Iowa Football: Why the Hawkeyes Need to Recruit JUCO Players

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Iowa Football: Why the Hawkeyes Need to Recruit JUCO Players
Matthew Holst/Getty Images

In a recent press conference (via Hawkeyereport.com), Kirk Ferentz was asked what he thought about recruiting junior college (JUCO) players.

He replied:

"I'm going off my history at this school, junior college players don't, as a rule, always transition in as well. That hasn't been our mode. But there are some schools where it's probably more workable."

Some Hawkeye JUCO-transfers who would disagree with that statement include Brad Banks, C.J. Jones and Marshal Yanda.

It is true that for every Brad Banks and Marshal Yanda, there is a Dan Heiar or Nathan GuilloryJUCO transfers who didn't work out at Iowa, and, in fact, never took a snap in a Hawkeye uniform.

However, if the success rate of JUCO transfers who realized their talents at Iowa is approximately 50 percent—a conservative estimate—then, to use Ferentz's own words, "as a rule", that probably makes their fortunes about equivalent to the average Iowa high-school recruit.

Iowa is in a unique situation in comparison to many other BCS programs. Iowa is considered a talent-poor state. A recent Rivals' survey that detailed which states have the most high school talent per capita showed that Iowa was in the bottom 10 in the country with one Division I recruit for every 2,161 players.

The only other states in the bottom 10 that were also homes to BCS programs were West Virginia and Minnesota. Iowa was the only state in the bottom 10 that was home to two BCS programs.

The survey only took into consideration the 2011 recruiting season, but it is fair to assume that even in the best of years, Iowa will not break into the top half of talent-producing states.

In effect, when one looks at a number of the schools that have a somewhat similar situation to Iowa—West Virginia, the Kansas schools and Nebraska in particular—one notices that said schools go heavy on JUCO recruits.

Between the 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes, West Virginia brought in three JUCOs. Nebraska also brought in three. Kansas brought in nine, while K-State brought in 16.

By the way, Iowa State—the fellow Hawkeye-State program that has beaten Iowa two years in a row—brought in six JUCOs in those years. One of them—quarterback Steele Jantz—made the Hawks look stupid in 2011, and another—receiver Aaron Horne—has caught 10 passes for 167 yards and one touchdown over the two rivalry match-ups.

The reason programs such as these thrive on JUCO players is because it is easier to get high-level JUCO talent to commit to play in less desirable locations than it is to get high-level high school talent to leave home or play in a seemingly unexciting (and relatively cold) locale such as Manhattan, Kansas or Iowa City, Iowa.

With this in mind, the Hawkeyes had a terrible 2012. Kirk Ferentz wouldn't call it the low point of his career—he'd save that for 2006—but a record of 4-8 can never be considered a successful year.

Part of the reason Iowa had such a poor season had to do with not having the players it needed at certain positions—most notably on the defensive line and at wide receiver.

Looking forward, the Hawkeyes should be a better team in 2013. Nevertheless, given the schemes that Iowa wants to run, especially on defense, there is still a glaring deficiency at defensive end.

In Ferentz's schemes, Iowa needs athletic defensive ends who can maintain leverage on the edges, contain the quarterback and are able to consistently pressure the passer. That is easier said than done and requires top-notch athletes.

In fact, though Iowa is known for developing unheralded recruits, most of its top defensive ends over the last 14 years have been highly touted prospects. Specifically, Aaron Kampman, Matt Roth, Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard were all heavily recruited out of high school.

The only two high-impact Iowa defensive ends during the Ferentz era that have not been highly recruited were Broderick Binns and Howard Hodges. However, neither of them could be said to be in Roth's or Clayborn's strata in terms of impact.

Looking towards next year, the defensive end position still doesn't look especially promising.

Dominic Alvis, a two-year starter, will return for his senior year. Alvis is a smart player who has proven to be staunch against the run. He has shown an ability to contain or rush the passer, but has yet to demonstrate an ability to do both. In 21 starts thus far in his career, he has totaled 4.5 sacks.

The other defensive end spot will likely go to true-sophomore Drew Ott—who burned his redshirt eight games into the season—or possibly one of a bevy of young defensive tackles, provided they show the ability to move outside. Also, redshirt sophomores Riley McMinn and Melvin Spears will be in the mix.

Scout named Ott a two-star recruit, while Rivals listed him with three. His only other FBS offers were from Kansas State and Ohio. Unless Ott—or one of the other sophomore options—turns into Ferentz's first non-highly recruited high-impact defensive end, it is unlikely the Hawkeyes will have the ends they need to run the system they want.

Meanwhile, three of the best JUCO ends in the 2013 recruiting class—Mississippi's Andrew Bolton,  Arizona's Randy Gregory and Iowa's Rodney Coe—have already given verbal commitments to Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa State, respectively.

Incidentally, Iowa did offer Gregory and Bolton scholarships. Furthermore, Coe originally committed to the Hawkeyes out of high school, but his grades weren't acceptable. He still might have ended up in Iowa City if not for some February tweets (per Iowa blog Blackheartgoldpants) that spiraled out of control.

As JCFootball.com notes, there are still plenty of uncommitted JUCO defensive end recruits out there, but has Iowa offered any scholarships to them?

Nope.

In the end, if Kirk Ferentz feels that the JUCO route isn't the route for his program, then that is his decision. Nonetheless, the Iowa defense is not built to blitz or put too much pressure on the secondary.

In effect, unless Ott (or whoever winds up at defensive end) is much better than expected, plays such as the attached play against Michigan (at the 4:56 mark) could very well happen with regularity in 2013.

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