Iowa CITY, Iowa - Kirk Ferentz long has described his program as one steeped in player development. The Iowa head coach has enjoyed success with recruiting classes ranked, for the most part, in the middle to the back of the Big Ten pack.
The Hawkeyes will get the opportunity to prove the experts wrong again. Their 21-member, 2013 Class is rated ninth in the conference by Scout.com. They're one of only two schools (Minnesota) to not sign a four- or five-star recruit in the group. Fifteen of their signees were three-stars.
Iowa inked three, four-star recruits last year and the class was rated fourth in the Big Ten by Scout.com. in 2011, it ranked third in the conference with four, four-star commitments. Two, four-star recruits - David Kenney (Indiana) and Delano Hill (Michigan) - verbally committed in this cycle before signing elsewhere.
The Hawkeyes' drop-off this February could be a direct result of the decline in on-field production. They're a combined 11-14 (6-10 Big Ten) the last two seasons, including a 4-8 mark in 2012.
With the recruiting clock speeding up every year and players verbally committing earlier, it will interesting to see if Iowa's struggles affect recruiting in '14. Perhaps an opportunity at early playing time can trump a winning percentage south of .500 and no bowl game. Time will tell.
Iowa is off to a good start with in-state pledges Ross Pierschbacher, a four-star, and Jay Scheel in '14. The challenge now will be to extend that success beyond the state borders.
Ferentz and company have time to make it happen. The '14s sign national letters of intent a year from now.
Wednesday is about the '13 class. There's talent here. And if Iowa wants to turn things around, they'll need significant contributions from this group.
Let's take a closer look at these guys:
The Theme - When Greg Davis said he needed to address speed last spring, the newly-hired offensive coordinator foreshadowed what would highlight this class. The Hawkeyes signed five wide receivers, three of which - Damond Powell (Video), Andre Harris (Video) and Derrick Mitchell (Video) - are guys that can line up in the slot and make people miss after grabbing short passes. Running backs Jonathan Parker (Video) and Akrum Wadley (Video)also are likely to be split out in the passing game to address what obviously was lacking on the roster last season as it relates to what Davis likes to do.
Best Story - Division I scholarships don't fall into the laps of athletes. They work hard. The majority are good success stories.
The one that stands out to me in this class is that of Akrum Wadley. He's escaping the crime-ridden streets of Newark to realize a dream of playing major college football. He picked up an Iowa offer last week. Read about it here.
You want to talk about flying under the radar, that's the only article written about him on the Scout.com network. That's hard to do these days with the amount of coverage dedicated to recruiting.
Instant Impact - What player will make the biggest mark early in his career? It's always a tough call but that's why I get paid the big bucks (sarcasm).
No true freshman impacted last season. We could say that Sean Draper, Greg Garmon, Kevin Buford, Drew Ott and Connor Kornbrath contributed.
Chances are good that incoming players will play a larger role this season than did their counterparts last fall. Again, it seems like Davis is looking for receivers to fit his system.
With that in mind, I will go with JUCO wide receiver Damond Powell. He gets two years to make his mark at the D-I level and his time is now or never.
End Game - While I believe Powell will make his presence felt first, I think Colin Goebel (Video)will end up being the top player in the class over the long haul. Illinois was loaded with top offensive linemen in '13, so the Naperville product was overshadowed. The 6-foot-4, 275-pounder is a nice combination of size, skill and athleticism, bringing to mind recent Hawkeye OL signee Austin Blythe. There's a good chance you'll see them playing together at some point, and it could be sooner rather than later.
The Sleeper - Everyone likes to predict who will be the diamond in the rough. There's a nice group from which to pick in this year's Iowa class.
I'm going to go with an Iowa kid, Ike Boettger (Video). The state has a knack for producing corn and solid tight ends. The 6-5, 220-pounder from Cedar Falls excels at multiple sports and his athleticism and toughness will play well at the position.
The Sleeper II - This class is screaming for me to pick a second sleeper. So, I will.
Like Powell, Andre Harris is the type of receiver that can make defenders miss in the open field. He comes from a successful Kirkwood High program in St. Louis.
The 5-foot-11, 160-pound Harris verbally committed to Iowa in June, around the same time other higher-profile recruits pledged to the program. Illinois first offered him a scholarship but his early choice of the Hawkeyes kept other potential opportunities away during a productive senior season.