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Pat Harty: Hawkeyes are used to doing more with less

[ 0 ] February 4, 2014 |

When it comes to recruiting, Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz rarely wins on paper.

It makes for a rather dull signing day, but also makes winning that much sweeter.

Iowa’s 2014 recruiting class can’t compete with Louisiana State’s class on paper. But their New Year’s Day matchup in the Outback Bowl was hotly contested, with LSU and its four- and five-star recruits barely hanging on for a 21-14 victory.

Iowa rarely finishes above Michigan or Nebraska in the recruiting rankings, but still defeated both teams this past season.

So as I say on every signing day, don’t draw any conclusions about Iowa’s 2014 recruiting class. Keep and open mind because what you see today on paper isn’t necessarily what you’ll see on the field in two or three years.

It’s easier to say that with Iowa coming off a season in which it overachieved by finishing 8-5, as opposed to the 4-8 debacle in 2012. But it’s the truth. Recruiting is still an inexact science despite all the attention and resources given to it.

The Southeastern Conference is helping to change that by dominating on the recruiting trail as well as on the field. Rivals.com has seven teams from the SEC ranked among the top 10 recruiting classes for 2014, while Scout.com has five.

Ferentz signed his best class on paper in 2005 following a stretch in which Iowa had three consecutive double-digit win seasons. The class was ranked in the top 10 nationally, but produced only mixed results despite the presence of multiple four-star prospects.

Iowa’s 2014 class is ranked in the lower half of the Big Ten by both Rivals.com and Scout.com. And though it sets the stage for more overachieving down the road, signing less-heralded recruits on a regular basis also makes it hard for Iowa to sustain success.

“Things need to break your way when you’re a developmental program,” said Rob Howe, publisher of HawkeyeInsider.com, which covers Iowa football and men’s basketball recruiting. “Injuries, attrition and academic casualties prevent prospects from reaching their ceilings, which in many cases already are perceived to be lower than the four- and five-star recruits.”

Iowa’s 2014 class is missing the top two prospects from instate, with Cedar Falls offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher and Urbandale receiver Allen Lazard headed to Alabama and Iowa State, respectively.

In fairness, Iowa never had a realistic chance to land Lazard, whose father played at Iowa State and whose older brother currently does.

Losing Pierschbacher cut deep, though, not only because he grew up cheering for the Hawkeyes, but because he was the first player to commit to Iowa’s 2014 recruiting class and he plays on the offensive line, which is considered Ferentz’s area of expertise. Pierschbacher announced for the Hawkeyes in January 2013 and stayed committed until Alabama entered the picture this past summer.

Iowa did its part to keep Pierschbacher this past season by doubling its win total from the 2012 season. Pierschbacher said after committing that he wanted to see improvement, but that was before Alabama coach Nick Saban said he wanted to see Pierschbacher playing for him.

Pierschbacher lit the flame for Iowa, but his presence wasn’t enough to convince other star recruits to follow him.

The Iowa coaches were at a disadvantage when they started putting together the 2014 class because it came on the heels of the disastrous 2012 season. But as it turns out, the 2014 class isn’t much different than previous classes on paper. Nobody will mistake Iowa’s class for Ohio State’s star-studded class, but it’s also not as weak on paper as three or four other classes in the Big Ten.

Iowa’s 2014 class has six players from instate and two each from Washington D.C., Texas, New Jersey, Michigan and Missouri. The class doesn’t have any players from the Chicago area, though, and that’s a concern.

But it might only be a temporary concern, considering one of the two players committed to Iowa’s 2015 class is four-star quarterback Jack Beneventi, who attends Benet Academy in the Chicago suburb of Lisle, Ill.

Ferentz will meet with reporters this afternoon to discuss the newest additions to his team. He will praise the 2014 class for its potential, which is typical. The next time a college coach criticizes his or her recruiting class or complains about the big fish that got away will be the first time.

There is a perception that Ferentz is reluctant to recruit star prospects because they don’t fit with his conservative, low-key approach.

That’s ridiculous.

Ferentz shoots for the five star recruits, but in most cases it’s just not meant to be. Iowa is a program that relies on player development.

That’s why signing day is more about gearing for the future than celebrating the present.

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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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