Today we roll out the 2nd Q&A in our B1G Picture Series and focus on the Iowa Hawkeyes. Rick Reese, Editor at Large at Black Heart Gold Pants, joins us to discuss the rough 2012 season, the reasons for Iowa's multi-year slide, and what he's expects of the Hawkeyes and Badgers in 2013.
Buckaround: 2012 was tough as the Hawkeyes had their first losing season since 2006. From the outside the season looked even worse than the 4-8 record would indicate if that was possible. What happened? Are there any running backs left on the roster who haven't been injured?
Rick Reese: It was a combination of things. Iowa’s coaching staff shake-up didn’t help the offense as it never appeared anybody on that side of the ball was ever on the same page. Iowa, possibly, addressed some of those issues this off-season with the addition of Bobby Kennedy at wide receivers coach. (Prior to a stint at Colorado, he worked previously with Greg Davis at Texas.)
There were key injuries too. Running backs Jordan Canzeri tore his ACL in the Spring and Damon Bullock had concussion issues that held him out of several games. Things started looking up towards the end of September when Mark Weisman emerged but even he got hurt and Iowa lost two key offensive linemen against Penn State.
It snowballed from there. Injuries certainly aren't the lone reason but they played a big part. Iowa entered the season with a small margin for error. The offense didn’t get going and they lost key players. That’s a bad combination.
[BA]: I've read a lot lately about how Kirk Ferentz is not in any way on the hot seat. How much of this is due to his contract and how much is due to the administration's confidence in him to right the ship? Does the Iowa fanbase share this confidence? Do you?
[RR]: His contract extension, with the buyout everyone jokes about, was supposed to be a lifetime contract. Very few blinked when they inked the deal shortly after Iowa had a terrific run in the 2009 season that ended with a BCS Bowl victory against Georgia Tech at the Orange Bowl. I can’t speak for the Iowa administration but Iowa AD Gary Barta has said publicly that he has confidence in Ferentz.
I think 2013 will be the tipping point season. The fanbase isn’t happy with the slide that began in 2010 and has progressively worsened. Fans knew that there was a lot of youth on last year’s team. There was attrition issues on the defensive line that were addressed in the 2012 recruiting class. The “young team” label won’t be an excuse this season. There has to be signs things are turning around. Otherwise, that buyout number gets smaller after next year ($14 millionish) and with the new additions to the Big Ten and new money in television markets it becomes less of a burden for the Athletic Department to bear.
[BA]: Kirk Ferentz had a very stable staff for years until the last few seasons where he's seen both coordinators depart as well as several assistants. How much did this play into the decline we've seen over the past couple of seasons? What is the feeling about Greg Davis as offensive coordinator? Is Davis coaching for his job in 2013?
[RR]: You could make the case for coaching turnover as a root cause of the decline. Norm Parker suffered the worst of his health issues towards the end of his career and defensive assistants picked up for him while he was tending to his well being. Iowa’s special teams suffered and that perhaps stemmed from the strain on assistants trying to cover their assignments and filling in.
Greg Davis took over for longtime offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe who left for the wide receiver coaching position with the Miami Dolphins. Davis’ first year at the helm was downright horrible. It’s part talent and part what I’ve already mentioned, assistants and Davis being on the same page.
Kirk hired his son Brian and some think he’s next in line to take over the offensive coordinator position. For those that believe that it makes sense that Ferentz would hire Davis. He’s a short term solution. With the addition of Kennedy, a former Texas recruiting coordinator, it appears Iowa is interested in recruiting the Longhorn state and those two will help a great deal going forward with that effort.
Ferentz added two coaches to assist on the offensive side this off-season. His eggs all appear to be in the Greg Davis basket, currently. Because of these off-season moves I don’t believe Davis is “coaching for his job.”
[BA]: What are your expectations for 2013? For someone who doesn't follow the program closely, what are the story lines we should be following with Iowa football in spring practice and into fall camp?
[RR]: I expect Iowa to win seven games next season. The non-conference schedule is tough with Northern Illinois and Jordan Lynch in the opener. The in-state rivalry game with Iowa State is in Ames but they lost a bit off of this year’s team and I think Iowa could win. There’s an FCS cupcake and directional Michigan school that if history serves, will be a thorn in Iowa’s side.
There’s three candidates for the quarterback position this spring. Jake Rudock was listed as the number two quarterback all last season but didn’t take one snap on the field. Iowa added a JUCO transfer, Cody Sokol, in the 2012 recruiting class as well as a freshman, C.J. Beathard. Ferentz isn’t a rotation kind of coach so which of these three emerge in the spring will likely be Iowa’s quarterback in August.
A couple other things to keep an eye on. First, the running backs. Jordan Canzeri is back at 100% after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Where he fits in the backfield mix will be interesting. Also, fullback Brad Rogers’ career ended with a back issue leaving Iowa without a starting fullback. Mark Weisman could move back into that role or Iowa could find other ways to get Canzeri, Bullock and Weisman on the field. There was a rumor of the pistol formation at Iowa next year. For that, we’ll have to wait and see.
[BA]: It was just announced that the team will no longer actively recruit Florida. What is behind this reasoning? It seems counter to bigger trends in recruiting.
[RR]: Iowa had success recruiting Florida in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s but towards the end of the decade the recruits they did get didn’t contribute much or left the program. I think it’s more of a culture thing or weather. Probably weather. I’ve already mentioned Iowa’s interest in recruiting Texas. There may also be a stronger focus on Illinois, Ohio and Michigan from this new coaching staff.
[BA]: With the Hawkeyes and Badgers in opposite divisions, it seems like Iowa is without a significant rival in the conference on an annual basis. Is my feeling right? How big is the Floyd of Rosedale or the Black Friday game with Nebraska?
[RR]: That problem should hopefully be rectified soon, if realignment rumors are true. I think Iowa’s and Nebraska’s administration desperately want that game to be a big rivalry. It’s a border war but right now, it’s a lopsided one. With the current state of the programs, Iowa would need to pull an upset to get their attention.
Iowa recently reclaimed the pig from Minnesota. The Gophers had won two years in a row, both upsets. It’s always a big game for Iowa fans when Minnesota is on the schedule.
[BA]: Is the annual Wisconsin-Iowa game missed as much in Iowa City as it is in Madison?
[RR]: You’d have a hard time finding an Iowa fan that doesn’t want to see Wisconsin on the schedule. The schools are a little over three hours away and historically, the football and basketball series is almost even. There’s long history there not like the two years of “Hero’s Games” that Iowa and Nebraska have played. The Iowa-Wisconsin game trophy itself is a bit contrived but the rivalry isn’t.
[BA]: With Bret Bielema gone who is the new villain in the B1G? Bielema seemed to be the near universal choice before but the competition seems a lot more wide open.
[RR]: Is it Urban Meyer? I think he ruffled a few feathers his first month in the conference when he and Biels got into it over recruits. He recently made statements pertaining to the recruiting effort by his peers in the conference too. Meyer has the resume to back it up. 12-0 at Ohio State in year one, and they will only get better. The more Urban wins the more he’ll be disliked.
[BA]: Was Bielema's departure a sign of a larger B1G decline?
[RR]: I don’t think so. College Football is cyclical. Sure, the Big Ten has had a rough stretch and the SEC is currently dominating but it will cycle back around. The Big Ten’s expansion only means more money for the conference and each team. Sooner, rather than later, that money will turn into practice facilities and coaches salaries.
[BA]: As someone who follows football in the conference closely, what are you expecting of Wisconsin football in 2013? Did you have any feelings about the Gary Andersen hire good or bad?
[RR]: Anderson had a short stint as Utah State head coach but a successful one. It could take a little bit of time for Anderson to change the defense if he is indeed going to implement a 3-4 from the old 4-3. Both require a different animal on the defensive line.
He’ll adapt offensively, something Iowa has yet to prove they can do under the current coaching staff. Montee Ball is gone but Melvin Gordon and James White will pick up where he left off. I think the Badgers will be in the middle of the hunt but I don’t expect them to beat Ohio State for the Leader’s Division title. Still, a Florida bowl game is likely; that’s something us Iowa fans would love next year.
[BA]: Thanks for your time, Rick!