Leistikow: November success can reverse Iowa's recruiting slide
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Why should a football recruit pick Iowa?
I asked a current Dick Butkus Award semifinalist and the reigning Jim Thorpe Award winner Tuesday.
“Just a great tradition here. Amazing coaches. Amazing family,” Hawkeye linebacker Josey Jewell said. “… There’s no individuals, it’s all a team. Everybody loves everybody here. It’s just a great place to be.”
All-America cornerback Desmond King echoed those sentiments.
“What got me to come here,” he said, “was the family environment.”
Why ask about recruiting on Penn State game week?
Well, it’s topical now — and ties together with the importance of this week’s Big Ten Conference game (more on that later).
A quick review: The Hawkeyes, fresh off a 12-2 season, top-10 national finish and completion of a state-of-the-art training facility, were one of the summer’s top recruiting flavors. But last week, that shine began to wear off with a third straight home loss and the day-later decommitment of four-star Texas running back Eno Benjamin.
Benjamin pulled Iowa’s no-visits-elsewhere-once-committed policy from niche recruiting sites into the media spotlight after he reportedly took low-key official visits to Missouri and Arizona State, prompting Iowa to pull Benjamin’s scholarship offer.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz came out swinging on the recruiting topic during a short-notice press conference last week, saying: “You can’t lose something you never had.”
Current Hawkeye Parker Hesse defended the policy his coach and program stands for Tuesday.
“Coach Ferentz is a man of his word,” the sophomore defensive end said. “That’s something he takes pride in. That’s just part of who he is. It doesn’t surprise me that he expects that of the people he associates himself with.”
It looks like another relationship with a four-star “commitment” has been damaged beyond repair. According to HawkeyeReport.com, Texas cornerback Chevin Calloway — who took an official visit to Nebraska and has one scheduled at Arkansas — could make his decommitment official from Iowa this weekend.
Benjamin’s decommitment dropped Iowa’s Rivals national ranking from No. 25 to No. 31, as of Tuesday. Calloway’s would likely sink it to the No. 40 range, Hawkeye Report publisher Tom Kakert estimated.
In other words, with three (long) months to go until National Signing Day, the Hawkeyes are regressing into their usual recruiting orbit — for those that care about recruiting rankings. (Iowa says it doesn’t.)
While Benjamin and Calloway aren’t likely to return to the fold, there’s one thing Ferentz’s Hawkeyes can do to revive their recruiting brand without touching a cell phone or walking into a high school hallway.
Beat No. 23 Penn State on Saturday.
And win a few more times, too. Knocking off either No. 2 Michigan or No. 10 Nebraska and a prestigious bowl berth would do wonders to close the sales with some of Iowa’s top recruiting targets.
Ferentz understands that, but also prefers to deal in reality — with the guys currently sweating inside Chris Doyle’s weight room and on the turf practice fields.
“Our seniors only get this season. This is it for them, and that's the most important thing. … So that's really what's paramount in my thinking,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “The better you do, sure, it helps recruiting. No question.”
Notice what Jewell and King didn't say when I asked them, "Why Iowa?"
Right now, that's the biggest difference between unranked Iowa's sales pitch on July 1 vs. the one it can credibly make on Nov. 1.
At this time a year ago, Iowa was ranked No. 9 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. Tuesday, Iowa unsurprisingly wasn't mentioned.
The 5-3 Hawkeyes probably can't get back to that top-10 level even by winning out, but they still can accomplish one of their legacy goals: To leave their jersey in a better place.
No doubt, this is a critical month for Iowa's seniors ... and perhaps for its next wave of prospects and the program's future.
"Whether that’s winning the next four or losing one here or there," senior quarterback C.J. Beathard said, "we’ve got to play our best football.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.