Not quite three seasons removed from the most significant bowl victory in Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz’ career, his team is struggling.
The Hawkeyes have lost two games in a row by a total of 35 points. Now they must go 2-2 just to be eligible for a bowl game.
That’s reality: The nation’s seventh-ranked team after winning the BCS Orange Bowl following the 2009 season suddenly faces possible exclusion from the 70-team bowl bonanza.
The once-mighty hasn’t fallen – it’s just stumbling.
Iowa plays at Indiana on Saturday, then it’s back home against Purdue, on the road again at Michigan, and then a Kinnick Stadium Thanksgiving weekend Friday game against Nebraska.
So what’s happened since that 24-14 upset of ninth-ranked Georgia Tech at Land Shark Stadium in Miami?
Recruiting class attrition. Staff makeover. Injuries.
Together, they help explain how an 11-win team in 2009 is facing the possibility of just its second sub.-500 record in a decade.
Of the 10 teams that played in the nation’s biggest bowls in 2009, six have won between 22 and 32 games since, while Iowa enters Saturday’s 2:30 p.m., game with 19.
“The biggest thing that jumps out at me, from a guy looking in from the outside, is that there appears to have been a dropoff in talent,” said former college coach Gerry DiNardo, a Big Ten Network analyst.
“Look at Iowa’s best players in its best years – they’re better than the players that are there now.”
Specifically what has happened goes back to the season after Iowa’s Orange Bowl appearance, say those who watch college football.
“It goes back to the 2010 season,” ESPN Big Ten Conference analyst/blogger Adam Rittenberg said. “You have to build on the momentum from 2009, win the Big Ten, and get back to a BCS bowl.”
The Hawkeyes won five of their first six games in 2010, and seven of nine, before heading into what would be an Insight Bowl victory against Missouri with a three-game losing streak.
Last season, Iowa’s win total dropped to seven.
That’s 11 wins in 2009, eight in 2010, seven last season and four now with four games to play.
“In 2010, they had guys like Ricky Stanzi, Adrian Clayborn, Karl Klug, Christian Ballard, and a good stable of running backs,” Rittenberg said. “With them, Iowa was in position to build on its 2009 success, but wasn’t able to do it.”
The Hawkeyes ran their record to 6-2 with a 31-point victory against fifth-ranked Michigan State that season – a success that was costly.
Top tailback Adam Robinson got hurt. The same happened to starting linebacker Tyler Nielsen.
Iowa beat Indiana the next week 18-13, before finishing the regular season with a losing streak – a collapse that even a top-notch defensive line could not prevent.
“That team was as talented as any Iowa team that I can recall,” said longtime Iowa football follower Jon Miller, publisher of Hawkeyenation.com and host of the postgame “Sound Off” radio show on Saturdays. “Especially the defensive line. But to me, those injuries in the Michigan State game set the tone for the rest of that season.”
Of the players on Iowa’s depth chart this week, 15 represent recruiting classes of 2008 and 2009. Comparatively, Michigan State’s depth chart includes 23 players from those two recruiting classes, while the Hawkeyes’ Saturday opponent has 11.
“Attrition is college football,” Ferentz said this week. “Two years before (the Orange Bowl), we were 6-6. There’s ebb and flow in sports, and there’s ebb and flow during the course of seasons. There’s ebb and flow from season to season, and certainly during the course of a week.”
The 2008 recruiting class included offensive tackle Riley Reiff, who turned pro before his senior season, and defensive back Shaun Prater and tight end Brad Herman, who played as true freshmen.
That 24-player class also included seven on this week’s depth chart, and 11 others no longer in the program.
Of the 21 high school seniors in the 2009 recruiting class, according to the school’s football media guide, eight are on this week’s depth chart, while 12 no longer are on the roster.
As is the case throughout the nation, attrition includes career-ending injuries, transfers, players leaving early for the NFL, and players either told to leave or who leave on their own.
“Usually only 30 to 40 percent of a recruiting class plays,” said DiNardo, who coached at Vanderbilt, LSU and Indiana. “I don’t think people understand that.
“Not every recruit plays significantly in games. Not every recruit starts and finishes at the same school.
“It happens everywhere.”
Iowa’s current trend is not permanent, says recruiting guru Tom Lemming.
“The organization is still good,” he said. “I’m around the country a lot – the Iowa football brand is strong. Along with Urban Meyer and Nick Saban, I consider Kirk one of the top three coaches in the country.”
The current depth chart includes eight sophomores, eight redshirt freshmen and five true freshmen. Seven true freshmen have played this season.
“Right now, they’re right around a top 30 recruiting class,” Lemming said of players who will sign national letters of intent in February. “Recruiting at Iowa is much tougher than recruiting at some other schools, like Ohio State and Michigan.
“It’s a matter of maybe expanding the recruiting region a little more – possibly getting into California, Texas and Florida more.”
“All that being said,” Ferentz said, “this season is not over.”
BCS BOWL TEAMS IN 2009
Records of teams that competed in 2009 season BCS bowls since those games
32-3 — Oregon
31-3 — Boise State
30-4 — Alabama
29-5 — TCU
27-8 — Ohio State
22-12 — Florida
19-13 — Cincinnati
19-14 — Texas
19-15 — Iowa
17-17 — Georgia Tech
RECRUITING 2008 AND 2009
Players signing national letters of intent during those recruiting periods are the veterans of this season’s teams. Here’s how those two classes represent themselves on Big Ten depth charts.
23 — Michigan State
22 — Nebraska
20 — Ohio State
19 — Michigan
18 — Penn State
17 — Wisconsin
16 — Northwestern
16 — Purdue
15 — Illinois
15 — Iowa
11 — Indiana
10 — Minnesota
IOWA CLASS OF 2008
Steve Bigach, DL
Greg Castillo, DB
James Ferentz, OL
Joe Gaglione, DL
Jonathan Gimm, FB
Casey McMillan, OL
Trent Mossbrucker, PK
Jack Swanson, DB
James Vandenberg, QB
John Wienke, P
David Blackwell, QB
Jeff Brinson, RB
David Cato, DB
J.D. Griggs, TE
Jewel Hampton, RB
Brad Herman, TE (played as true freshman)
Willie Lowe, DB
DeMarco Paine, WR
Shane Prater, WR
Shaun Prater, DB (played as true freshman)
Riley Reiff, OL (turned pro after junior season)
Adam Robinson, RB
Jason Semmes, DL
Khalif Staten, LB
IOWA CLASS OF 2009
Dominic Alvis, DL
Conor Boffeli, OL
Drew Clark, OL
Jordan Cotton, WR
Keenan Davis, WR
Micah Hyde, DB
Nolan MacMillan, OL
Brad Rogers, FB
Brett Van Sloten, OL
Josh Brown, RB
Scott Covert, DL
Shane DiBona, LB
Dakota Getz, LB
Tyler Harrell, DL
Martin Hopkins, DL
Charlie Knipper, LS
Matt Murphy, OL
Stephane N’goumou, WR
Woody Orne, OL
JoJo Pregont, WR
Brandon Wegher, RB
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football