On the eve of the Big Ten championship game, the topic of the pregame news conference took a turn toward recruiting.
More specific, it shifted to star rankings and how Iowa remains unwavering in its approach to finding talent, even in times when the recruiting world tells the Hawkeyes their classes don’t match up to some of their Big Ten brethren.
“Part of it is circumstance,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “We can’t always get in with all the four- and five-star recruits. We don’t get a lot of first-round draft picks at our place. That’s kind of the reality. We have to do a better job of identifying the guys that aren’t the obvious players. Tricky to do. Your batting percentage might not be that high. Common sense would tell you that.”
The Hawkeyes are slugging at a higher clip these days after turning a largely unheralded bunch into a Rose Bowl team.
Recruiting is no simple task for their New Year’s Day opponent, either. Take roughly 85 percent of the top 100 players in the country and cross them off Stanford’s list at the start. They likely won’t meet the school’s stringent academic standards.
Like the Hawkeyes, the Cardinal have to search harder than some of their Pacific-12 Conference counterparts.
“Stanford’s approach is pretty simple,” said Andy Drukarev, the publisher of Rivals.com-operated CardinalSportsReport.com. “They look at the transcripts first and that eliminates the majority of the top recruits and then they go from there.”
The Rose Bowl marks the first football meeting between Iowa and Stanford. The two programs infrequently cross paths on the recruiting trail.
In 2010, the Hawkeyes made a push to land Remound Wright, a four-star running back ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 1 player in Indiana. He visited Iowa and spent time chatting with Ferentz in the Iowa coach’s office, but ultimately wound up at Stanford. He leads the Cardinal in touchdowns this season with 15.
Austin Blythe went through a similar routine at Stanford. He took an unofficial visit, spent time with prospects from around the country and had a couple sit-down discussions in the office of then-coach Jim Harbaugh. But the Williamsburg native picked the Hawkeyes over the Cardinal, as did Matt Nelson, an Iowa reserve defensive end from Cedar Rapids.
Oftentimes Stanford’s toughest opponent in recruiting is the home state school. Blythe and Nelson are two examples of that.
The Cardinal, though, win their share of battles for high-profile players. With the exception of 2013, when Stanford signed just 12 players, the Cardinal have regularly occupied a space in the top 30 on signing day since 2009. They’ve done so despite a change in head coaches — David Shaw replaced Harbaugh after the 2010 season — and a radical shift in recruiting philosophy.
“Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting approach, I don’t know if there’s one word to sum it up, but … it was kind of a messy situation because he’d have 200 offers out and you could see some of the problems when there’s a limited pool of academic kids,” Drukarev said. “You’d have some situations where a good percentage of those kids wouldn’t have the grades and then they’d play dominoes to figure out who would be in the class and who wouldn’t.
“On one hand, aggressive recruiting can pay dividends and Jim Harbaugh rebuilt Stanford’s program. He was a godsend for the Cardinal. On the other hand, messy, to a certain extent is a way to describe it. I don’t think Stanford necessarily liked the way things played out.”
Shaw has gone to the other extreme with a more meticulous approach. In a story that ran on Drukarev’s site in February, Shaw said he wants “Stanford offers to be real.” He said his program isn’t dangling an offer between multiple players under the guise that it’s valid only to the first player to accept.
“We are slow and methodical,” Shaw told Drukarev. “And some recruits and some parents don’t understand that. Because there have been guys, there are guys on our team right now, that we didn’t offer early, that we offered late, and it was a hurdle for us to get over. And what I typically say is, ‘I’m not going to offer you a scholarship until I know that I have that scholarship for you.' Now, if somebody offered you three months before and you want to hold that against us, OK, that’s fine. But is that going to be a decision-maker for you?
“Does it matter that you meet your wife a month later than you thought you should have? It doesn’t matter. Half this recruiting stuff is crap. It’s all crap. It’s all flashing lights, it’s all emotion. When it comes down to it … here’s what Stanford has to offer. Does it fight what you’re looking for? We cut through all the other stuff.”
HOW THEY GOT HERE
WR — Tevaun Smith — Canada native attended a prep school in Connecticut and picked up a three-star rating and offers from Connecticut and Temple.
LT — Boone Myers —Webster City native joined the program in 2013 as a walk-on.
LG — Sean Welsh — Three-star prospect from Ohio picked up more than a dozen FBS offers, including Miami (Fla.), West Virginia, Indiana and Louisville.
C — Austin Blythe — Four-star prospect from Williamsburg was ranked the No. 7 offensive guard nationally by Rivals.com in 2011. Selected the Hawkeyes over offers from Stanford, Kansas State and Wisconsin.
RG — Jordan Walsh — Illinois native was ranked the No. 10 offensive guard prospect in the 2011 class. The four-star recruit picked the Hawkeyes over at least 15 other Power 5 offers, including USC, Michigan, Michigan State and Tennessee.
RT — Cole Croston — Sergeant Bluff native joined the program in 2012 as a walk-on.
TE — Henry Krieger Coble — Three-star tight end from Mount Pleasant picked Iowa over Iowa State.
QB — C.J. Beathard — Three-star prospect originally committed to Mississippi before the Rebels went through a coaching change. Also had offers from Tulane and SMU.
RB — Jordan Canzeri — Two-star tailback from New York picked Iowa over Villanova, Connecticut and Indiana.
FB — Macon Plewa — Wisconsin native joined the program in 2011 as a walk-on.
WR — Matt VandeBerg —Two-star receiver from South Dakota had no other major college offers.
DE — Nate Meier — Led Fremont-Mills of Tabor to the 2011 8-player state championship before Iowa extended a late scholarship offer. Picked the Hawkeyes over Northern Iowa and South Dakota.
DT —Jaleel Johnson — The most highly-recruited starter on the Iowa defense was a four-star prospect coming out of high school in Illinois. Selected Iowa over offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Arizona and others.
DT — Nathan Bazata — Eight-player standout from Nebraska earned three-star status coming out of high school. Picked Iowa over South Dakota State.
DE — Parker Hesse — Played quarterback and linebacker for a Waukon team that reached the Class 2A title game when he was a senior. Two-star prospect had no other FBS offers.
LB —Ben Niemann — Two-star athlete originally committed to play receiver at Northern Illinois before Iowa convinced him to play linebacker.
LB — Josey Jewell — The Decorah native was a two-star prospect and a late addition to Iowa’s 2013 class. The Hawkeyes were the only FBS program to offer him a scholarship.
LB — Cole Fisher — Three-star linebacker from Omaha picked Iowa over Kansas.
CB — Desmond King — Three-star cornerback from Detroit flipped from Ball State to Iowa just before signing day in 2013. Also held offers from Indiana, Wisconsin and several other MAC programs.
FS — Jordan Lomax —Three-star prospect from Maryland picked the Hawkeyes over offers from Stanford, Maryland, Louisville and Virginia.
SS — Miles Taylor —Three-star defensive back visited Iowa just before signing day in 2014 and flipped from Georgia Tech to the Hawkeyes.
CB — Greg Mabin — Florida native was a three-star receiver when he signed with Iowa in 2012. Picked the Hawkeyes over Tulane and Jacksonville State.
WR — Michael Rector — Three-star (’12) from Tacoma, Wash. Picked Stanford over Washington
TE — Austin Hooper — Three-star (’13) from Concord, Calif. Selected Stanford over offers from nearly 20 other FBS programs, including Arizona, Arizona State, California, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Oregon.
LT — Kyle Murphy — Five-star (’12) from San Clemente, Calif. Picked Stanford over nearly two dozen other FBS offers, including Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Notre Dame, Michigan, Oklahoma, USC. Ranked the No. 19 overall player in the 2012 class and No. 3 offensive tackle by Rivals.com.
LG — Joshua Garnett — Four-star (’12) from Puyallup, Wash. Selected Stanford over at least 14 other Power 5 conference offers, including Auburn, Miami (Fla.), Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon and USC. Ranked No. 33 overall player nationally in 2012 class and No. 2 offensive guard.
C — Graham Shuler — Four-star (’12) from Brentwood, Tenn. Ranked No. 21 offensive tackle nationally. Picked Stanford over a list of offers that included Auburn, Duke, Louisville, Mississippi State, Purdue and Vanderbilt.
RG — Johnny Caspers — Three-star (’12) from Glen Ellyn, Ill. Picked Stanford over offers from Arizona and five MAC schools.
RT — Casey Tucker — Four-star (’14) from Chandler, Ariz. Ranked No. 74 overall player and No. 5 offensive tackle nationally by Rivals.com. Selected Stanford over nearly 20 other major college offers, including Arizona, Arizona State, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, UCLA and USC.
TE — Dalton Schultz — Four-star (’14) from South Jordan, Utah. Ranked No. 122 overall prospect nationally and the No. 3 tight end. Collected at least 20 scholarships, including offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Florida, Notre Dame, Oklahoma Tennessee, UCLA, USC.
WR — Devon Cajuste — Three-star (’11) from Flushing, N.Y. Picked Stanford over offers from Boston College, Connecticut, Maryland, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers and Syracuse.
QB — Kevin Hogan — Three-star (’11) from Washington, D.C. Picked Stanford over offers from Boston College, Clemson, Maryland, New Mexico, Rutgers, Vanderbilt and Virginia. Ranked No. 15 pro-style QB nationally by Rivals.com.
RB — Christian McCaffrey — Four-star (’14) from Highlands Ranch, Colo. Ranked the No. 77 overall player nationally and the No. 3 all-purpose back by Rivals.com. The son of former NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey picked his father’s alma mater over 20 other major college offers, including Florida State, Iowa, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oregon.
FB — Chris Harrell — Joined the program in 2012 as a walk-on after playing offensive tackle in high school.
DE — Brennan Scarlett — Four-star (’11) from Portland, Ore. Originally signed with California. Joined the Cardinal this season as a graduate transfer.
DT — Solomon Thomas — Four-star (’14) from Coppell, Texas. Ranked the No. 37 player nationally in the 2014 class and the No. 3 strong-side defensive end by Rivals.com. Picked up nearly 25 major college offers, including Alabama, Iowa, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma.
DE — Aziz Shittu — Five-star (’12), Atwater, Calif. Ranked the No. 27 player nationally in the 2012 class and the No. 3 strong-side defensive end. Held at least two dozen other offers, including Auburn, Florida, Michigan, Penn State, Texas A&M and USC.
LB — Peter Kalambayi — Four-star (’13) from Matthews, N.C. Ranked the No. 97 prospect in the country as a senior and the No. 7 outside linebacker. Picked Stanford from a scholarship offer list that included nearly 25 other schools, including Florida, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon and Tennessee.
LB — Blake Martinez — Three-star (’12), Oro Valley, Ariz. Picked Stanford over Boise State, Oregon State and San Jose State.
LB — Kevin Palma — Three-star (’13) from Tulare, Calif. Picked up offers from Colorado, Colorado State, Fresno State, Iowa State, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon State, San Diego State, UCLA, Utah State.
LB — Kevin Anderson — Three-star (’11) from Palo Alto, Calif. Committed to his hometown school during the spring of his junior year in high school.
CB — Alijah Holder — Three-star (’14) from Oceanside, Calif. Picked Stanford over offers from Arizona, BYU, Idaho, Nevada, San Diego State, Washington State and Yale.
FS — Kodi Whitfield — Four-star (’12), Los Angeles. Picked Stanford over offers from Arizona State, Boise State, Boston College, Colorado, Duke, Northwestern, UCLA and Washington.
SS — Dallas Lloyd — Three-star (’09) from Pleasant Grove, Utah. Ranked the No. 17 dual-threat quarterback in high school. Joined the Cardinal in 2009 after spending two years on a Mormon mission.
CB — Alameen Murphy — Three-star (’14) from Fort Washington, Md. Picked up offers from Arizona, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, Rutgers, Syracuse, Wake Forest and others.
NB — Quenton Meeks — Four-star (’15) from San Diego; Picked Stanford from an offer list that included Arizona State, California, Oregon State, UCLA, Utah, Washington and Washington State.