You should keep your heads up Hawkeye fans because 2013 isn't as bleak as it might sound. In fact, it should be pretty exciting. Last season was an abysmal failure for two primary reasons. First, you had multiple seniors on offense trying to run a scheme different than the one they'd spent three (or four) years perfecting. Second, the defense only had three senior starters. 2012 marked the final year of the dreaded 2008 recruiting class and saw a few from 2009 graduate as well. Out with the old and in with the new. This year is about the future of Iowa football.
There are three reasons to be excited about the Hawkeyes this season:
- The skill position players on offense are young and have either spent a season in the Greg Davis offense or are coming in with a "blank slate."
- Iowa will be fielding six seniors on defense.
- Something which encapsulates #1 and #2 and the most importantly: the talent.
Let's talk about each one in-depth.
The Offensive Skill Players
There isn't a quarterback on Iowa's spring depth chart that has taken a snap for the Hawkeyes. Sophomore Jake Rudock redshirted in 2011 and didn't step onto the field of play last season. Junior Cody Sokol transferred from Scottsdale Community College and promptly redshirted. Same goes for freshman C.J. Beathard, who was greeted by Kirk Ferentz outside the Hayden Fry football complex with a "Hey you're not playing this year."
Despite Rudock being listed as the starter word is that the spot is wide open. Per Marc Morehouse:
They don't know who the QB will be. That's the honest consensus gathered from a few sources around the program. The 2013 QB is totally up for grabs and the wildcard might be how the winner moves when it's time to run.
You can look at the absolute lack of experience as a negative or view it as an opportunity. Unlike Vandenberg, who had spent four seasons under Ken O'Keefe and had to "unlearn" previous teachings, two of the three quarterbacks have only seen the Greg Davis offense. The outlier is Rudock who redshirted in 2011 and practiced the old system. In retrospect you can sympathize with Vandenberg's struggles because he transitioned from a slow developing passing game to a quick-hit pseudo west coast offense. The result was nothing short of disastrous.
The new guys have no transition to make. They've had two years under Davis and are "all in" for the horizontal offense. Where you see lack of experience the Iowa coaches see a player they can mold. Yes, that is a positive.
An Older Defense
Last year's defense struggled not only because of their youth but also due to a lack of talent. The three seniors listed on Iowa's depth chart against Purdue were DE Joe Gaglione, DT Steve Bigach and CB Greg Castillo. None of these players were heavily recruited out of high school and only became full-time starters as seniors. That has to say something. In fact, Castillo was only starting because of injuries. Say all you want about Iowa's player development, there's only so much a coaching staff can do.
This year all six seniors have at least one season of starting experience. Some, like LB Christian Kirksey, have been starting since they were underclassmen. This season, the defense isn't fielding players because they've been loyal and Kirk Ferentz rewards loyalty. This season, the defense is fielding players who showed long ago that they were talented enough and deserving of a starting position.
The Talent, OH MY the Talent
Spare me the "next man in" and "stars don't mean anything" arguments. I'm tired of the "RABBLE RABBLE KIRK FERENTZ TWO STAR WALK-ON PLAYER DEVELOPMENT GENIUS" line. Yes, we're all aware that Ferentz has put plenty of guys into the NFL who weren't heavily recruited and walked on. You should also be aware that half of those guys are retired and the other half can't stay healthy. Despite what your line of thinking is: You cannot build a successful football team with 2-star players and walk-ons. I hate to break it to you.
Last season marked the graduation of the remainder of the 2008 class and majority of the 2009 commitments. So long, farewell, 2008. What a disaster. Some time ago, Patrick Vint wrote an article about attrition and the "great Hawkeye talent drain." This was no more evident than in 2008. By my count, of the 25 players who signed LOI, only 13 finished their careers at Iowa. Whether it be transfer, AIRBHG or dismissal, Iowa lost the likes of David Blackwell, Jeff Brinson, David Cato, Jewel Hampton, DeMarco Paine and Adam Robinson.
Talent-wise, the class of 2009 wasn't stellar. Of the 20 commitments 13 of them were 2-star recruits and the two "jewels" of the class didn't exactly pan out. Brandon Wegher had uh...a lot of problems and didn't stick around at Iowa very long. Keenan Davis saw the whole thing through but for whatever reason didn't really earn the 4-star badge he'd been given.
Iowa's starters on the 2013 Spring depth chart break down like this:
- Sophomore: 6
- Junior: 2
- Senior: 3
- Sophomore: 3
- Junior: 2
- Senior: 6
The negative is that the offense is young. The positive is that they're far more talented. The offense fields three 4-star players, five 3-star players and two 2-star players. In fact, the only 2-star players are Mark Weisman and Kevonte Martin-Manley who were obviously undervalued by the recruiting services. The defense is lacking in superstars but fields an average of a 3-star player and zero walk-ons. Even better, some backups on defense like Faith Ekakitie and Jaleel Johnson are 4-star players are look to push for starting positions.
Stars aren't everything. A 5-star/4-star player isn't guaranteed to be a superstar, a 3-star player isn't guaranteed to be a middle of the pack player and a 2-star isn't guaranteed to be a backup. Recruiting rankings should be used to evaluate someone's raw potential and leave it to the coaching staff to develop that talent. Is it more likely that a 5-star/4-star is going to be a "better" player than a 2-star guy? Yes. Can a 3-star be developed into a player better than a 5-star? Yes. Can those things happen at Iowa? It happens all the time. Kirk Ferentz enjoys turning a 3-star player into a first round draft pick.
There's going to be a lot of youth on the field for Iowa in 2013. The positives are that they've had time in the system and they're relatively talented. The 2010/2011 recruiting classes were far superior to their predecessors and it won't be long before these classes reach their full potential. The negative is that there's going to be growing pains. Oh my, are there going to be growing pains. Iowa faces the (very likely) possibility that they won't make a bowl game for a second straight year. But let's temper expectations right here and say: this isn't about 2013, this is about the future.
This is about finding a quarterback, keeping the running backs healthy and developing a wide-receiver. This is about getting Iowa's defensive line to the defensive line of old. It's about finding the next lockdown cornerback. It's about the future.
The future is bright.
* - All recruiting information from Rivals.com