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Harty: Top-tier football recruits will never be common at Iowa

[ 0 ] February 6, 2013 |

Contrary to how it might seem, Kirk Ferentz has nothing against recruiting four- and five-star players.

He even lands one every now and then, one of the most notable examples being tight end Tony Moeaki, who when healthy lived up to his high four-star ranking from the moment he arrived on the Iowa campus in 2005. Moeaki overcame numerous injuries to make first-team all-Big Ten as a senior in 2009 and he now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Iowa doesn’t have any four- or five-star players in its 2013 recruiting class, which became official on Wednesday with all 21 recruits signing their national letter of intent.

That shouldn’t be a surprise, given the less-than-desirable recruiting circumstances this past fall fall and this winter, caused mostly by Iowa finishing 4-8 last season.

It’s hard enough for Ferentz and his crew to pique the interest of the so-called blue chip recruits under good circumstances. It’s next to impossible when Iowa is in a funk.

Moeaki was part of Iowa’s heralded 2005 recruiting class, which was widely considered a top-10 class nationally. And even though the 2005 class ultimately was decimated by attrition and plagued by some underachievers, it still stood tall in the recruiting rankings.

It’s probably no coincidence that the 2005 class was formed on the heels of a three-season stretch from 2002-04 in which Iowa combined to finish 31-7 overall, won two Big Ten titles and played in three January bowl games.

Recruiting at the BCS level is traditionally a case of the rich getting richer on an annual basis, this year being the latest example with schools such as two-time defending national champion Alabama and Big Ten power Ohio State reloading in typical fashion.

Iowa never has been a program that reloads on a regular basis and it never will achieve that lofty status. It’s just a fact of life that won’t change because the circumstances, which include the low population in Iowa, won’t allow for it to change. Iowa also has suffered through too many stretches of sub-par results to be considered an elite program.

Each year there are a handful of recruits who fall into the category of no brainer where predicting their success hardly is a reach. Those players typically don’t gravitate towards Iowa and Ferentz doesn’t typically waste his time recruiting them.

“There are lots of players like that, but we don’t get access to many of those,” Ferentz said at a Wednesday news conference. “It’s nice when you do.”

Iowa will have an occasional recruiting breakthrough such as the 2005 recruiting class, but the stars were aligned for that class to become special on paper. Five of the most heavily recruited players in the 2005 class, including Moeaki, were from the Chicago area, giving Iowa an advantage in terms of location.

Combine location with success on the field and Iowa became an attractive option in 2005. It also helped that Notre Dame was struggling at the time. Every little bit helps in recruiting.

It’s worth pointing out that Moeaki and oft-injured offensive lineman Dace Richardson were the only two from the Chicago contingent to make all-Big Ten while at Iowa. The other three — quarterback Jake Christensen, offensive lineman Dan Doering and defensive lineman Ryan Bain — never came close to achieving all-Big Ten accolades.

Christensen started throughout the 2007 season, but then lost his position to Ricky Stanzi early in the 2008 season. Christensen finished his career at Eastern Illinois in 2009.

Bain also transferred to Akron after lettering at Iowa in 2005 and 2006, while Doering, a former five-star recruit, stayed at Iowa, but played sparingly.

The fact that three of the five players from Chicago failed to live up to the hype doesn’t speak well about the process of evaluating and ranking recruits. But it also depends on how you look at the Chicago contingent because two of the five earned all-Big Ten recognition.

Recruiting in large part comes down to finding not only the best players who are willing to come to your school, but also finding players who fit your program. The challenge for Ferentz and his assistants is finding enough of them to stay competitive on a consistent basis. They’re struggling with that right now, not from a lack of effort, but more so from not being able to keep enough talent on the roster.

Iowa’s success with landing four- and five-star recruits usually can be traced to some unique circumstances.

Iowa already has received a verbal commitment from Cedar Falls junior offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher, who is considered one of the top players nationally at his position in the junior class. Location was a huge factor in Pierschbacher picking Iowa because like so many other kids from Iowa, he grew up cheering up for the Hawkeyes.

Iowa also is in the running to land another heralded junior offensive lineman, with 6-foot-7, 340-pound Orlando Brown recently including the Hawkeyes in his top-eight schools. Iowa is the only school in Brown’s top eight to finish with a losing record last season. However, the Hawkeyes have a connection to Brown with Ferentz having coached Brown’s late father in the NFL.

Ferentz is correct in saying that the line that separates a heralded class from a less-heralded class often is razor thin. Iowa’s 2012 recruiting class, for example, was ranked in the upper half of the Big Ten, whereas the 2013 class is ranked in the lower half.

“I’m not sure I can tell you the difference,” Ferentz said of the two classes. “We felt good about last year’s class. We feel good about this one.”

The difference is that classes filled with four- and five-star recruits have better odds of succeeding, as evidenced by the results on the field. Teams that do well in recruiting, more times than not, also do well on the field.

Ohio State’s 2013 class is ranked first nationally by Scout.com, followed by Michigan and Alabama.

Don’t be surprised if all three of those teams are in a different top-10 poll next season and for seasons to come.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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