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Wegher leaning toward Iowa, Nebraska?

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Exhausted from the rigors of the recruiting trail, touted Sioux City Heelan running back Brandon Wegher took the past month off.

While other top prospects have been making visits to colleges and maximizing exposure at camps, Wegher, who last season rushed for 2,334 yards and 34 touchdowns while leading Heelan to the Iowa Class 3A state title game, has been hanging out at home.

“I’ve been hitting the weight room hard. And we have running and (skeleton drills) three times a week,” Wegher said when I talked to him Sunday night. “So, I’ve been working out, doing some fishing, hanging out, swimming … that’s what I’ve been doing this summer.”

Ranked a 4-star prospect by Web site Rivals.com and the third-best player in the state of Iowa’s high school class of 2009, Wegher did take time to visit a pair of schools this past month, and that might be an indication of where he’ll commit before his high school season starts next month.

The schools he visited were Iowa and Nebraska, which makes a lot of sense since Wegher, who actually resides in Dakota Dunes, S.D., lives very near the Nebraska-Iowa border.

Turns out, while taking time off — Brandon’s father, Rick, said Brandon was just a little burned out on the process — Wegher made a lot of progress. When I talked to him a month ago, he still was considering most of his 16 scholarship offers. Now, he’s whittled it to five: Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri.

“I think I’m going to take a few more visits and then decide,” Wegher told me Sunday.

Here’s what his dad had to say last week:

“I think he’d rather stay a little closer to home. If he’s made any decision, he’s made that one. That’s good news for us, too. I would say, you know, I don’t think he wants to travel clear down South or clear over to the West to play. I think he’d rather stay within a half a day’s drive.”

Hmmm … a half a day’s drive? You can work the Mapquest yourself if you want to double check, but the driving time from Dakota Dunes to Lincoln, Neb., where the Huskers play, is roughly 2 hours, 30 minutes. To Iowa City is 5 hours. To Lawrence, Kan., is 4:45. To Columbia, Mo., is just over 6. Arkansas … is a few hours, and perhaps an extended layover, by plane.

I get the sense it’s going to be either Iowa or Nebraska, and it appears the Hawkeyes have a real shot at adding Wegher to their backfield.

“We visited Iowa right before the 4th of July,” Rick Wegher said. “We had a good visit. I think Iowa … I think he likes Iowa a lot. I do too.”

Added the younger Wegher: “I really like Iowa. The coaches there are on my top list of coaches. I know they’re having a lot of troubles right now, but I’m looking past that.”

Both Weghers talked a lot about the bad publicity the Iowa program has received lately because of off-field legal issues — two former players are awaiting trial on sexual assault charges, part of a stretch that has seen 18 Hawkeyes pile up 23 arrests or citations in 15 months.

It doesn’t seem like it’s a big problem for them — Brandon doesn’t seem like the type of kid who’s going to run into a bunch of legal trouble once he’s on campus — but it’s definitely been brought up in the recruiting process, and it’s definitely something competing coaches can point to as a negative in Iowa City.

“Obviously, we’ve asked that question as we’ve gone through the process. They’ve addressed it. I know they’re bringing in a new position just to deal with that,” Rick Wegher said. “I think it has to be a little concerning for anybody. In the same sense, I’d rather have him come in on the back side of that than the front side of that. It’d be a problem for any university, and they have to address it. And I think Iowa is addressing it.”

An interesting note there is that Rick said many of the other schools recruiting Brandon already have a “life skills coach” in place. Iowa is in the process of creating that position.

Brandon said that when he was on his last visit to Iowa, he and his parents sat down with coach Kirk Ferentz and asked what was going on with all the legal troubles.

“He couldn’t really explain it that well to us. He just said it was the kids’ choices and they’re trying to resolve it,” Wegher said. “I think they’re going to resolve it. Once you have too much of something, you’ve got to stop it. They’re going to put their foot down.”

That’s the perception, from one recruit anyway.

You have to wonder, though, if David Barrent’s decision Monday to pull his commitment from Iowa in favor of Michigan State had anything to do with the situation in Iowa City. Maybe he felt like Ferentz’s days are numbered. Maybe he didn’t want to join a program that appears, from the outside, to be falling apart.

Or maybe he just wanted to go play for his dad’s old buddy — Michigan State’s offensive line coach Dan Roushar played high school and college football with Barrent’s father, Rich. They went to high school in Clinton, Iowa, before moving on to Northern Illinois.

All I know is when I talked to David in May and asked him if he was one of these guys who would commit early and then flip, he told me he was a rock-solid Hawkeye.

“I’m fully committed. I’m really excited. I can’t wait to be there,” was what he said at the time.

But Roushar and the Michigan State staff stayed on Barrent, and he changed his mind and is joining what is turning into an impressive class in East Lansing — 14 commits, including eight with 4-star ratings. (Yeah, second-year coach Mark Dantonio is taking advantage of that coaching change in Ann Arbor)

Program stability, perceived or otherwise, means a lot in the recruiting game, and Iowa’s a tough sell right now. With the program in a decline on the field — 19-18 the past three seasons, including an 11-13 mark in the Big Ten and a 6-6 record in a bowl-less 2007 — and in shambles off it, how do prospects know Ferentz is going to be around next year, the year after or four years down the line?

For what it’s worth, Wegher doesn’t think Ferentz is going anywhere. But will Barrent’s decision affect were Wegher ends up? Wegher’s father, for one, talked a lot about how great he thought it would be if the Big Four — Wegher, Barrent, Mt. Pleasant receiver Jordan Cotton and Cedar Rapids Washington receiver Keenan Davis — ended up at Iowa. (It sounds a little like dad’s leaning toward Iowa)

Now, Barrent is gone and Davis and Cotton have yet to commit, though Cotton is set to make an announcement later this week and has narrowed his list of choices to Iowa and Kansas. Davis still is considering Iowa, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona State and Oklahoma. He, like Wegher, is planning to commit before his high school season starts next month.

As it stands, Iowa has one commit for the class of 2009. One – Ohio running back Brad Rogers. 

As stated, Michigan State has 14. Ohio State 24.

This was never going to be Iowa’s largest class – indications are it will come in around 13 to 15 players when it’s all said and done on signing day — but, with four top-tier prospects in the state, it was a chance, as recruiting analyst Tom Lemming put it, for the Hawkeyes coaching staff to make a strong statement that the U of I still is king in its own state. The Big Four was to be the framework for the Hawkeyes’ offense of the future. Barrent was the foundation. Losing him to Michigan or Ohio State or Notre Dame, in most fans’ eyes would have been understandable. But to Michigan State? Never. That’s the wrong kind of strong statement. 

What it says to Wegher, Davis and Cotton … only time will tell.

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And so it begins

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

The football season officially is here, though it probably didn’t feel like it for Kirk Ferentz in Chicago on Thursday and Friday with much of the Iowa-related talk at the Big Ten’s media kickoff revolving around the legal issues the Hawkeyes have encountered the past 15 months.

I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t there.

As I mentioned in a couple earlier blog posts, my wife and I were expecting our first child, due July 21. Well, she — it was a girl — arrived a day late on Tuesday, so I wasn’t able to make the trip to Chicago for the media days. I was sorry to miss it, but, as you can imagine, I was pretty thrilled with what I was missing it for. Steve Batterson, who covered the Hawkeyes before I took over last season, filled in for me, and I’ve been catching up on what I missed.

As for the Cedric Everson-Abe Satterfield sexual assault case, it pretty much went how I expected. Ferentz met with Iowa reporters Thursday afternoon and was angry that some had the audacity to suggest he was involved in a cover-up. He didn’t say anything that shed a whole lot of light on the situation. I suspect he was under specific instructions from the higher-ups not to say anything too specific. I would have liked to have been there for that, because there are a few questions I wanted to ask that I’m not sure got answered. And I would have liked to witness Ferentz’s body language to get a better read on the tone of the things that were said.

This is a national story now. Since the alleged victim’s mother came forward with the letter she wrote to U of I administrators last fall, the Associated Press has been putting it out on the wire. ESPN’s Big Ten blogger, Adam Rittenberg, had a Q&A with Ferentz posted on Thursday, and the Des Moines Register’s Randy Peterson was on the Dan Patrick radio show Tuesday talking about the story. I actually got a call from the executive producer of the Dan Patrick Show that morning, but I was in the delivery room with my wife (crazy timing) and couldn’t make it on the air.    

As for the on-the-field Iowa news out of the Big Ten media days …

Offensive lineman Dace Richardson appears to be finished because of a complication in his rehab from knee surgery. I can’t say I’m real surprised by this development. All along Ferentz sounded pretty hesitant to say Dace would return from what was a pretty serious surgery.

As I reported here last week, backup quarterback Ricky Stanzi is out with a shoulder strain. Sounds like he’ll be back in mid-August. So, at this point, it looks like Jake Christensen will be the starter entering ’08.

Junior kicker Austin Signor, who handled Iowa’s kickoffs last season, is transferring. That news kind of surprised me, but I guess it makes sense. Sophomore Daniel Murray appeared to be winning the kicking job, and incoming freshman Trent Mossbrucker has a real shot to contend for playing time at the position. Signor probably felt like he wasn’t going to get much of a chance. And, based on what I’ve seen, he was probably right.

Shonn Greene is ready to go in the backfield for the fall and, according to Ferentz, back in shape. Apparently, he was a little heavy in the spring.

Former Iowa safety Marcus Wilson, who left Iowa at this time last season, still is trying to get his grades in order to get back on the team.

No surprise to see Ohio State picked to win the league, which, if the Buckeyes could do it outright, would be for an unprecedented third straight outright title. No surprise either to see Wisconsin and Illinois as the distant contenders. And also no surprise to see Ohio State’s Beanie Wells and James Laurinaitis tabbed as the preseason offensive and defensive players of the year.

In the works

I’ve been in contact with the parents of some Iowa recruits in the Class of 2009 to get their feelings about all the legal issues Hawkeyes players have had the past 15 months, specifically the way the coaching staff and administration handled the Everson-Satterfield situation. I was interested to hear how Ferentz and his assistants have communicated with the parents of recruits when it comes to off-the-field problems. What I’m hearing is that the parents would be upset if their child was there now, but that they feel like Ferentz has a plan in place to make sure the situation will improve in the future. Sounds like most of them would be comfortable sending their kids to Iowa despite all the negative press.

I’ll have something on that in the next week.

And speaking of kids heading to Iowa … 

Mt. Pleasant receiver Jordan Cotton, a 3-star prospect, is set to make his college decision here in the next week or so. It’s down to Iowa and Kansas. From what Cotton said to me in June, it would be a huge, huge upset if Kansas won out.

Also, Sioux City Heelan running back Brandon Wegher, a 4-star prospect, appears to be closing in on a decision. I spoke to his father, Rick, and he told me that after taking the past month off from making college visits, Brandon is ready to get back at it and probably will decide in the next month. Oh, and all the “he’s waiting on an offer from Oklahoma” talk is rumor mill. Brandon’s got an aunt who lives down there, and that’s why he attended a few Sooners games last fall.

According to Brandon’s dad, Brandon has narrowed his list from the two dozen offers he’s got on the table. As the elder Wegher tells it, the outlying schools like Arkansas, Auburn and Arizona no longer are being considered. It’s down to a few “within a half-day’s drive,” he said.

I’ve got a call out to Brandon and will have more on this in the next few days.

And Cedar Rapids Washington receiver Keenan Davis still is sitting at a list of five: Iowa, Illinois, Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona State – in no specific order.

Iowa, 8-4, really?

I watched ESPN’s College Football Live the other day — I can’t remember which day. Remember, I’ve got a four-day-old baby in the house — and analyst Mark May was asked how many games he thinks Iowa will win this season in light of all the off-field distractions.

May’s response, paraphrased: Iowa will bounce back. Ferentz is one of the best coaches in the nation, and whenever his teams have been predicted to do poorly, they’ve always done well. 

May predicted an 8-4 record, which in this year’s Big Ten probably would mean a New Year’s Day bowl berth and a trip to Florida.

I’m still hovering around 6-6.

Getting a say

I’ll be voting in the Associated Press poll this fall. We’re going to play it up on the site a bit, with weekly power rankings that will double as my ballot. We’ll also have a weekly Heisman tracker and a weekly Big Ten power ranking with a tracker for the Big Ten offensive and defensive players of the year.

Those will start with the preseason rankings and trackers the week leading up to the Aug. 30 opener.

It should be fun – both for me to have a say in the AP poll and for you to read my take on why I voted teams where I did. I’d love your input, and I’d love to spark some debate in the comment stream when the power rankings debut next month.

My preseason ballot is due Aug. 1. I know my top five, but I’m not sure yet on an order. What would yours be?      

How old is too old?

As I’ve done every July since I was 15, I ran out last week and picked up the latest EA Sports NCAA Football game for my XBox 360. Well, it hasn’t always been for the 360. First is was for the PlayStation. Then, the PS2, then the XBox and, finally, the 360. If I’d have splurged for the PS3, my wife might have divorced me.

Anyway, I don’t spend much time playing the game anymore. Too much to do for work, and it’s just not as fun as it used to be when I was in college and we had 10 guys playing in a dynasty together. But I still like to buy the game each year just to see the new features and to find out what the folks at EA have decided to give as far as player ratings go (by the way, they seem to think Iowa’s going to be good). This year’s game is a lot like it has been in the past, with a few added features, such as the ability to upload stadium sounds, that make it a little more like being in the stadium. I’ve only played a few games — remember, four-day-old baby in the house — but my wife thinks I’m a juvenile because of it. Of course, that might be because when I went to pick up the game on Friday, I forgot my wallet and her mother, my mother-in-law, had to put it on her credit card (yeah, that’s how I roll). My question is: How old is too old? My sister says if I have to pause the game to change diapers, that’s probably a sign that it’s time to hang up the cordless controller. What about pausing to heat up a bottle of breast milk? Had to do that three times last night.

Any of you gamers picked NCAA ’09 yet? If so, what are your impressions?

And finally …

I know this is a football blog, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give the full report on the birth of the child.

Everything went fine. Savannah Marie Page was born — after 18 hours of labor — at 2:17 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. She checked in at 8 pounds, 7.1 ounces and was 20 inches long. She’s got some crazy, strawberry blond hair going on. Doc said she’d delivered 1,000 babies and never seen anything like it. I’m sure she says that to ‘em all.

I’m off on paternity leave until Iowa’s media day Aug. 4 in Iowa City. Then, I’ll be back at it full time leading up to the season. I’ll continue blogging throughout the week. Hopefully, I’ll have some updates on Wegher, Cotton and Davis.

In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions you want answered.       

Are Ferentz, Barta in trouble?

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

The Iowa City Press-Citizen ran a story today detailing a letter to the University of Iowa from the mother of the alleged victim in the Abe Satterfield-Cedric Everson sexual assault case. They had quotes from the mother, too. And I’ve got to tell you, it doesn’t look good for coach Kirk Ferentz, director of athletics Gary Barta or anyone involved with the internal investigation that went on last fall.

The gist of the story is that the U of I encouraged the victim to keep the matter in house, that it would be handled swiftly within the athletic department and university. All the while, for a month after the alleged incident, the victim’s mother claims the victim was harassed by Satterfield and Everson and other Iowa athletes, including other members of the football team.

Didn’t the U of I learn anything from the Pierre Pierce case? Why, after the way all that went down, would they encourage a victim of a sexual assault not to report it to police? Why wouldn’t they wash their hands of any responsibility in how the investigation was carried out? The alleged victim didn’t file a complaint until a month after the Oct. 14 incident, and, according to the ICPC article, the university hadn’t done a whole lot in the interim to take action. Satterfield and Everson were suspended from the team, but they weren’t kicked off the team, and Everson, allegedly, was living right down the hall from the alleged victim. There is a lot of “allegedly” still in this case that is going to come out when it goes to trial. It’s going to get ugly. Both Satterfield and Everson are going to plead not guilty — Everson already has — and Ferentz and Barta probably will be among those who will testify.

Now, according to another article the ICPC had today, Gov. Chet Culver is getting involved, and he wants answers. I can’t say I blame him. This whole thing is embarrasing for the football program, the university and the state. And it’s only going to get worse when this goes to trial.

My question is this: How much more of this can Ferentz survive. He’s the highest paid coach in the Big Ten. Fans probably could forgive a 19-18 record over the past three seasons if his players were model citizens off the field and the program appeared to be on the upswing. But that is not the case. Eighteen Iowa players have been arrested or cited 23 times in the past 15 months. A lot of people around the program and university will say that a lot of those incidents were typical alcohol-related citations, and, yes, that’s true, 11 of them were. But, the undeniable fact is that 12 of them weren’t. And of those 12, five were felonies.

Last August, after the arrests of Dominique Douglas and Anthony Bowman in the now-infamous credit card case puncuated what Ferentz thought was a particularly troubling summer of off-field issues, the coach, sitting alongside Barta at a news conference, announced a zero tolerance policy for his players. Within weeks, Clint Huntrods (public intoxication/public urination) and Dana Brown (domestic assault) were dismissed from the team after run-ins with the law.

Since Ferentz’s declaration, though, 12 of his players have been arrested or cited on charges ranging from possession of alcohol to domestic assault to shoplifting to drunken driving to possession of marijuana to sexual assault. And last night, incoming freshman Riley Reiff, 19, took Iowa City police on a 20-minute drunken foot chase through downtown. He was cited for public intoxication and interference with official acts. 

So much for zero tolerance.

My question is: How much tolerance will Iowa fans have for Ferentz, especially if the Hawkeyes struggle on the field, as is predicted, in 2008? Could this be Captain Kirk’s last season in black and gold?

And what about Barta? This all went on on his watch. Should he be held accountable?

So much for a QB controversy

Friday, July 18th, 2008

Word out of Iowa City is that sophomore backup quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who in the spring appeared to be pushing incumbent starter Jake Christensen for the job, is out with a shoulder injury. Apparently, Stanzi was hurt during drills Friday morning. Rumors on the Rivals message boards say he is out six to eight weeks. I couldn’t confirm that, but I did confirm that he left the football complex with his arm in a sling.

This is bad news for the Hawkeyes.

Stanzi probably wasn’t going to be the starter when Maine comes to town six weeks from Saturday, but he did figure to challenge Christensen during camp. If Stanzi is in fact out six to eight weeks, Christensen will be pushed only by redshirt freshman Marvin McNutt and incoming freshmen John Wienke and James Vandenberg. That’s not enough. After a sub-par sophomore season during which Christensen took every meaningful Iowa snap, he needs all the competition he can get as he prepares for 2008.

I have no doubt Christensen will be the starter against Maine — I had little doubt before learning of Stanzi’s injury. But competition in camp would have helped him be a better quarterback to start the season. And it would have been good for the Hawkeyes to build some depth at the position — some much-needed depth. If Stanzi were to play, say, the fourth quarter of each of Iowa’s first two games, against Maine and Florida International, both of which figure to be lopsided wins, that would have, at the least, given Stanzi some valuable game experience, and, if he played well, given the coaching staff confidence to go to him if Christensen struggles as he did in 2007. They had no confidence in either Stanzi or Arvell Nelson last year and had no choice but to stick with Jake through thick and thin.

Now, let’s say Stanzi is out six to eight weeks — again, I can’t confirm that. Best-case scenario, he misses all of training camp and returns as a distant backup before the opener, and probably doesn’t see much time. Worst-case scenario, he returns before the Sept. 13 matchup with Iowa State, probably as the third-string quarterback behind McNutt, Wienke or Vandenberg, whichever one plays mop-up dutie against Maine and Florida International. This, right here, could be the defining juncture of Stanzi’s career at Iowa. Right when he’s in position to compete for playing time, even the starting job, he could be pushed to the back of the line.

Again, all we know right now is that Stanzi hurt his shoulder and he left Friday with his arm in a sling. That’s it, but that certainly isn’t a good sign for Stanzi or the Hawkeyes as they sit just a few short weeks from opening camp.         

A recruit’s take, a new kicker, Athlon and Stewart Mandel

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

By now, you know highly touted quarterback and Iowa legacy Nate Scheelhaase spurned the Hawkeyes and a handful of other schools in favor of Illinois. The 4-star prospect, rated the No. 2 dual-threat QB in America, announced his decision on live TV in Kansas City Wednesday night. 

Before making his announcement, Scheelhaase sat down for an interview with Rivals.com’s Jeremy Crabtree. Here’s an excerpt from Crabtree’s article: 

Another big factor for Scheelhaase was the possibility of getting early playing time. He said he loved how coach Ron Zook isn’t afraid to play true freshmen if they’re ready.

“You’re going to get competition no matter where you go,” he said. “We saw at Illinois that they weren’t afraid to play kids early and give kids competition. Even right now with Juice being the quarterback he is, he knows he’s got competition behind him. If he’s not getting the job done, they’re not afraid to move another guy in there.

“Coach Zook is also not afraid to play young guys, too. He’s going to put in the guy that’s going to get the job done, whether he’s a true freshman or a redshirt senior. Whoever will go out there, put in his work, put in his time and help the team win will play. And that was something really important for me to hear.”  

That got me thinking, or wondering, rather: How did Scheelhaase view Iowa in that regard? Did he think he’d have a chance to see the field immediately, or did he watch last season as Kirk Ferentz stuck with Jake Christensen even as the first-year starter struggled to put up the lowest passer rating in the Big Ten? Did that weigh in Scheelhaase’s decision? We all know Ferentz is the last coach to hook a starter and that he traditionally has been reluctant to play freshmen over older, more experienced players. Zook, meanwhile, showed last year that he won’t hesitate to mix it up. Even as the Illini were in the midst of a 9-win, Rose Bowl season, he was more than willing to switch in Eddie McGee for Juice Williams when Williams was struggling. Heck, McGee nearly led the Illini to a comeback win at Kinnick Stadium.

I talked to Scheelhaase today, and he said not to read too much into his comments to Rivals, that his statements about Illinois’ strengths in recruiting didn’t necessarily point to weaknesses in the programs he turned down — Iowa, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas. The question I had for Scheelhaase was how Zook and Ferentz, and their staffs, go about it, how their styles differ on the recruiting trail.

Scheelhaase, who had a several-page list of what he was looking for in a school, was reluctant to compare the two programs.

“Everybody has their different styles,” he said. “You deal with different coaches, different personalities. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t any one style that hurt or helped one program or another. It was the overall package. It’s not really about the style and how they go at it. It’s about big factors, what the academics are, what the offense is. That’s what put Illinois over the top.

“I don’t know if there was a ‘pitch.’ They just sold the program as the people inside it, just as good people and a place that I could succeed not only as a football player but in school and off the football field. They were down to earth the whole time and straight forward. That was really something that was important to me. I can’t say that there was anything that hurt any one school. It’s that Illinois was that great in all the phases. It was just that right place for me.”

For the record, Scheelhaase seems like a nice kid who made his college decision for the right reasons. And, sorry Hawkeyes fans, I wish him well.

A FRESH LEG

This time of year, everyone wants to talk about which incoming freshmen are going to get a chance to see the field. With a vacant backfield, running backs Jeff Brinson and Jewel Hampton certainly are two, and there are a handful of defensive backs who will get a shot. But place-kicker Trent Mossbrucker, from Mooresville, Ind., might be one who could make a real impact.

Iowa’s kickers – junior Austin Signor and sophomore Daniel Murray – were not good last season. Together, they made 10 of 16 field goals and 24 of 28 PATs, stats that ranked 10th and 11th in the Big Ten, respectively. Mossbrucker has the leg, and it seems the demeanor, to compete. (Click here for a link to a story on Mossbrucker in the Indy Star, and click here for another about him being a finalist for Indiana’s Mr. Football). Mossbrucker is a talented athlete, much like former Hawkeye Nate Kaeding, who played football, soccer and basketball in high school. As a senior, the 6-foot, 195-pound Mossbrucker set school records for completions (526) and passing yards (4,208), while throwing for 39 scores. He probably would have gotten a lot of attention as a QB if he were a few inches taller. As it was, his kicking numbers — 8-for-11 field goals, 47-for-48 PATs and 46 of 65 kickoffs into the end zone — landed him a scholarship.

Ferentz said at the end of spring practice that neither Signor nor Murray had won the job. As it was last season, Signor appears to have the stronger leg while Murray has been more accurate. Perhaps Mossbrucker will be both.

THE HOLY BIBLE

While at Hy-Vee the other night, picking up a gourmet dinner of lukewarm chicken and cold noodle salad — nothing but the best — I grabbed Athlon’s college football preview, the national edition. I read these preseason publications like the Pope reads the Bible, so it’s always a big day when I see the first one on the magazine rack.

A couple notes from Athlon: Iowa is not listed in the top 10 in any of the position rankings, not even the D-line, which I think could be one of the best in the nation. From that unit, senior Mitch King is picked as a second-team All-American. The first-teamers are Terrill Byrd (Cincinnati) and Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma). Athlon’s top 10 teams: Florida, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC, Georgia, Missouri, West Virginia, Auburn, LSU and Clemson. Wisconsin is No. 12, Illinois 16 and Penn State 23. Iowa is picked sixth in the Big Ten and 38th in the nation. I’d say that’s about right. As far as All-Big Ten goes: King’s a first-teamer, tight end Tony Moeaki and offensive tackle Seth Olsen are second team along with linebacker A.J. Edds and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos as a return specialist. And here’s where Iowa stands in Athlon’s unit rankings within the Big Ten: QBs (8), RB (11), WR/TE (3), OL (6), DL (5), LB (5) and DB (8).

Click here for Athlon’s profile of the Hawkeyes, who they think will win between seven and nine games, with Pitt and Michigan State as swing games and losses coming to Wisconsin, Penn State and Illinois in succession. Or check out the magazine. Iowan Zach Johnson is featured in a TransAmerica ad on Page 23. Right now, Zach is tied for 23rd at the British Open.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the “Sideline Spirit” section in the back (Pages 184-188) that profiles four cheerleaders from around the country. Congrats to 2007 Sideline Spirit winner Brittany Baumann of Cincinnati. Not bad.

AND SPEAKING OF HOT … 

In his latest mailbag, Sports Illustrated college football writer Stewart Mandel answered a question from a frustrated Iowa fan asking whether or not Ferentz is on the hot seat coming off a 6-6 season. Here is Mandel’s response:  

While Ferentz certainly gained himself some mileage (not to mention a hefty paycheck) with his impressive run a few years back, he’s definitely treading dangerously. By no means is it realistic to expect him to win Big Ten titles every year at Iowa, the past two seasons have been particularly mediocre (a combined 12-13 record). To add insult to injury, his players seem to be constantly in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the Hawkeyes have endured 17 arrests (including five felonies) over the past 15 months. Most of the players connected to the more serious crimes are no longer with the team.

Strangely, I think Iowa’s early success under Ferentz — three straight 10-win seasons and a share of two Big Ten titles from 2002-04 — may have caused the seeds of his demise. Those early teams were molded around largely unheralded recruits who bloomed late in their career like QB Brad Banks, Outland winner Robert Gallery and linebacker Chad Greenway. That success allowed Ferentz to start hauling in some bona fide blue-chippers, culminating in a 2005 class that was ranked in the top 10 by most services.

However, most of the studs from that class and the ones that followed never panned out. Some are the same ones whose names now appear in the police blotter. Maybe they arrived with bigger egos than their predecessors. Maybe they did not work as hard. Maybe Ferentz and his staff got caught up in four-star ratings and did not pay as much attention as they normally would to character.

Whatever the case, he needs to get things turned back around in a hurry — an eight-win season and return to the upper third of the Big Ten would suffice — because right now his program is causing nothing but embarrassment for Iowa. I could see the Hawkeyes’ 2008 season heading in either direction: Either the remaining players grow closer and regain the type of chemistry those old teams had, or the whole thing just implodes on Ferentz and the season seals his fall from grace.

Mandel’s right. This is a make-or-break year for Ferentz and his staff, on and off the field.

That’s all for now. The Big Ten Media Kickoff is a week from today in Chicago. I’m still not sure if I’m going to be able to attend as my wife and I still are awaiting the birth of our first child — she’s due Monday. If the baby comes early or on time and without complications, I’ll most likely be there. But if we fly the due date, I’ll be watching on ESPN like the rest of you.

What’s on your mind as we sit just more than six weeks from the opener? What questions do you have about the upcoming season? What’s your prediction for 2008? Six, seven, eight wins or more?

Let me know.  

Scheelhaase headed to Illinois

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Four-star dual-threat quarterback Nate Scheelhaase, an Iowa legacy, just announced live on Kansas City TV that he’ll attend Illinois in the fall of 2009.

Wow! What a blow to Hawkeyes fans.

Scheelhaase had his college choices narrowed to six — Oklahoma, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska. Rumors early this week had him headed for the Sooner state, which, I think, is a choice most Iowa fans could have lived with. Oklahoma is an elite program the Hawkeyes likely won’t see on the schedule. But Illinois, ILLINOIS!!!, that’s a different story. That’s a direct slap in the face to an Iowa program that sees itself as far superior to its Orange and Blue rivals across the Mississippi River.

Seriously, though, why, other than the fact that his father, Nate Creer, played at Iowa in the mid-80s, would Scheelhaase, the No. 2-ranked dual-threat QB in the Class of ’09, go to Iowa, where he’d be a square peg pounded into a round hole in offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe’s drab offensive system. At Illinois, he’ll have a year to study under dual-threat prototype Juice Williams before competing for the job. And, at Illinois, he’s joining a program that appears to be on the rise coming off a trip to the Rose Bowl. Iowa, meanwhile, is 19-18 the past three seasons, including an 11-13 mark in the Big Ten, and, right now, there are not a whole lot of reasons to believe the Hawkeyes are on the upswing.

This is a blow to Iowa’s Class of ’09, which stands at two commits, West Des Moines Valley lineman David Barrent and Ohio running back Brad Rogers. (For the record, Iowa probably only will sign between 12 and 15 players in February) I still believe Scheelhaase’s buddy, Mt. Pleasant wideout Jordan Cotton is Iowa-bound. His father, Marshall, played there, and the Hawkeyes have shown him by far the most interest. He told me last month that it would take a lot for a school to pull him from out of state. But Kansas still is in the picture, and Cotton and Scheelhaase were in Lawrence on Tuesday checking out the new football complex on the Jayhawks’ campus. 

Cotton sent me a text message yesterday saying he expects to announce his decision next week. Losing him would be a bigger blow than losing Scheelhaase, who was considered somewhat of a long shot because of his national clout. But of the three major instate recruits still out there – Cotton, Cedar Rapids receiver Keenan Davis and Sioux City running back Brandon Wegher — Cotton is considered the most likely to pick Iowa. If he were to commit out of state, there could be a mass exodus – not to mention a major meltdown among the Iowa faithful. So far, Cotton has offers from Iowa, Kansas, Wisconsin, Iowa State and Colorado. Illinois has shown interest but has yet to offer. If Cotton were to follow his buddy Scheelhaase to Champaign, well, there may be a black and gold mob showing up at Kirk Ferentz’s door wielding pitch forks.

As I’m writing this, I received a text from Cotton saying it’s between Iowa and Kansas, so he will not be following Scheelhaase to Illinois (collective sigh of relief from Iowa fans). 

As for Iowa landing a quarterback in 2009, there still are offers out to four others, including Jordan Reed, a 6-foot-3, 230-pounder from Connecticut who has family ties in Iowa. His father and most of his extended family live in Dubuque, and he grew up a Hawkeyes fan. But Reed, a 4-star prospect who some liken to last year’s biggest prep star Terrelle Pryor, has offers from Florida, Oregon and Penn State, among others. So, why would he come all the way to Iowa? He sounded lukewarm when I talked to him last month.

The other QBs Iowa has offers out to, according to Rivals, are Dolapo Macarthy (3-stars, Merrillville, Ind.), Darren Jones (3-stars, Harvey, Ill.) and Morgan Newton (3-stars, Carmel, Ind.). The Hawkeyes signed three quarterbacks in the Class of 2008 and still have incumbent Jake Christensen for another two seasons, but Ferentz has said, ideally, he’d like to add a quarterback each year.

Dual-threat QB set to make college choice

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Touted Kansas City quarterback Nate Scheelhaase is going to announce his college choice live on local TV at 6 p.m. Wednesday evening. He’ll have six hats on a table in front of him, one of which will have an Iowa Hawkeyes logo on the front. The others: Oklahoma, Kansas, Illinois, Nebraska and Missouri. Click here for a story about Scheelhaase in the Kansas City Star.

Will he or won’t he? That’s obviously the big question Iowa fans are asking about the player Rivals ranks as the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in America. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Scheelhaase is worthy. He passed for 1,861 yards and 20 touchdowns and ran for 917 yards and 14 scores while leading Rockhurst High School to an undefeated record and a Missouri Class 6 state championship as a junior last season.

My guess is he won’t. There are just too many other intriguing offers on the table from programs that are already among college football’s elite (Oklahoma) or are on the rise (Missouri, Kansas, Illinois) for a top-tier prospect like Scheelhaase to pick a school that has struggled of late (Iowa, Nebraska).  

The one thing working in Iowa’s favor is that Scheelhaase’s father, Nate Creer, played for the Hawkeyes in the mid-80s. Played on some really good teams, in fact. Scheelhaase was born in the Quad-Cities and spent some of his youth in Iowa before moving to K.C. Plus, Iowa was the first school to offer Scheelhaase a scholarship, something he said was important to him when I talked to him for a story last month. (Click herefor the story on Scheelhaase and Connecticut dual-threat QB Jordan Reed)

“I’m looking for a program where I’ll be comfortable on campus, comfortable with the coaches, some place I can see myself playing in the future,” Scheelhaase said at the time. “Iowa was my first offer, so that means something to me. And my dad played there, so that’s something that is cool with it. I feel really comfortable there. I like the campus a lot. It’s a good school. I definitely do like Iowa. It’s a solid school.”

Since I talked to him, though, Scheelhaase has made visits to more than half-a-dozen other suitors, including Oklahoma. Here’s what he told the Star about his visit with the Sooners, who, apparently, are interested in him as a quarterback now after showing early interest in bringing him in as an “athlete.”

“Oklahoma was the last school that was recruiting me as an athlete,” he said. “When I went up this summer, it was for sure quarterback. It’s definitely a school I felt comfortable with since I was young, but you get a lot of those same feelings, especially with the local schools. We’ll see what happens.”

I put a call into Scheelhaase earlier today and sent him a text message yesterday but haven’t heard back. I did hear back from Scheelhaase’s buddy and fellow Iowa recruit, Mt. Pleasant (Iowa) receiver Jordan Cotton, and he said he expects to announce his decision next week. Will Cotton, whose father Marshall played at Iowa with Creer, be swayed by Scheelhaase’s announcement. The two have been lifelong friends, spent time working out together this summer in Kansas City and took visits to schools together, including Kansas.

We will see what happens, first with Scheelhaase live on Kansas City TV at 6 p.m. Wednesday, which to me seems more than a little excessive for a verbal commitment that could be broken as easily as my dinner plans for Saturday. Recruits flop on verbals all the time, and signing day isn’t until the first Wednesday in February, which will give Scheelhaase a lot of time to reconsider and, dare I say, other coaches ample opportunity to try to change his mind.

A couple Iowa-related notes

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

I’ve been on vacation the past week, in Minnesota for my brother’s wedding. Good times.

While I was gone, the Big Ten announced kickoff times for Iowa’s first three games. The Hawkeyes games against Maine (Aug. 30), Florida International (Sept. 6) and Iowa State (Sept. 13) all will start at 11 a.m. and all will be shown on the Big Ten Network, which has yet to strike a deal with Mediacom (I’m almost guaranteeing it’ll be done by Aug. 30, so don’t worry). Times for Iowa games against Northwestern (Sept. 27), Michigan State (Oct. 4) and Minnesota (Nov. 22) had already been announced. Northwestern and Michigan State will go at 11 a.m., and Minnesota is set for 6 p.m. — the final game at the Metrodome. All three will be on the BTN.

That’s at least six Iowa games on the BTN. That’ll be a lot of lonely TVs in Iowa if Mediacom doesn’t get a deal done, as Comcast did last month.

Aside from that, some big news from around the Big Ten: Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis, an Iowa killer the past two seasons, has been reinstated after serving a suspension this spring. That’s huge news for Hoosiers fans. Lewis is, if not the best, easily the most versatile quarterback in the conference. He was a unanimous second-team All-Big Ten selection a year ago. He’s just a guy who strikes fear into the heart of opposing coaches because he can do so many different things with the ball in his hands. Without Lewis, IU would have been lucky to win three or four games. With him, the Hoosiers could contend for a bowl. He’s that good.

Outside the Big Ten but on Iowa’s schedule: Rivals has Pittsburgh ranked 25th in the nation. Click here for their breakdown of the team the Hawkeyes meet on the road Sept. 20. I’ve said it before, but any love Pitt gets is good for Iowa. That’s going to be a tough game, but it’s one the Hawkeyes could conceivably pull off and gain some momentum early in the season.

I’m working at the John Deere Classic golf tournament all week here in the Quad-Cities. I’ll be at my computer a lot, so if any of you have questions about Iowa football, drop me a line. Big Ten media day is two weeks from tomorrow. Mitch King, Matt Kroul, Seth Olsen and Kirk Ferentz will represent Iowa at the annual event in downtown Chicago. Not much news comes out of something staged like that, but it’s always a nice kickoff to the season, which is right around the corner.