The Iowa recruiting scene has been very interesting under the Kirk Ferentz regime. While the Hawkeyes have been a consistent contender in the B1G conference, they have had very little recruiting impact on the Buckeyes, something that cannot be said of the other powers in the conference. That being said, Ferentz's team has done quite well at scooping up second-tier Ohio talent and making them stars, something they're doing again this year.
As for the 2013 class as a whole, Ferentz and the staff have done well early on. I caught up with Patrick Vint of the infamous Black Heart Gold Pants and got the latest on where things stand.
1) What should Buckeye fans know about Iowa's 2013 class? What are your feelings about the class thus far?
That it's probably the most Iowa class ever. One four-star, a handful of high three-stars, and a bunch of guys with average-at-best credentials that will somehow become world-beaters in about three years. I'm pretty sure there's nobody in Iowa's current class that Ohio State was intensely pursuing, though we have dipped into Ohio as we always do. The only thing about this class that's fundamentally different than previous classes is that it's committed extremely early. It's usually Kirk Ferentz's M.O. to sign a few kids early based on summer camp performances, pick off a couple more over the fall as senior year play dictates, and leave four to six spots to fill in January and early February. This time, Ferentz has landed sixteen recruits (by way of comparison, his previous largest class entering fall camp was seven) and seems eager to fill almost all his 18 scholarships before play even begins. It's a shift in philosophy for high school players, to be sure, but it's also a fundamental change for Ferentz.
2) Which position groups do you think are the most important to fill in this class? How has the staff addressed those needs?
It's Iowa, and our halfbacks are usually found wrapping marijuana cigarettes with their torn anterior cruciate ligaments, so running back is an eternal need position. So far, there haven't been any signings on that front, but Iowa's certain to take at least one before it's done. Defensive end is likewise a need spot, as anyone who watched this team last year knows, and Iowa has taken action there: Four-star Indiana defensive end David Kenney (whose dad just took a job with the IU football program, so watch out) and in-state find Trevon Young. Finally, new offensive coordinator Greg Davis is enacting a much-needed shift in wide receiver recruiting philosophy, away from the big, strong, slow receivers of Iowa's past and toward speed on the outside. Iowa's been chasing a half-dozen receivers in this mold, and I'd expect them to take at least three or four.
Stability? The only thing stable about the Iowa halfback position is instability. 2012 will mark the fifth consecutive season that the Hawkeyes will be introducing a new starting halfback. Iowa hasn't had a scholarship running back complete four years in the program since Damien Sims, who was part of the recruiting class of 2003. Marcus Coker, who was set to start at halfback for the next two seasons, left the team in January. His first potential replacement, Mika'il McCall, left soon after; his second replacement, Jordan Canzeri, tore his ACL in February. Iowa's now looking at two true freshmen (one of which was picked up for misdemeanor marijuana possession a month ago), a couple of spare parts backs with serious problems (one who is too small, the other fumbles constantly), a converted fullback, and a kid who was playing eight-man football nine months ago and was recruited hours before signing day as a linebacker.
So yes, Iowa should sign at least one more back. The highest-rated halfback on the Hawkeye radar is probably Berkley Edwards out of Michigan. Keith Watkins, a smaller back out of Ohio with some OSU interest reported, is also in play. And it's still a distinct possibility that they find someone in the weeds just a couple of days before signing day.
4) Are there any recruiting misses that have hurt thus far?
Not really, but in-state offensive line prospect Jake Campos -- who committed to Missouri -- is probably the biggest miss. His four-star rating is less a concern than the fact that he's the second straight top-rated Iowa player to spurn the Hawkeyes for an out-of-state program (last year's top player, Amarah Darboh, went to Notre Dame). The state of Iowa doesn't generate enough talent to be exporting it elsewhere, especially when it's at a need position that Ferentz is known for coaching. Campos is a West Des Moines Valley student, and Iowa's repeatedly failed to break through with that program (widely considered the best in the state), so it's a trend worth watching.
5) Which 2013 committed prospect are you the most excited about?
It has to be David Kenney. After watching last year's defensive line, cobbled together with little more than spare parts and duct tape and completely incapable of generating a consistent pass rush, the mere thought of a defensive end who can get to campus and play almost immediately is enough to make me do jumping jacks.
The only other option would be quarterback Nic Shimonek. Normally, landing a completely unheralded skill position recruit whose only other offer was from Lamar would not generate a ton of enthusiasm. He's a Texas recruit, though, and Greg Davis knows Texas football (and Texas quarterbacks in particular) as well as anyone. He found Colt McCoy for Texas despite a lack of recruiting star power. We're hoping he can do that for us.
(This changes immediately upon Iowa landing a halfback, by the way.)
6) How many more spots are left in this class for Iowa? Who are the top targets left on the board to fill them?
Iowa only has 18 scholarships open for this class, and with 16 players already committed, they're running out of room at the inn. It's Iowa, though, so there is bound to be some attrition over the course of the season and maybe a fourth-year junior or two hitting the road early, so I would expect 21-22 players in the final class. Those last few spots should be a halfback or two, an offensive tackle, and probably one or two more wideouts.
7) Ferentz and company have landed three Ohio prospects, including Brant Gressel, Solomon Warfield and Sean Welsh. What are your thoughts on that trio? Who was the biggest steal from the Buckeye state?
I love Solomon Warfield, mostly for his name. I mean, seriously, you guys could have a safety named SOLOMON WARFIELD and you let him get away. It's completely inexcusable. On top of the awesomeness of that NCAA '06 computer generated handle, Warfield is fast and hits like a dump truck. He fits the Iowa strong safety mold perfectly, if only he can put on a few pounds without losing speed. Consensus among the recruitniks is that he moves into four-star territory this fall.
I don't know a ton about Brant Gressel aside from the facts that he (1) loves neckrolls like he was Bryan Cox, and (2) had fourteen Division I offers and still got nothing that was, on paper, better than Iowa. That has to be a record for number of offers from mediocre programs without even a hint of an offer from one of the big boys. It's as if the recruiters at all school agreed that he's exactly as good as Purdue, no more, no less. If I were him, I'd look into collusion. Antitrust penalties are far greater than what he would make as a college football player. Other than that, he's a bit of a project defensive tackle on a program that desperately needs plug-and-play guys on the defensive line, which is probably not the position he, or the staff, would like.
Sean Welsh nearly matched Gressel's number of forgettable offers; he landed 13, with only West Virginia and Louisville remotely in the orbit of Iowa. He's a bit of an oddity for the Hawkeyes, in that he's a true offensive guard with no real designs on playing tackle. Generally, given Iowa's heavy reliance on zone blocking schemes in the running game, the guard position is used for either up-and-coming tackles who need to learn footwork and scheme technique with help on the flanks or washed-out tackles getting a second life due to their knowledge of the system and general intelligence. Welsh breaks that mold, which could make his development extremely interesting. I'm not saying he's destined to fail, not by any means. I'm just saying, he may want to practice snapping the ball a couple of times, just to see how it feels.
8) Are there any other Ohio prospects you feel Iowa might grab before signing day?
I don't follow closely enough to know who is seriously in play, but the only player I'd half-expect from Ohio is the aforementioned Keith Watkins. He holds offers from Arizona State, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Northwestern, and Kentucky, so that's far from certain. Iowa's haul of three from Ohio is pretty standard, and better than expected when their best Ohio recruiter left the program for the Miami Dolphins. New Ohio recruiter, offensive line coach, and walking study in human resources law Brian Ferentz has done a good job picking up where the lauded Ken O'Keefe left off, and the pipeline from Ohio to Iowa City remains as full as it ever was.
9) Anything else Buckeye fans need to know?
Not that I can think of. We don't really cross paths with OSU on the recruiting trail too often anymore. Iowa's become content with chasing second-tier guys in Ohio, mostly because they've been so good for us in the past, but that usually means we're getting guys Ohio State didn't really want in the first place. It makes keeping the peace a little easier.
Thanks again to Patrick for his analysis. For more information on Iowa football and recruiting, check out www.blackheartgoldpants.com or follow them on Twitter at @BHGP
Previous Behind Enemy Lines Interviews:
Michigan - Maize n Brew
Penn State - Victory Bell Rings
Michigan State - Shaw Lane Spartans
Illinois - ALionEye