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November 5, 2012

Weekend Thoughts

It was a busy weekend for Hawkeye fans with the first real convergence of Iowa Football and "real" Hawkeye basketball games. Ok, real in the sense that it was an exhibition game on the hardwood and not the Black and Gold Blowout, which was more of an evening of entertainment.

It was also a lot of highway miles for this reporter, traveling to and from Bloomington, IN and then back to Iowa City for a Sunday afternoon of men's and women's hoops. Not complaining either. It's a great job and I think it's important to be there in person as much as possible to cover the games and report what happens and the comments from coaches and players.

The next few weeks leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday are going to be extremely busy filled with football and basketball games, so we should have a lot to talk about, although I think we already have plenty on the table.

I'm going to steal a bit from SI's Peter King with ten things I think I think about this past weekend.

1. I think it's hard to see a path to a bowl game for this Iowa football team. This is where you look back at that horrific loss to Central Michigan and just shake you're head on how that happened. Instead of needing just one win to become bowl eligible, the Hawkeyes need two and at this point one of them is going to have to be an upset. Even the most optimistic Iowa fan is facing the reality now that it's unlikely that Iowa will beat either Michigan or Nebraska. It certainly could happen and I'll gladly take a couple of bites of crow if it does, but it looks like Kirk Ferentz will have his first losing regular season since 2000. I know 2006 finished with a 6-7 record, but that included a bowl loss, hence, the use of regular season.

2. I think I'll use that to defend Kirk Ferentz a bit. Ask yourself this, how many programs in college football have had a .500 or better record every regular season since 2001? I don't know the exact answer, but I guarantee the list of schools is a short one. I know that's not going to make Iowa fans feel any better about their position right now and the fact that several of the season in that time frame were .500 or slightly above that, but it illustrates how tough it is to consistently stay at that level or higher for an extended period of time. No one is happy with the results this year, especially Ferentz and his staff, but it is also fair to point out that while the results aren't always what fans want, he has done a very good job of keeping the Iowa program at a relatively high level for an extended period of time.

3. I think I'll defend Ferentz one more time on another front and that's his integrity. His coaching and results are fair game. That's what you sign up for when you are a major college head coach and Kirk would be the first to tell you his coaching, coaching decision, and win/loss record are up for discussion. But, I keep seeing these attacks get more and more personal towards a guy who has handled himself with a great deal of class and respect for the University of Iowa. He's not a guy who just collects a handsome pay check and is sitting back counting his money and not caring about the product. That's the narrative in some corners and it couldn't be further from the truth. The guy cares about one thing over everything else and that's winning football games. You can disagree about his methods and philosophy, but it's unfair to question his desire.

4. I think Kirk Ferentz is worn out heading down the stretch of the season. Maybe it was just a tough loss on Saturday in a game that was delayed for an hour getting underway. He just seemed tired. Like a man who has tried to push every button he can imagine and nothing seemed to work this year. If you ask any long time D1 coach, I'd bet they could tell you a similar story during their tenure about feeling something similar. It was really a snapshot moment for me on Saturday of a guy who really seemed exhausted by a tough year.

5. I think attrition has crushed this team and it lacks overall talent. Look at the recruiting classes from 2008-10. Those classes have been absolutely gutted. Iowa signed 67 prospects during that span and 29 of them are no longer on campus or have quit football due to injury. That's 43% in a three year span. If you look at just 08 and 09, it's up to nearly 50%. I asked Kirk Ferentz two weeks ago about the impact that attrition has on his program and he took the high road and said its part of college football. He's right, but I think it impacts places like Iowa to a higher degree than it does in some other places. Iowa is a developmental program and it tends to rely on upperclassmen and those junior and senior classes have been cut in half. The good news is half the 2010 class is already significant contributors and the younger classes are sticking together so far.

6. I think if Kirk Ferentz made mistake in not going for it on 4th and inches in the 4th quarter on Saturday. That's not the hindsight view on the decision. I thought it when it happened and frankly, I wasn't surprised, but I was surprised. Ferentz has been going for it more on 4th down this year than at any time I can remember. I just don't know why he thought the Iowa defense would get a quick three and out on Saturday and allow his team to get the ball back with significant time left on the clock. The worst thing that could have happened on Saturday was the officials stopping the game to measure because it allowed Ferentz to outthink himself on his decision. Iowa was ready to go for it, even though James Vandenberg said after the game that a sneak was a risky call because of the way Indiana was lining up. You still want to go down fighting and giving yourself a chance to win.

7. I think the Iowa basketball team is going to be better than I expected and I already thought they would win 20 games. The only thing stopping that from happening is a key injury. I really like the chemistry on the team put together by Fran McCaffery. They all seem to like each other and play well together. They also have a lot of scoring options, even more than last year. There will certainly be some growing pains when you are counting on freshmen and inexperienced sophomores, but as long as this team can play better defense, they will score in bunches.

8. I think Mike Gesell is going to be a special player and I hope fans are patient with Adam Woodbury. The freshman duo will be the two most talked about players on this team this season. That's how it works today, we talk about and the freshmen, especially when one plays point guard and the other is 7 foot tall. Gesell was probably overshadowed in his high school years because he played at a small school in Nebraska and he played AAU ball with Marcus Paige as the point guard. He's really good and can shoot the ball at a high level. Fans are going to love how hard he plays and his old school power dribble 15 foot jumper. Woodbury is going to come along. He's probably going to face foul trouble during the year, but his presence, along with the development of Gabe Olaseni will make Iowa's defense stronger.

9. I think Aaron White and Devyn Marble are going to push for All Big Ten honors this year. The conference is loaded with talent and both players have raised their games in the off season. It's no secret that White has a chip on his shoulder. He came in with it because people didn't think he was a Big Ten player. Now he's got a bulletin board of lists of top players that doesn't include him. Motivation will never be an issue with White and if Sunday was any indication, he will be a demon on the front end of Iowa's press. The same can be said for Marble, who has made the adjustment back to two guard. He's finding more ways to score and he can score in bunches. If he can keep his three point shooting touch going, Marble will be a very difficult player to guard because of his length.

10. I think Lisa Bluder's team could be pretty fun to watch. I got to watch a little over half of their game today and Melissa Dixon can shoot the basketball. She got red hot from three and didn't miss on Sunday, connecting on 7-11 from three for 28 total points. When Jamie Printy gets healthy, that gives the Hawkeyes two deadeye shooters from the outside and it will open up the lane for Sam Logic and the post for Morgan Johnson. Depth is going to be an issue, but if Iowa can stay healthy, I think they have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament and if they do, that means a game or two at home.

Bonus Thought:

I think I'm looking forward to seeing Tom Brands on Thursday. The Hawkeye wresting team holds their annual media day on Thursday afternoon and I'll be there for a while covering it. The Tom Brands portion is always one of the more enjoyable times of the year. To say that Brands is intense would be an understatement and I can't wait to see him give someone the evil eye when he gives us a real gem of a quote.


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