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Archive for July, 2014

Juggling act

Wednesday, 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

Monday, 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

Tuesday, 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

Wednesday, 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.''

Coffee talk

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014
I've never been one to spend money I don't have on wagers, but I do find that the odds make for "good coffee talk,'' a phrase former Iowa football coach Hayden Fry used to toss around to describe debatable issues. That probably includes how the folks in Vegas and elsewhere see things from their own perspective. With the start of the college football season a little more than 50 days away, the odds makers are starting to show their hands when it comes to how they see the college football landscape in 2014. The usual suspects, Florida State, Alabama, Oregon, Auburn and Ohio State, tend to be viewed by most among the early favorites. The online site Bovada lists Iowa as a 100-to-1 shot to win the national title this season, placing the Hawkeyes on the same tier its lists Arizona, Kansas State, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas Tech and Washington. The site lists Ohio State as a 1-to-1 pick to win the Big Ten title this season, putting Nebraska at 5-to-1, Michigan at 6-to-1, Michigan State and Wisconsin at 9-to-2 ahead of Iowa at 12-to-1. It also rates the Hawkeyes as a 5-to-1 pick as the team which will win the Western Division title and advance to the league title game, behind Nebraska at 3-to-2 and Wisconsin at 6-to-5. The longshot in the West? Purdue at 100-to-1. In reality, it will all be determined on the field and a schedule that brings both Wisconsin and Nebraska to Kinnick Stadium in late November could position the Hawkeyes to make things interesting down the stretch. If nothing else, it's "good coffee talk'' for a mid-summer day.