Iowa football: Ferentz’s four year cycle


Iowa football

Now that the recruiting attrition has ended, Kirk Ferentz looks to begin his four year cycle once again.

In this multi-part series of articles, I will discuss the effects of Kirk Ferentz to Iowa football. I will talk about the good and the bad of  Ferentz. I also will talk about the future of Iowa with Ferentz at the helm and if Iowa is better or worse with him as the coach in the future. 

Read the first part of the series here in Iowa football: Ferentz is best player developer in NCAA

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has been criticized a lot lately but no one can dispute that Iowa football would ever be as big as it is now without Ferentz. Kirk Ferentz IS Iowa football.

One of the main criticisms of Kirk Ferentz is that he hasn’t had a top ten team since 2009. In fact, he hasn’t had a team ranked at the end of the season since then either. When his recent results are compared to his massive contract they falter way short.

But then you look at his years before that. He started off badly with a combined 4-19 in his first two seasons. Then he broke through with a 7-5 season. After that Iowa became a national contender with three straight top ten appearances from 2002 to 2004. His teams faltered for three years after that before coming back strong from 2008 to 2010, highlighted by an Orange Bowl win in 2009. Since then he has had some OK years in 2011 and 2013 with a disastrous 2012 campaign where they went 4-8.

Do you notice a bit of a pattern? Iowa has two or three alright years, highlighted by a couple years of really good football. I am going to call this the four year cycle and there will be a lot of talk about it that so get used to it. First here is some background about what is needed in the cycle:

We have gone over how Iowa recruits overlooked players and develops them. That developing takes time; it doesn’t happen overnight. Ferentz has even said that it is typically in a players’ 2nd or 3rd year that they make the most progress and come into their own as football players. Because of this process, the players need time. They need tons of practice time before they are ready for the field. This is probably the most important part of the four year cycle.

Practice is good and all but nothing gets you better than actual game time. Getting minutes on the field is a very important part of developing a player. That’s why people always bring up experience when they talk about how good a team will be. This is also an important part of the four year cycle.

This is when we will actually talk about the four year cycle. Year one in this cycle is when the starters are predominantly sophomores and juniors. There are some freshman and seniors sprinkled in the lineup, but they are small compared to the sophomores and juniors. The starters have spent enough time with Ferentz to know the system and to have progressed enough to play meaningful action. This is a type of year when Iowa goes 7-5 or 8-4. Think of 2008 when Ricky Stanzi was a sophomore and Pat Angerer was a junior.

Then, the next two years are Iowa’s impact years. In year two the sophomores and juniors that were starting in the first year are juniors and seniors. Some seniors have left but this team returns most of its starters. Most of these players have at least seen a season of extensive playing time and have had enough time in the system to be great players. This is like 2009, where Iowa won the Orange Bowl. This team is normally contending for a BCS bowl.

The third year is typically successful as long as the senior losses weren’t too big as the sophomores enter their third year of starting experience. That translates to talent, like in 2010 when Iowa had four players that were first team all-Big-Ten and seven that were second team. This team can also contend for a BCS bowl (year 2004), but they can also falter if the losses were too big to overcome (see year 2010).

The 4th year is sort of an enigma. The cycle can just start all over again with a bunch of sophomore and juniors starting, replacing the graduating seniors or it can go in a completely different direction. What can happen is the lineup can be composed of a lot of upperclassmen that have been biding their time to play. They have spent a lot of time being coached so they are skilled players, but most lack experience so they don’t play as well as they could. This is another middling year for the Hawkeyes as they normally get around seven wins.

Then, after the fourth year, things will come back into order and the cycle will begin once again. The sophomores and juniors will dominate the starting lineup it’s back to square one. This is Kirk Ferentz’s pattern, this is his cycle.

Recruiting classes for the Hawkeyes typically model this pattern too. Iowa brings in a couple of 21-25 player classes then a 16-18 class after that.

The cycle worked very well for Kirk Ferentz from 2001-2010 but after that the wheels came off. The number one culprit: attrition.

When you recruit players based on potential, you take chances. Iowa does that with two stars, and sometimes those chances don’t pan out. But there is strength in numbers, so if Iowa has a recruiting class of 22 and half of them don’t pan out, that’s fine, Iowa has other recruiting classes to lean on. It is when Iowa has recruits not pan out AND loses recruits that they end up in trouble.

Iowa lost over half of their 2008 recruiting class to transfers, suspensions, and injuries. That left Iowa with just 12 players to try turn into Big Ten starters. Iowa only succeeded with six of those players, Steve Bigach, Shaun Prater, Riley Reiff, Joe Gaglione, James Vandenberg, and James Ferentz. That is 6 out of 25 players in a class, with only three being actual all-Big Ten players. That is absurdly low. This was one of Iowa’s big recruiting classes, a class that Iowa depended on. After seeing that no one should be too surprised at Iowa’s misfortune in the 2012 season as Iowa had to rely on underclassmen only.

The year after that, they lost 9 players out of 19. More than one third of the players left from the 2010 class. In those three years, Iowa lost 45% of their incoming recruits. In a developing system like Iowa, they can’t have those numbers. They don’t reload like Alabama or Ohio State. Every loss hurts Iowa, especially if injuries add up like they did in 2012.

This is why I think that the last couple seasons have been aberrations from the cycle. With most of the latest classes staying so far, it looks like Iowa is back where Ferentz wants it. It looks like Iowa is back in its cycle and the exciting part is that it looks like this is possibly year two or three in the cycle. Iowa may have some big things coming from them and I am excited to see where it will lead to.

  • Bob

    I don’t see what’s so unique about this “cycle” for Iowa. Every team in the country has to deal with players leaving and some getting more time on the field at a younger/older age. Plus, of course Iowa will have a good year this year – their schedule is one of the easiest in the power five conferences.

  • Thomas

    The reason we have 4 year cycles is because we play too conservatively, recruits don’t want to go to a school where the goal is to get ahead and sit on the lead. If Iowa wants to get more recruits we need to dominate whenever we can run the points up and get more people onto the field getting playing time. Why go to Iowa when as a 3 or 4 star you can go elsewhere and get double the playtime as a freshman or a sophomore.