Iowa Football: Why the Hawkeyes Current Reputation Does Not Reflect Their Talent

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Iowa Football: Why the Hawkeyes Current Reputation Does Not Reflect Their Talent
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All of the way-too-early previews of the Big Ten have Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa Hawkeyes at or near the bottom of the conference.

Collegefootballnews.com has the Hawks at 4-8 with a winless Big Ten season. Athlonsports.com has Iowa sixth in their division. ESPN has the Hawkeyes 11th in the conference.

The vast majority put Iowa in the bottom three, along with Purdue and Illinois.

There are no previews that have Iowa outside of the bottom five, which includes Purdue and Illinois, along with resurgent Indiana and Minnesota.

Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network recently wrote a preview of the historically inept Indiana Hoosiers, in which he wrote, "missing a slumping Hawkeyes team that IU beat last season hurts." Yes, missing Iowa now weakens a perennial cellar-dweller's schedule.

Some argue that this year, along with last year, are transitional years, both as it concerned schemes—in 2012, the Hawkeyes broke in new coordinators on both sides of the ball—and talent.

The first contention is accurate, though the roughest part of the transition should be well behind Iowa in 2013. At the very least, Ferentz won't have any excuses if it isn't.

However, the other part of that transition—lack of talent—while true in 2012, doesn't apply to 2013.

Firstly, it's impossible to measure talent in the college ranks. 

All the recruiting stars in the world don't guarantee success at the next level. Meanwhile, success at the college level doesn't guarantee success at the professional level.

Nonetheless, Ferentz's greatest accomplishment as the Hawkeyes head coach has not been what he has done on the field, but the athletes—often lightly recruited—he has sent to the NFL. Those athletes are a direct reflection of how much talent has passed through Iowa City over the past 14 years.

According to Dienhart, between 2003-2012, Iowa had the second-most players drafted in the Big Ten. That means the NFL coveted Iowa players more than players from every program in the conference outside of Ohio State. More than Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska.

The Hawkeyes also tied for the third-most first rounders, and they developed the most offensive linemen.

The 2012 class sent only Micah Hyde into the NFL Draft, a considerable letdown from three years of six draftees each.

But the 2013 class should bounce back, which, once again, is a testament to the amount of talent in the program.

One can never assume how the seniors will perform. After all, Hawkeyes receiver Keenan Davis was a strong bet to get drafted before 2012's offensive breakdown.

Still, consider the early returns of this year's seniors and potential draftees.

CBSSports.com ranks C.J. Fiedorowicz the No. 2 tight end in the country. Walterfootball.com has him No.5 and going in the second-third round.

CBS Sports.com has linebacker Anthony Hitchens as the No. 12 outside linebacker (probably a generous ranking), while fellow linebacker James Morris is the No. 14 inside linebacker.

Walterfootball.com (which is the more accurate of the two sites) ranks Morris as the No. 8 outside linebacker—outside linebacker is his more natural position, though he played middle linebacker for the majority of his collegiate career—and has him going in the second-third round.

Neither site ranks fellow seniors Brett Van Sloten (offensive tackle) or B.J. Lowery (cornerback), but history is on both Van Sloten's and Lowery's side.

Every starting Iowa cornerback going back to 2008 has been drafted, and according to Kirk Ferentz (via Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette), "the offense threw away from B.J. Lowery this spring."

As for Van Sloten, every Kirk Ferentz-coached, multi-year-starting Iowa tackle has been drafted. The one exception was Markus Zusevics, who started 2010-11, but he would likely have been drafted if not for a torn pectoral muscle suffered during the combine.

After 2013, Van Sloten will have been a two-year starter.

On top of that, junior left tackle Brandon Scherff could push himself into the draft if he has a good year.

CBSSports.com also has Tanner Miller as the No. 13 free safety, but most Iowa fans would agree that Miller will not get drafted unless he takes major steps forward this season.

That makes six Hawkeyes who will have a reasonable shot of getting chosen in the 2014 NFL Draft, with two locks to get drafted.

This is not a team that has a severe talent deficiency, especially when compared with the potential draftees in other mid-tier (i.e. not Ohio State and Michigan or arguably Nebraska and Penn State) Big Ten programs.

According to Walterfootball.com, Wisconsin has five potential draftees, while Michigan State has three. No other program has more than two.

CBSSports.com—the more liberal of the two sites—has six Badgers and four Spartans, as well as three each from Nebraska and Penn State.

Obviously, the websites could be missing prospects, as I believe they are with Van Sloten and Lowery.

However, unlike with Van Sloten and Lowery, history supports minimal-no draftees coming from the likes of Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota, as the second-linked Dienhart article suggests.

It also supports the probability that more or just as many Hawkeyes will go in the draft as will Spartans, Cornhuskers and Nittany Lions, though there will be definitively more Badgers drafted.

With all this in mind: Yes, football is a team sport, and six quality players do not a team make.

Nevertheless, the idea that Iowa is talent-poor at this point—at least when compared to other mid-tier or even lower-tier Big Ten programs—is inaccurate.

Most are predicting a weak year for the Hawkeyes, because a certain reality has set in after the last three disappointing seasons.

That reality is that Kirk Ferentz's reputation—of doing more with less—doesn't reflect his program. Rather, he has worked with a surplus of talent. By NFL Draft standards, he has presided over the second-most talented program in the conference between 2003-2012.

The issue is he has proven himself to be a great developer of talent, but he does not put that talent in a position to succeed when it comes time to play football.

After years of entering the year with inflated expectations—2005, 2006, 2010, 2011 and 2012 all serve as examples—the prognosticators have caught up with reality.

Kirk Ferentz has been a top-notch developer of talent, but has not been a great coach.

The predictions that place Iowa at the bottom of the conference reflect that.

There is enough talent in Iowa City to win football games, but nobody will give the Hawkeyes credit for that talent until Ferentz shows that he can put that talent in a position to win.

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