new College Football Playoff will be determined, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has made it known that his preference is for conference teams to help themselves by scheduling only teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“I see things from both sides,” Taylor said prior to the Iowa football team’s open practice last Saturday. “Right now, I’m spending a lot of time listening and reading about the (selection) committee and like everybody else, I’m interested to see how it all plays out.”
With the Big Ten expanding its conference schedule to nine games beginning in 2016 and a contract in place to continue its series with Iowa State through the 2021 season, Iowa has limited openings on its nonconference schedules.
“I’m not going to rush into anything. I fielded a call the other day from someone inquiring about a possible game and I told them that we would talk later,” Taylor said. “I want to see how this all plays out. I want to make sure we do what is in the best interest of Iowa.”
That includes an eventual conversation with Ferentz, something which won’t likely take place until after the upcoming season ends.
Taylor appreciates the desires and financial needs of programs at the FCS level to schedule games against FBS teams.
The North Dakota State program he led opens its season this year at Iowa State and has the date at Iowa on its schedule in 2016.
“Those games serve a financial purpose,” Taylor said. “I’m not certain which direction things are headed, if it will be possible for those types of match-ups to continue.”
Hired in part because several members of Iowa’s senior athletics staff are nearing retirement age, Taylor plans to take the next few months to learn the lay of the landscape at Iowa and proceed from there.
“This is a time for me to learn. I’m sure I’ll bring a few ideas of my own to the table over time, but right now it is important for me to get to know Iowa and the people here,” Taylor said.

For starters

August 17th, 2014

Florida State, Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon and Ohio State top my preseason ballot in this year’s Associated Press college football poll.
I’ll preface my thoughts with my belief that preseason polls are good for “coffee talk” and little else, to borrow a phrase frequently used by Hayden Fry.
The preseason poll is merely a starting point, judgments made based on how teams look on paper and not the realities of competition.
The first five I feel at this point are this year’s initial elite, based on returning talent and what has been learned since the start of spring ball about each..
There are four Big Ten teams on my preseason ballot. In addition to the Buckeyes, I have Michigan State in seventh, Wisconsin in 14th and Iowa in the 25th slot.
K’m far from married to any of my last five selections, who were among a group of 12 teams I considered for the final slots.
There will be changes based on early-season performances.
In alphabetical order, Central Florida, Kansas State, Louisville, Marshall, Michigan, Missouri and Nebraska were the other teams that were in that 21-33 area this time around.
Again, it will be fluid as games are played and identities of teams are established.
I’ll post a few thoughts on each week’s ballot along with the ballot each week.
Here is my preseason ballot:
1. Florida State
2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma
4. Oregon
5. Ohio State
6. Auburn
7. Michigan State
8. UCLA
9. Georgia
10. Baylor
11. South Carolina
12. Stanford
13. LSU
14. Wisconsin
15. USC
16. Notre Dame
17. Clemson
18. Texas A&M
19. Mississippi
20. Arizona State
21. Florida
22. Texas
23. North Carolina
24. Washington
25. Iowa

Young guns

August 16th, 2014

If there is a benefit to be gained from the rash of minor injuries that the Iowa football team is dealing with, it does provide additional practice time for younger players in the Hawkeye program.
Today’s Kids Day open practice at Kinnick Stadium provided a glimpse of the future, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Linebackers Bo Bower and Josey Jewell, a couple of Iowa natives looking to wedge their way into some playing time as redshirt freshmen, performed well as did John Kenny and Nathan Bazata on the defensive side of the ball.
Fans caught a glimpse of Andre Harris and Derrick Mitchell at receiver positions and true freshmen Mick Ellis, C.J. Hilliard, Ben Niemann and Tyler Wiegers had a chance to step onto the turf in front of a crowd at Kinnick for the first time.
Bower was seemingly all over the place, illustrating why the walk-on from West Branch has caught the attention of Hawkeye coaches in crowded competition for playing time.
His play at linebacker, if nothing else, could lead to special teams opportunities which traditionally have paved the way for participation on offense and defense at Iowa.
There is potential in the young guns that took the field for the Hawkeyes on Saturday.
Coach Kirk Ferentz said coaches have not yet discussed which true freshmen, if any, will be part of Iowa’s initial plans for the 2014 season.
Those discussions will take place in upcoming days and there will be some decisions to be made.
“We have some things to talk about,” Ferentz said.
Ellis will likely be prepared to compete, although his battle with Marshall Koehn for the starting kicking assignment remains ongoing.
Ellis displayed a strong leg and Ferentz indicated both kickers have performed well during fall camp.
The Kids Day atmosphere, complete with music throughout much of the practice in addition to the fans in the stands, provides a dress rehearsal of sorts for the Hawkeyes.
That is particularly important for the new Iowa players.
“I can remember my first time out there. Nerves, jitters, it’s all a part of it. It will be the same way for those guys in the opener, but this helps everybody get used to it,” receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said.
Ferentz said he thought a bit on his drive to the stadium today that the open practice – initially started to provide fans a look at the team when renovation work prevented a spring game from being held – might have outlived his usefulness.
For players like Bower, Jewell, Kenny, Bazata and more, the experience more than likely served a valuable purpose.

Shiny new model

August 6th, 2014

The staff moves announced by Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz on Tuesday provide the Hawkeyes with a new personnel/recruiting division within the football program.
What Iowa reeled out is the shiny new model of what is taking place in college football. It positions the Hawkeyes to recruit more effectively and efficiently in an age when ways of communicating with potential players are changing yearly and an in some cases, monthly.
As new recruiting coordinator Seth Wallace and Ferentz have indicated in recent weeks, the changes will help Iowa keep up with what is taking place elsewhere in college football are being crafted with an Iowa fit.
Personal communication has been and will continue to be Iowa’s most effective recruiting tool, but the Hawkeyes will have a few new bells and whistles to show off as they search for talent.
The changes are illustrative of how the collegiate game has continued to evolve and the moves that have been in the works since Eric Johnson’s departure from the staff are a result on reflection by Iowa coaches on how the landscape has changed and will likely continue to change in upcoming years.
Iowa’s ability to adjust accordingly will determine how successful this shiny new model is.
The moves announced by Ferentz are:
* The hiring of Kelvin Bell, a graduate assistant at Iowa since 2012, as the director of on-campus recruiting. His role will be to assist in all aspects of prospect identification, assisting coaches in off-campus recruiting and coordinating on-campus recruitment efforts.
* The hiring of Max Allen, an administrative assistant at Iowa since 2013, as the director of football new media. Allen’s innovate work has caught the attention of recruits and he will now work with the Iowa staff regarding design and production of print and electronic recruiting materials, manage football-specific social media and work with the athletics marketing department regarding football-specific activities.
* The hiring of Scott Southmayd, a quality control director on the Iowa staff for the past nine years, as director of player personnel. His job include working closely with Wallace and Ferentz in all areas of prospect identification, roster management and on-campus recruiting.
Ferentz said Southmayd’s role will make Iowa’s prospect identification, evaluation and roster-planning process more efficient.
A former Hawkeye, Broderick Binns, has been hired as a graduate assistant to replace Bell and will work primarily with special teams. Binns was the most valuable defensive player and earned all-Big Ten honors as a senior in 2011.

What a difference a year makes

August 4th, 2014

One year ago, Desmond King showed up at fall camp wide eyed and anxious to discover what college football is all about.
A month later, he found himself in a starting role when Jordan Lomax went down with an injury.
King is a prime example of how quickly roles and expectations can change and one reason why a freshman who is unpacking his bags this week might find himself in the thick of things in a few weeks..
“You never know,” King said today’s at the Hawkeyes’ annual media day.
King currently tops the depth chart at right cornerback, while the now healthy Lomax has shifted to free safety for his junior season.
“Last year helped my confidence a lot but a year ago at this time, I had no idea what to expect,” King said. “I came out ready to compete and all of a sudden, I was on the field.”
King said his freshman season taught him that he needed to work to gain speed as he prepared for his sophomore season.
“I’m ahead now because of what I learned last season,” King said. “Everything was so new last year and now, I feel like I belong. Things moved so quick the first couple of weeks in camp a year. It was a blur, but things worked out.”
Iowa coaches will likely find a few surprises among this year’s newbies, who are getting an introduction to college football under the lights at the Iowa practice facility this week.
As Desmond King can attest, things can change in a second and one of those newcomers find themselves in a major role soon.
“You never know,” King said. “I found that out. It’s why you have to show up ready to work, because things can change pretty quick.”

Four-down territory: Preseason edition

August 3rd, 2014

Freshmen reported Saturday and veteran players are returning to campus today as the Iowa football team prepares for the first practice of fall camp on Monday evening.
Here are four questions the Hawkeyes will look to answer between now and Iowa’s season opener on Aug. 30 against Northern Iowa:

1. Will Sean Welsh hold onto the starting left guard’s position and how will depth develop behind the four experienced players on the offensive line.
Welsh, a redshirt freshman, moved to the top of the depth chart during spring drills. He will be looking to join Brandon Scherff, Austin Blythe, Jordan Walsh and Andrew Donnal across the front of an offense that has a great deal of potential.
Second-team positions remain fluid as the Hawkeyes hit the field on Monday. Heading into the start of camp, senior Tommy Gaul, junior Eric Simmons, sophomores Mitch Keppy, Cole Croston and Ryan Ward join redshirt freshmen Ike Boettger and Boone Myers in competing for roles that will sort themselves out in upcoming weeks.

2. Will playing time be available for both Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard at quarterback.
Coach Kirk Ferentz isn’t opposed to finding ways to utilize both quarterbacks in games this season, but he isn’t necessarily married to the notion of established one defined role.
Iowa has used two quarterbacks before, allowing Brad Banks to see action in each game in 2001 as a back-up to Kyle McCann before Banks stepped in to lead Iowa to an unbeaten Big Ten season in 2002.
Expect some experimentation here as coaches try to determine how comfortable the quarterbacks are and how comfortable the players around them are in a dual QB situation.
Both are capable. It’s just a matter of how it all fits together and camp will help coaches determine if it’s going to work in this instance.

3. Who will emerge at left cornerback?
Iowa has questions in the secondary, including who will ultimately start at cornerback on the left side and how depth will develop.
Maurice Fleming and Sean Draper share the top spot of the depth chart at left cornerback as camp opens and sophomore Greg Mabin worked his way into the mix with his performance during spring drills. The spot is as wide open as any on the team heading into fall camp.
There are back-up roles to be determined as well, with a generally inexperienced group of defensive backs jockeying for position behind John Lowdermilk and Jordan Lomax at the safety spots and Desmond King at right cornerback.
With three starters to replace at linebacker, Quinton Alston, Travis Perry and Reggie Spearman open camp at the top of the depth chart but there are roles to be determined there as well with Chad Gilson and John Kenny listed as the back-up to Alston, Josey Jewell and Bo Bower behind Perry and Cole Fisher and Kenny listed behind Spearman. Expect some moving parts there during initial workouts

4. Who will kick and punt?
There are questions in both areas for different reasons.
Mike Meyer completed his eligibility and junior Marshall Koehn returns as the only kicker on the team with collegiate game experience, hitting the only extra-point try he attempted last season. Freshman Mick Ellis could be in the mix here as well.
At punter, Connor Kornbrath returns but will face competition in camp from juco transfer Dillon Kidd as coaches looked for improved consistency in the punting game where Iowa ranked ninth in the Big Ten a year ago.
All of Iowa’s specialists will be working with a new starting snapper as well, with Tyler Kluver replacing consistent Casey Kreiter in that area.

Juggling act

July 30th, 2014

Kirk Ferentz takes nothing for granted.
Given that Mark Weisman was shuffled from fullback to running back a couple of years ago out of necessity, that’s probably a good thing.
But, the 16th-year Hawkeye coach doesn’t mind having the depth of options that is currently available to him at running back.
From the power of Weisman and LaShun Daniels to the elusiveness of Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock, Iowa has depth and backs who can provide different looks to opposing defenses.
“We have two sets of guys who are pretty distinctly different,” Ferentz said at the Big Ten kickoff event. “It looks like we are at least going to have some options, the chance to mix things up a bit.”
Weisman is the Hawkeyes’ top returning rusher, but Ferentz said lessons learned the past two seasons will help coaches more effectively use the senior.
“We need him strong in the fourth quarter of games and the goal is to put him in a position to be that way,” Ferentz said.
That means putting the ball into the hands of other backs in addition to Weisman more often earlier in games.
Iowa has the depth in the offensive backfield to accomplish that and along with a passing game that should show growth, the Hawkeyes will attempt to put Weisman in a position to make a difference in November.
“He’s not the kind of guy who is going to take himself out of games, so we have to be smart about it,” Ferentz said. “He’s a physical back who plays at full speed all the time.”
Ferentz doesn’t mind that, but he wants full speed to include critical moments in critical games late into the season, meaning that Weisman may not receive as many early-season carries as he has had in past years when conditions merit that.
Expect coaches to juggle personnel a bit more, and that probably isn’t a bad thing for the Hawkeyes.

New year, same approach

July 28th, 2014

Michigan State enjoyed a championship season last year, but coach Mark Dantonio doesn’t expect that to mean a thing this fall.
Dantonio said at today’s Big Ten kickoff that how the Spartans handle the success they had a year ago will put them in a position to repeat in 2014.
“What we’ve tried to talk about really is how we handle success now,” Dantonio said. “We’ve had success. We’ve gotten to a point where we’ve done some special things. Now, how do we handle it? That’s really going to be one of the biggest things we’ll have to deal with this year.”
Dantonio expects that opponents will have a little more energy as they lineup against Michigan State.
“I think we’ll be a little more of the hunted this year,” Dantonio said. “That’s a good place to be, but it is also a precarious place.’
He said the Spartans must work to improve, much in the same way Hawkeye players talk the same talk.
“We haven’t earned a thing yet this season,” Iowa running back Mark Weisman said. “We won eight games last year, but that doesn’t matter now and we have to understand that.”
Weisman’s right, just as Dantonio is.
Big Ten football teams are judged only by their most recent result.
That provides teams with hope and provides them with motivation.
It’s the type of thing that pushes teams forward during the summer.
Dantonio believes his team has had a productive offseason since returing from Pasadena.
Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis said the Hawkeyes have never been better prepared for the start of a fall camp since he has been on campus.
“The commitment is there,” Davis said. “Guys are bigger, faster, stronger. Now, we have to turn that into results.”

Bob being Bob

July 22nd, 2014

Bob Bowlsby didn’t mince words Monday at the Big 12 football media days in Dallas, simply portraying the landscape of intercollegiate athletics as he sees it.
The Big 12 commissioner didn’t paint a pretty picture, describing the NCAA’s enforcement of rules as “broken” and saying that cheating, while not rampant, is possible because of the inability of the NCAA to hold its members accountable.
Bowlsby also forewarned that the future of men’s Olympic sports is shaky because of financial structures which will change as schools begin to spend millions to facilitate funding full cost of attendance scholarships and deal with a growing number of class-action lawsuits.
He predicts rising tensions between sports on campuses and between institutions with differing levels of resources.
“I think it’s really unknown at this point what the outcomes will be, but generally speaking, I think those are the things you should watch for,” Bowlsby said.
The former Northern Iowa, Iowa and Stanford director of athletics measured his words carefully but accurately defined the complicated and conflicting state of affairs facing intercollegiate athletics today.
That’s no surprise. It was simply Bob being Bob, articulating his beliefs in the same fashion that he delivered them when he led athletic departments in this state.
Bowlsby articulated reasoned and frankly accurate statements as he stood behind the podium in Dallas.
Like many of his peers, including Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, he believes funding scholarships at the full cost of attendance level is a step in the right direction.
He took time to point out that the five power conferences would have already enacted that proposal if they had not been outvoted by the rest of the Division I membership.
Bowlsby repeated his support for creation of a governing structure that would allow the five conferences to remain under the NCAA umbrella but operate under their own terms in order to deal with issues unique to the largest of the Division I programs and conferences.
“The fact is we have some challenges at our level that other institutions in Division I don’t have,” Bowlsby said.
He acknowledges that the change has the potential to create additional separation among the 350 Division I programs, but will allow all to continue to share in the Division I brand as well as provide access to revenue sharing and championship qualification.
In exchange, Bowlsby said members of the five conferences will “get some prerogatives that will allow us to better manage and to better meet the needs of student-athletes.”
In his Bob being Bob way, Bowlsby hit the ball out of the park on Monday and should provide his contemporaries with greater reason to contemplate and seek potential solutions to growing issues within the current structure of the organization.

List of priorities

July 16th, 2014

It is probably better to be mentioned on a preseason watch list than it is to be left off of one, but Iowa football players aren’t spending much time congratulating each other for being listed on the growing list of watch lists that hype postseason awards.
At this time of year, between time in the weight room and on the field working toward the start of fall camp, those awards seem about a million miles away to the Hawkeyes as they probably should.
“I think there is too much preseason talk, to be honest,” Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock said today.
Rudock appreciates that two of the linemen in front of him, Brandon Scherff and Austin Blythe, are among players listed on some of the nearly two dozen watch lists which have been released in recent weeks.
But, he appreciated them before their names were added to lists that sometimes seemingly include as many names as small-town phone book.
“I just feel good with the way they play and they way they compete,” Rudock said. “That tops my list of priorities.”
Blythe can relate.
He said he had to ask his father who one of the lists some Hawkeyes made this summer was named after.
“There are too many to keep track of. It’s an honor and everything, but at the end of the day it’s more important how you play and right now, there isn’t a player in the country who has earned anything because none of us have played any games,” Blythe said.
Among a group of 123 players, including three Hawkeyes, on the preseason watch list for the Lombardi Trophy presented to the game’s top lineman, Blythe said he has other priorities right now.
“It’s the middle of summer. You have to get through camp, have a good season and then, those things will come,” Blythe said. “The big step is getting onto that next stage of the watch list.”
But there is a lot of work to be done before any of the Hawkeyes will put much thought into that.
Offensive guard Andrew Donnal said players typically take the hype for what it is.
“Nobody ever knows,” Donnal said. “When it comes to the season, there are so many upsets. Those things can’t be predicted. We just take care of business and things will work out. That’s always been our approach here.”