Nepotism is Kneecapping Iowa Football's Golden Era
In today’s college football landscape, one where big offense wins championships, fielding a top-10 defense is difficult.
Fielding three top-10 defenses, in back-to-back-to-back years, is nearly impossible.
Iowa is one of only four teams that has achieved this feat. The other three? Alabama, Clemson, and Georgia.
That’s good company. Kirk Ferentz and Phil Parker have built one of the most under-the-radar defensive success stories in college football. And they are building a well-rounded defensive system. Iowa is good against the rush (11th in 2020); they are good against the pass (13th); they don’t give up big plays (10th); they disrupt the offenses (11th).
And they have had three straight years of this type of production.
In the Big-10, often Northwestern is the program that turns heads for its surprisingly good defense.
We should really be talking about Iowa.
But the country isn’t talking about Iowa. They haven’t placed above second in their own division, they have lost 9 games in the last three years, and they haven’t sniffed the college football playoff.
These are the golden years of Iowa Football and Kirk Ferentz has chosen to cap his success in favor of hiring his son as offensive coordinator.
In 2020, Iowa’s offense ranked 48th in the country. That’s bad for a power-five team — especially one fielding an elite defense. Iowa couldn’t pass the ball (61st) and they were 39th in the country in rushing. It’s why Iowa was invited to the Music City Bowl rather than challenging Ohio State for a playoff spot.
2019 wasn’t much better. The Hawkeye offense finished 44th, were bad on the ground (74th) and average through the air (34th). It earned them a trip to the Holiday Bowl, a game that, ironically, showed what Iowa could be with a good offense. But playing Clay Helton brings out the best in everyone and, unfortunately, it’s not everyday the Hawkeyes get to pick on a Clancy Pendergast defense.
Iowas 2018 offense was, to their credit, average…for a power-five team. Brian Ferentz’s first year at the helm graded out 34th with a decent passing attack (22nd) and a sub-par rushing offense (55th).
By the way, if you haven’t noticed Iowa’s offense is headed in the wrong direction.
Have there been positives with Brian Ferentz? Sure. As can be expected with a *checks notes…an NFL Tight Ends coach getting his first play calling gig at a power five conference.* Iowa’s offensive line has been good — a testament to Ferentz’s track record with the program.
He has also “modernized” the offense, particularly the rushing concepts. But only in a 85% diluted version of the word “modernized." The Germans probably have a term for that.
The point is that the bar was low in Iowa.
Has Brian Ferentz cleared that low bar? Sure. But there is not a shred of evidence that he was the most qualified offensive coordinator when he was hired in 2018. Or the 10th most qualified. Or the 25th most qualified.
This has cost Iowa. To be clear, they have had a good run. These Hawkeye teams have been good.
But the upside these last three years could have been much higher with a real offensive coordinator. Remember, the only three schools to field three top-10 defenses in three years are Alabama, Clemson, and Georgia.
Here are the offensive and defensive splits between each team in the last three years:
Alabama 2020: Offense: 1 | Defense: 3 2019: Offense: 3 | Defense: 9
2018: Offense: 2 | Defense: 4
Clemson 2020: Offense: 9 | Defense: 6
2019: Offense: 5 | Defense: 1
2018: Offense: 4 | Defense: 1
2020: Offense: 16 | Defense: 8
2019: Offense: 18 | Defense: 2
2018: Offense: 3 | Defense: 9
Catching a trend? Big offense is important in college football. And Iowa can straight up throw money at a good scheme. Look at Georgia, for example. The last two years have felt like the Bulldog offense is riding struggle bus. But they are still significantly farther along than Iowa.
Instead of competing for their conference or even for the playoff, Iowa is making family succession plans and distributing unearned titles. That’s disappointing. Iowa is a storied program with significant potential. And a little variety outside of the usual suspects in our playoff system would be a welcome change.