Lately, the Iowa Hawkeyes football program and its coach Kirk Ferentz can do nothing right, at least in the eyes of many fans, and the direction of Iowa's recruiting is no exception.
Iowa's 2013 recruiting class—which is not yet set in stone, as there are two days before signing day—is low on wow factor. Scout ranks it ninth in the Big Ten, while 247Sports ranks it 10th and Rivals ranks it 11th.
Iowa is known for developing unheralded recruits and turning them into NFL talent—see Chad Greenway, Bob Sanders or Dallas Clark for evidence of the Hawks' success. However, lately those unheralded recruits haven't been developing, and the Hawks' best players have come to Iowa City with stars next to their names.
Consider the 2010 Orange Bowl squad. Most of the starters on that squad were highly recruited members of Iowa's 2005 and 2006 classes. Though the 2005 class—Rivals' No. 11 in the country—was largely considered a bust, the players who did stick around and contribute were mostly highly recruited.
Something else that is evident when one looks at the top recruiting teams is that they all hail from talent-rich states. And as Rivals' Dallas Jackson detailed following the 2011 recruiting season, Iowa is not included amongst states that can be called "talent rich." In fact, it is usually one of the most talent-poor states in the nation.
In effect, Iowa has to go out of state to find players, as it always has, and it is here where the Hawkeyes and Kirk Ferentz are on the wrong track.
According to the site, the Hawkeyes have a presence in all of the following states: Michigan (Campbell's territory), Illinois (two coaches), Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri (two coaches), Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Texas.
Coaches recruit out of their territory, and as a program, Iowa does recruit areas not specifically designated as one coach's responsibility. Moreover, the coordinators, who do not have an official recruiting area, actively recruit.
However, Iowa's 106-man 2012 roster consists of exactly nine players who hail from states not covered in the above list. That is approximately 8.5 percent of the roster.
In short, the Hawkeyes, like every program, recruit in areas not actively covered by the staff, but the majority of the recruiting is directly targeted by the staff via the staff assignments.
With that in mind, consider the Hawks' active areas.
Iowa has two coaches in two states—Illinois and Missouri—states that have treated Iowa well. Former Hawkeyes Adrian Clayborn and Marvin McNutt hail from Missouri, while Bryan Bulaga and Eric Steinbach are from Illinois.
While it is advisable for Iowa to keep presences in both these neighboring states, one is left to wonder if it is wasting manpower in keeping that much of a presence there.
According to Maxpreps, this year, the state of Missouri boasts 33 future college football players. Illinois has 72.
These are substantial talent pools and certainly more impressive than the Hawkeye state's 12 future collegiate football players.
However, these are limited pools, and Iowa will compete fiercely against other programs that recruit in those areas—specifically the entire Big Ten, Big 12 and some SEC programs.
More importantly, Iowa has minimal presence in any of the top three states—Texas, California and Florida—which, combined, make up just under 40 percent of all the prospects in the country.
This was not always the case.
When Ferentz first came to Iowa, he had Bret Bielema in Florida and Ron Aiken and Carl Jackson in Texas.
During that time, Bielema brought such Sunshine State Hawkeyes as Abdul Hodge, Brad Banks, Fred Barr, C.J. Jones and Mo Brown into the fold. While Iowa does have five Floridian Hawks on its roster, the last Hawkeye from Florida to make an impact was linebacker Edmund Miles who graduated in 2006, exactly five years after Bielema left the Iowa program.
Aiken and Jackson brought in such Lone Star Hawks as Drew Tate, Scott Chandler, Jonathan Babineaux, Howard Hodges and Clinton Solomon.
Iowa has five Texas Hawkeyes on its roster, and Texas is officially part of linebacker coach LeVar Woods' recruiting area. Still, the last high-impact Texas Hawkeye was cornerback Charles Godfrey who graduated in 2007, the year Jackson retired and one year after Aiken moved on to the NFL.
Iowa would compete with even stiffer competition in order to bring in players from Florida and Texas. The difference is that the home-bred players who don't receive offers from blue bloods such as Texas, Texas A&M, Florida and Florida State are more talented and plentiful than the holdovers from Illinois and Missouri.
Further complicating the issue is the presence Iowa attempts to maintain in Ohio and to a lesser extent, Michigan.
There is a simple fact that has been true throughout the modern football era: Iowa cannot hope to go into Ohio and compete with the Buckeyes for their top in-state prospects.
Consider the 2013 recruiting class. According to Rivals, Ohio State has 20 offers out to home-state players. Of those, 10 are OSU commits. There are also three Michigan commits to go along with one each to Notre Dame, Nebraska (from Bo Pelini's hometown of Youngstown), Tennessee, North Carolina and, surprisingly, West Virginia and Illinois.
In 2012, the Bucks offered 24 Ohio-bred athletes and 15, or 62.5 percent, went to Columbus. Three more went to Michigan.
In 2011, 14 of the 19—or 74 percent—state-of-Ohio offers opted to stay in the Buckeye State.
Moreover, as Iowa blog Blackheartgoldpants recently pointed out—and as was painfully apparent in the commitment and subsequent decommitment of Michigan safety prospect Delano Hill—when the Hawkeyes go head to head against the Wolverines, especially in Michigan, they usually lose.
In short, Iowa should maintain a presence in both Ohio and Michigan. The question is how much of a presence, and who should represent that presence.
Consider the Hawkeyes in comparison to other Big Ten teams, who are in a similar situation to Iowa—programs in relatively talent-poor states.
Minnesota boasts 12 Texans, 12 Floridians and three Californians on its roster. That is over 25 percent of the team. There are 12 Sunshine-state Badgers on Wisconsin's roster, including the majority of its starting secondary.
Even Ohio State, of which almost 75 percent of the roster is made up of native Ohioans, have more Floridians—six—than does Iowa.
Officially, there is no Hawkeye presence in Florida, and while offensive coordinator Greg Davis—a native Texan—seems to have had a hand in picking up a commitment from a Texas quarterback with no other FBS offers, his place on the coaching staff has not been paying Texas-sized dividends.
Linebacker coach LeVar Woods is officially assigned Texas, but he splits his time between the Lone Star State and Missouri. Also, according to Rivals, which lists which coach recruited which players, he only picked up one recruit this year—fall-back receiver Anjeus Jones, who recently picked up an Iowa offer after other targets committed elsewhere.
It's difficult to judge the quality of a recruiter, especially when one has a limited resume. Nonetheless, Brian Ferentz recruited five of the Hawks' current 2013 commits. That is about 30 percent of the Hawks' entire haul. Not bad for a first-timer who had no previous connections to or in the Buckeye State.
Furthermore, unlike a number of Iowa commits who have no BCS offers beyond the Hawks, every one of the Ohio recruits, except JUCO-commit Damond Powell, has at least one other BCS offer. On top of that, according to 247sports.com, three of Iowa's top six commits were recruited by the younger Ferentz.
Whether Brian Ferentz is as good a recruiter as his first year indicates is arguable. Nonetheless, limiting Iowa's primary recruiting area to Big Ten states is an exercise in futility.
As Paula Lavigne of ESPN pointed out, football talent is trending more and more southward. As previously pointed out in regard to Ohio State, the talent that is still within the Big Ten footprint tends to stay close to home.
Iowa has to adjust its recruiting strategy to go after off-the-Big-Ten-map states, most notably Florida and Texas.
It also has to assess who its best recruiters are and put them in a situation where they can bring home superior talent, as opposed to MAC castaways.
Yes, Iowa is a developmental program, but lately, those prospects haven't been developing, which is one of the reasons the Hawkeyes are a .500 program—tied for 67th in the country—since 2010.
It is a also a developmental program that works best when those developmental players are alongside pedigree players—think Greenway-Hodge. The latter was a highly recruited linebacker prospect out of Ft. Lauderdale. The former was a safety recruit who played nine-man football in South Dakota and whose only other offer was South Dakota State. Together, they made one of the most successful linebacker pairings in Iowa history.
After 14 years at the helm, many fans are convinced that Kirk Ferentz has his program pointed in the wrong direction, and he no longer has the ability to turn it around.
What many see as a weak recruiting class only justifies those opinions.
There are a number of things Ferentz should do to bring Iowa back to where it was in the early part of the millennium, but it starts with the players he brings into the program.
It starts with recruiting.