The B1G 10: Iowa keeps it boring for Media Days. A sign? Hawkeyes fans should hope not.
1. The B1G Story
It was the perfect moment to illustrate definitive change. And Iowa instead did what Iowa does best under coach Kirk Ferentz.
Passed on progress.
What better way to clearly underline the change that’s coming in the Iowa football program — that the improve-on-offense-or-else message sent this offseason had been heard loud and clear — than by sending quarterback Cade McNamara to this week’s Big Ten Media Days?
That’s Michigan transfer quarterback Cade McNamara — the focus of offseason steps Iowa has taken to lift its offense from an historic hole.
He’s the player who can make it happen, who can save offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s job — and, in the process, ease the growing tension building between the fan base and Kirk Ferentz.
Instead, the elder Ferentz decided to send a senior linebacker with 2 career starts. If that doesn’t scream Iowa, I don’t know what does.
But understand this: If change — and all that goes with it — is truly going to happen at Iowa, it begins and ends at the quarterback position. Specifically, it begins with McNamara — who not only will be the most polished quarterback at Iowa since Nate Stanley but, perhaps more importantly, the proof of Ferentz at long last embracing the future of college football.
McNamara, who led Michigan to the 2021 Playoff, is the first key transfer portal addition for Iowa under Ferentz. There were 2 portal additions in the previous 2 years of free player movement, and neither played.
Now McNamara arrives in Iowa City with a group of transfers who could spark significant change for Iowa (more on that later). He is the face of Kirk Ferentz moving the program into the new era of college football, albeit 2 years too late.
Iowa fans want to hear how their new quarterback, who made it to the postseason promised land at his previous school, believes he can be an agent of change at a program stuck in yesteryear.
The choice was there, and Kirk Ferentz chose to “stay the course” as he often says. They’ve had a lot of success at Iowa doing things his way, Ferentz will tell you.
The only way Iowa finds success this season is through McNamara, who arrived via the newest, freshest system in the game.
Maybe that’s why McNamara will remain in Iowa City on Wednesday and Thursday, instead of at Big Ten Media Days preaching the value of transferring to Iowa for others to see and follow.
Change is bad at Iowa, everyone. Stay the course, win 8 games, play a bowl game in Tampa.
Or … do something unique.
2. Open arms
Until this season, Iowa avoided the transfer portal like farmers avoid speaking of a drought.
It wasn’t worth it, and it was a risk (real or imagined) to disrupt years of culture, chemistry and harmony. And yeah, those 8 wins.
Until this offseason, Iowa was known more for the player that got away in the portal than the 2 it brought into the program over the last 2 years who never played.
Charlie Jones left Iowa after the 2021 season, transferring to Purdue to play in an offense that could highlight his NFL value. He had 21 catches at Iowa in 2021, and scored 3 touchdowns.
A year later at Purdue, he had 110 catches and 12 TDs, and was picked in the 4th round of the NFL Draft by the Bengals. There’s no chance Jones gets drafted if he had stayed at Iowa and languished with the historically bad quarterbacks of the past 3 seasons.
Iowa needed a quarterback, and McNamara needed a team. He lost out to JJ McCarthy for the starting job in 2022, got hurt and eventually decided it was time to leave Michigan.
The move to Iowa was a no-brainer. He’d start from Day 1, and he’d have former Michigan TE Erick All with him. A former blue-chip recruit who has dealt with various injuries in his career, All fits perfectly with Iowa’s elite tight tradition.
Nick Jackson arrived from Virginia and will start at Will linebacker. Guard Rusty Feth (Miami, OH) and tackle Daijon Parker (Saginaw Valley State) are projected starters, too.
Finally, there’s quarterback Deacon Hill (Wisconsin), whose signing as the top backup officially ended 3 years of wandering with Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla. The quarterback room is completely rebuilt, and the Hawkeyes have officially embraced the transfer portal.
3. Change is good, really
McNamara has 2 seasons of eligibility, and if he plays the position like he did at Michigan, the schedule sets up for a fun season.
And by fun, I mean more than 8 wins.
That fun could also translate to Brian Ferentz keeping his job, and Kirk Ferentz earning more capital and using less. Brian Ferentz took a $50,000 pay cut because his offenses in 2021-22 were so bad, they set school records for futility and contributed to a step back for the program.
They were so bad that Kirk Ferentz was forced to use much of the capital he had built for more than 2 decades. It was Kirk’s decision to make his son the offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and play-caller.
Brian had never been an offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach, and had never called plays before earning all 3 of the jobs: OC and play-caller in 2017, QBs coach in 2022.
He was given “performance objectives” in the offseason by outgoing AD Gary Barta: an offense that averages more than 25 points a game (17.7 in 2022, 23.4 in 2021), and 7 wins.
While defense and special teams touchdowns are counted in the 25-point average (the defense scored 6 TDs and had 2 safeties in 2022), the reality is that if Brian Ferentz doesn’t meet either benchmark, the product on the field will likely lead to his firing.
That’s where McNamara comes into the equation. His play could make it a lot harder for Iowa to fire Brian Ferentz, who before the 2021 season had the Nos. 5, 4, 9 and 2 scoring offenses in the Big Ten.
The right quarterback could change everything. And maybe get McNamara an invite to the 2024 Big Ten Media Days.
4. An eye on 2024
We’ve reached the last season of the 4-team Playoff, a postseason tournament that has quickly moved college football well beyond 150 years of slow change.
And this last season of 4 teams brings the unavoidable thought of what will be beginning in 2024 when the Playoff moves to 12 teams.
Schools that previously could only dream of catching lightning and earning a Playoff spot now have a legit chance of making the tournament.
Or as Illinois coach Bret Bielema told Chicago Sun-Times columnist Steve Greenberg, when asked if the new Playoff opens up the postseason for a large group of teams: “Well, I didn’t come here to go 8 and (expletive deleted) 5.”
Illinois, lost for decades in the Big Ten, is the perfect example of a team that could get hot and earn a Playoff spot. So, too, is Minnesota, and Iowa and Indiana (that’s right, 2020, baby) and just about any other Big Ten team.
In the 9 seasons of the 4-team Playoff so far, 14 teams have reached the tournament. Of those 14, 7 teams have reached the Playoff only once.
Translation: An elite group dominates the Playoff.
That will end when the Playoff expands to 12 teams. The pool of programs that typically will produce a Playoff team will expand from the 20s to the 40s or more.
5. The Weekly 5
The 5 games that stress the Minnesota wins total (7.5):
1. Sept. 16, at North Carolina: A tough road spot against an elite quarterback (Drake Maye).
2. Oct. 21, at Iowa: Hawkeyes beat Gophers last year despite a horrific offense. What will this game look like — after McNamara has 7 games in the Iowa system?
3. Nov. 11, at Purdue: Road wins are rare in the Big Ten, and Gophers defense can’t give away winnable game.
4. Nov. 4, Illinois: 2 teams with quarterbacks deep into their 1st season as starters. Will be strong win for either Athan Kaliakmanis or Luke Altmyer.
5. Nov. 25, Wisconsin: The bitter rivalry gets a new look with Wisconsin’s Air Raid offense. PJ Fleck is 4-2 vs. Purdue, the closest thing to the Air Raid in the Big Ten.
6. Your tape is your resume
A scout analyzes an NFL Draft eligible Big Ten player. This week: Ohio State CB Denzel Burke.
“He has a nice frame, and can add some weight. He’s not a finished product in any way. He has really good man cover skills, and he’s productive in zone. He can be better with his hands and leverage, but that all comes with repetition and development. He’s a Day 1 pick, no question.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: pre-Big Ten Media Days 1-14 ranking.
1. Michigan: Wolverines will make the Playoff for 3rd straight season, something only Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma have accomplished.
2. Ohio State: If Kyle McCord does what every other QB under Ryan Day has, there could be 2 Big Ten Playoff teams.
3. Penn State: The roster is as deep and talented as it has ever been, but Lions may be 1 year away.
4. Iowa: A big jump for Iowa because the defense will be stout again — and the offense will score enough points and protect the ball.
5. Minnesota: I’m torn on the Gophers, but see 2019 as clear as can be with a big season from Kaliakmanis.
6. Wisconsin: The transition will take time, and there will be some ugly. There could be a big upset, too.
7. Illinois: There’s too much to replace on defense for a legit run in the West Division.
8. Maryland: The schedule is manageable. If Taulia Tagovailoa has a big season, 9 wins is possible.
9. Michigan State: Another subpar season will have many questioning the $98 million extension for coach Mel Tucker.
10. Purdue: There’s a lot to like about the youth and exuberance of Ryan Walters and the new staff. It’s going to take time.
11. Nebraska: For all the good Matt Rhule accomplished in Temple and Baylor rebuilds, Year 1 was a tough slog.
12. Indiana: Imagine what playing in the Big Ten Championship Game in 2020 could’ve done for IU — which has been sliding since Kevin Warren threw a block for Ohio State.
13. Rutgers: You’re not winning conference games with uncertainty at the most important position on the field. Rutgers needs a quarterback, pronto.
14. Northwestern: If you thought 1-11 last season was bad, 1-11 in 2023 will be much worse.
East Division champion: Michigan.
West Division champion: Iowa.
Big Ten champion: Michigan.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: Explain to me, please, how Pat Fitzgerald is fired for the hazing at Northwestern, yet every other coach was retained. — Carlos Garcia, Chicago.
If the idea is Fitzgerald didn’t know about the hazing, but should have as the head coach and therefore was fired because of it, I can live with that. But if you’re going that far to connect the dots and find accountability, there’s no way you can avoid firing the rest of the staff.
Because if Fitzgerald should’ve known, they all should’ve known. So should the strength coach and his staff. Yet they’re all still employed by Northwestern.
If Northwestern president Michael Schill really wanted to institute change, he would’ve fired everyone and brought in an interim staff. The right interim head coach could’ve brought in a staff in the month prior to the beginning of fall camp.
Would it be a difficult ask? Of course — but how do you think the 2023 season will play out with this hanging over the program? Let me give you an idea: just like last season, with 1 lousy win.
9. Just how good was Penn State RB Nicholas Singleton’s freshman season?
He led the Big Ten with 9 rushes of 30+ yards, 7 of which were 40+ (also the Big Ten leader). Four of those carries went for 50+, which put him 1 behind Big Ten leader Donovan Edwards.
Singleton also had 2 rushes of 70+ yards, and averaged 6.8 yards per carry. Here’s the craziest stat of all: with all of that breakaway speed, Singleton only averaged 12 carries a game.
10. Quote to note
Ohio State coach Ryan Day on the Joel Klatt podcast: “(The NFL) knows what they’re doing, and they’ve done it for a long time. They have a collective bargaining agreement. They have players associations. They have a playoff system in place. They have so many things we can grab onto. We can look to them on how they’ve solved some of these issues, and that’s going to be important.”