With spring practice underway, we’re taking a look at each Big Ten program using recent performance, win-loss trends, coaching, current personnel and future personnel. The series shifts this week to the West Division. Up next? Iowa.
2015 record: 12-2 (8-0 Big Ten)
Three-year record: 27-13
Coaching situation: Kirk Ferentz is 60 years old and still going strong as he enters his 18th season in charge of the Hawkeyes. The dean of Big Ten coaches and second-longest tenured coach nationally -- Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops was hired one day before Ferentz in 1998 -- he continues to show the ability to adjust with the changing times in the game. No, Ferentz and his staff are not designing new-age schemes, but the beauty of Iowa’s 2015 breakthrough is that it was born months before Iowa played its first game -- fueled in large part by Ferentz-instituted changes. Phil Parker, the fifth-year defensive coordinator, has been with Ferentz since the start in 1999, as has valued strength coach Chris Doyle. Defensive line coach Reese Morgan came on board in 2000. Brian Ferentz, the head coach’s son, is one of the best young offensive line coaches in the business.
Roster situation: It’s an exercise in futility to search for the weak link among Iowa’s position groups. Fifteen returning starters are evenly dispersed. Several of Iowa’s best players on both lines are gone, but plenty of size and experience returns too, including the top three offensive tackles and both starting defensive tackles. Elsewhere, Iowa brings back its best linebacker in Josey Jewell, three difference-makers in the secondary including Thorpe Award winner Desmond King, second-team All-Big Ten quarterback C.J. Beathard, three of the top four running backs, and a solid receiving corps led by Matt VandeBerg and George Kittle.
Recruiting situation: The results in the 2016 class looked a lot like recent seasons. ESPN ranked Iowa 49th nationally and third in the Big Ten West, behind Nebraska and Wisconsin. As usual the Hawkeyes signed a class stocked with three-star types, which feeds into Iowa’s developmental philosophy. Just watch as the Hawkeyes get their hands on eight players from this class who are slotted to play tight end or defensive end. Seven of the eight stand 6-foot-4 and weigh from 220 to 260 pounds. Ferentz said he expects Iowa to get a recruiting bump with the 2017 class from its 12-win season last year. Already the Hawkeyes have scored pledges from a pair of players in the ESPN Junior 300.
Trajectory: Steady in the wake of the 2015 storybook rise. There’s no reason to believe Iowa will slip from the top of the West Division -- not this year at least, with so many key pieces returning. As we’ve heard from Iowa City, the Hawkeyes might field a better team in 2016 yet struggle to match the success of last fall. It was a season when everything fell into place, aided by a favorable schedule. Iowa was one defensive stop in the Big Ten championship game from earning a spot in the College Football Playoff. Of course its first Rose Bowl in 25 years ended badly, as Stanford rolled to victory, which raised questions about the ceiling on Iowa’s dramatic rise up the ranks.