1. The B1G Story

Blame it on Gary Barta. He threw out an arbitrary number that any coach worth his salt in coordinating offenses and developing quarterbacks can reach — and said meet it, or else.

We’ve made fun all offseason about the mandate from Barta, Iowa’s former athletic director, to embattled Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz. Embarrassed the Hawkeyes faithful, and had some laughs.

Now it’s serious.

Now Iowa has to actually score 25 points per game — the Barta mandate — against Big Ten competition, not run up the score in the final 30 seconds of a blowout of Western Michigan. Or Brian Ferentz’s contract is terminated.

It begins Saturday in Big Ten play at Penn State, and against what could be the best defense in the conference. And understand this: while we all laughed at the Barta mandate, Iowa went out this offseason and upgraded the offense and put itself in position to do something about it.

Cade McNamara transferred from Michigan, giving the Hawkeyes their first legitimate Power 5 quarterback since Nate Stanley in 2019. The McNamara move wasn’t in a vacuum.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who for the most part has avoided the newfangled transfer portal (shocking, I know) prior to this offseason, dove in head-first and tried to upgrade any way he could. The Hawkeyes also added athletic tight end Erick All from Michigan, and OT Daijon Parker and G Rusty Feth.

If the offense was going down and taking Brian Ferentz with it, Kirk Ferentz was going to give his son every opportunity to coach his way out of it.

That leaves us staring at this weekend, after Iowa has spent the previous 3 weeks sputtering with its new toys. The Hawkeyes scored 24 points on Utah State — which has since given up 28 to FCS Idaho State and 39 to Air Force — and 20 on Iowa State.

It was only last weekend when things looked semi-normal with the 41-point effort against Western Michigan — where 10 of those points were scored in the final 5 minutes of the game.

Imagine Kirk Ferentz, Mr. By The Book himself, signing off on those 10 points, presumably to let young guys play. But because of the mandate, it’s naturally seen as more points now, less points needed in Big Ten play.

The day has finally arrived, the Big Ten season is here. There are no more Group of 5 opponents to fatten up the ledger. It’s all on Brian Ferentz and his offense.

2. All about development

Make no mistake, the offense is all about McNamara. And that’s where Brian Ferentz comes into play.

When longtime quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe resigned after the 2021 season, Kirk Ferentz could have hired an experienced QBs coach to develop the most important position on the field.

Instead, he gave the job to his son, Brian, a former offensive lineman who has never coached quarterbacks. That meant Brian Ferentz had the entire smash: He coordinated the offense, he coached the quarterbacks, he called the plays.

Iowa then had its worst offensive season of the modern era in 2022, leading to the Barta mandate. (Barta has since retired, and no one knows if new AD Beth Goetz will honor it.) That led to the signing of McNamara, who led Michigan to the 2021 Playoff but lost his starting job to JJ McCarthy in 2022.

Because Iowa placed everything on McNamara, any slight deviation would be a problem — like McNamara’s quadriceps bruise that forced him to be limited in fall camp. Because of limited practice time, his timing and chemistry with the offense is off.

While not surprising, it leaves a significant question: when does it connect? When can we expect the Iowa offense to play as a cohesive unit?

Is it the injury (and return from injury) that has led to McNamara completing a career-low 53 percent of his passes, or is it the Ferentz offense? Is it the injury that has led to McNamara’s career-low 5.9 yards per attempt — a number so astoundingly low, it’s below the putrid 6.1 delivered in 2022 by QB Spencer Petras — or the offense?

McNamara has 4 TDs and 3 INTs, and has been sacked 6 times in games against 2 gimme putts and Iowa State. Woof.

3. The son, the legacy, The Epilogue

This thing has been botched since Day 1. Kirk Ferentz botched the QBs coach decision, one that could’ve actually helped his son perform his job at a higher level.

Barta, who no doubt knew he was retiring soon, botched the Brian Ferentz mandate. Because Kirk can’t technically supervise his son (that annoying nepotism thing), Barta had to.

And let’s be honest, Ferentz may as well have been supervising Barta, his boss, all these years. What did you really think Barta was going to do?

He gave Brian Ferentz a points per game line (25) that 89 of the current 135 FBS programs are above. In 2022, 85 of the 131 FBS schools scored at least 25 per game.

The mandate also included 7 wins, which Kirk Ferentz reached the previous 9 non-COVID seasons, and in all but 5 of his 23 non-COVID seasons.

In other words, Barta gave Brian Ferentz a layup — and we still don’t know if he’ll make it.

4. The other side

For the first time this season, it’s time to talk about the Ohio State defense.

Forget about who’s playing quarterback, or how to get the ball to WRs Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming, and TE Cade Stover.

It’s time to see just how far Jim Knowles has come in Year 2 as defensive coordinator at Ohio State with Saturday’s game at Notre Dame.

The defense has as many as 6 Day 1 or Day 2 NFL Draft selections, and played well in 2022 under Knowles until the final 2 games of the season — when the Buckeyes gave up a combined 87 points to Michigan and Georgia.

Notre Dame’s offense has dramatically changed from last season behind Wake Forest transfer QB Sam Hartman. The Irish passing game will be similar to that of Michigan and Georgia in 2022, and is accurate at all 3 levels — and especially on deep balls.

Hartman has 13 TDs and 0 INTs in 4 games against the overmatched and outclassed, has completed 71 percent of his passes and is averaging 11.8 yards per attempt.

Ohio State, meanwhile, is 7th in the nation in pass defense (140.3 ypg), and opponents are averaging 4.9 yards per attempt.

5. The Weekly 5

Five picks against the spread.

  • Iowa (+14.5) at Penn State
  • Ohio State at Notre Dame (+3.5)
  • Wisconsin (-6.5) at Purdue
  • Maryland (-7.5) at Michigan State
  • Minnesota (-11.5) at Northwestern

Last week: 3-2.

Season: 12-3.

6. Your tape is your resume

An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible Big Ten player. This week: Michigan DT Kris Jenkins.

“A physical freak. He does things that men his size shouldn’t be able to do. I absolutely love the way his hands are always active, always working. He has those heavy hands, too. He’s so quick off the snap, and he’s such an effort guy, he’s a handful every play. He can absolutely be an inside rusher, and will cause a lot of problems on the interior. He has a chance to rise into the top 10 of the draft.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing.

1. Michigan: Maybe they’re bored. Maybe they need Big Jim back to kick them in the trunk. Whatever it is, make it happen. Spritely.

2. Penn State: So you want to be a Playoff contender. Dominate a limited offense and overachieving defense from the first play of the game. Prove it vs. Iowa.

3. Ohio State: Look, I get it. Kyle McCord gives the Buckeyes the best chance to win the game. But I’m not seeing it. Now’s the time to show it.

4. Iowa: They’re not the Iowa defense of 2021-22, but giving up 37 points in 3 games is good no matter who you’re playing.

5. Wisconsin: This is not the Air Raid coach Luke Fickell and OC Phil Longo envisioned. The question: can QB Tanner Mordecai work his way out of early season struggles?

6. Maryland: I want so badly to believe in the Terps, to trust a defense that has given no reason to do so over the last 3 seasons. Win the games you should, and get to Ohio State unbeaten on Oct. 7.

7. Minnesota: A low point for QB Athan Kaliakmanis last weekend against UNC. Can he respond in a potentially dicey spot at Northwestern?

8. Rutgers: Out of nowhere comes RB Kyle Monangai, who has rushed for nearly as many yards in 3 games (357) as he did all last season (445). He’s making life much easier for 1st year starting QB Gavin Wimsatt (5 TDs, 0 turnovers).

9. Illinois: The rebuild defensively was going to be difficult, but the secondary has struggled more than anticipated (715 yards, 6 TDs).

10. Purdue: The Boilers haven’t looked good in any game, including the win over a truly terrible Virginia Tech team. Syracuse ran for 271 yards last week against Purdue. What will Wisconsin do?

11. Nebraska: No one ever said it was going to be a quick turn. Embrace the grind, and trust the track record of the guy in the driver’s seat. The problem: it’s the same thing preached by Scott Frost, Mike Riley and … you get it.

Indiana: The defense has played well enough to win 2 games and scare the hell out of Ohio State. The offense is a mess.

Michigan State: The entire process was shaky before coach Mel Tucker imploded. Another loss Saturday against Maryland like what unfolded against Washington, and the season tanks quickly.

Northwestern: Minnesota suddenly looks like 1 of a few possible victories this season. Especially if the Wildcats can protect QB Ben Bryant.

8. Ask and you shall receive


If you’re Matt Rhule, do you give up on Jeff Sims already? He looks a lot like the guy we had last season, and that didn’t end well for anyone. — Cathy Vorhees, Omaha.


The decision, more than anything, has been made for you with the ankle injury to starter Jeff Sims. It also helps that we’ve seen each quarterback start a game, and Heinrich Haarberg has played better.

If 1 quarterback (Sims) commits 6 turnovers in 2 losses, and the other (Haarberg) commits only 1 (a fumble on a blindside hit) and gets a win, well, you may just have your answer — no matter the difference in competition. Sims started against Minnesota and Colorado; Haarberg against a Northern Illinois team that has lost 11 of its last 15 games.

Sims is the better talent; that’s not even a question. But you can’t keep playing a guy at the most important position on the field if he can’t protect the ball. You’re right, those 6 turnovers remind everyone in Lincoln of the maddening play of talented but enigmatic QB Adrian Martinez from a couple years ago.

At the very least, Haarberg should play until it’s clear he’s overmatched and the risk/reward with Sims again becomes a reasonable and necessary gamble.

9. Numbers

40. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano brings his best Rutgers team into Ann Arbor Saturday, and while the previous 3 seasons have resulted in Michigan averaging 40 points over 3 wins, the margin isn’t as wide as it seems.

In the 2020 Covid season, Michigan won 48-42 in overtime. A year later, on the road to Michigan’s first trip to the Playoff, the Wolverines gutted out a 20-13 win. Last season was the outlier: a 52-17 win.

Michigan has been easing through the first 3 games of the season, and Rutgers has given up 30 points in 3 games. Why not a little excitement in a sleepy noon kick?

10. Quote to note

Wisconsin coach Luke Fickell: “”It’s time for us to continue to grow to what we’ve done, and start to put some of these things together and see a little bit more consistency across the board in what we’re doing.”