Newark, N.J., native Akrum Wadley discusses Iowa’s bid for the Pinstripe Bowl and his surprising NFL fandom.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — We know Iowa is headed to New York City to face Boston College in the Dec. 27 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
We know that the primary storyline for the 7-5 Hawkeyes is ending a five-game bowl losing streak.
We know the Eagles’ defensive coordinator is Jim Reid, the former Iowa linebackers coach who began the grooming process of Josey Jewell, Ben Niemann and Bo Bower.
But what about some of the other subplots for the Hawkeyes this December?
Here are nine of them. (Why nine? Because is there any better number for a game being played on a baseball field?)
Akrum’s fitting finish
Akrum Wadley returned to Iowa instead of turning pro for his senior season. The Newark, New Jersey, native now gets to play his final game as a Hawkeye near home.
The Hawkeye program’s first back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher since Fred Russell in 2002 and 2003 says he’ll have lots of supportive family in attendance.
“Some of my aunties — one of them is scared to fly, another wouldn’t drive (to Iowa),” Wadley said. “I know they all going to be at this game. This is my last game as a Hawkeye. It’s going to be a real opportunity.”
Wadley (5-foot-11, 195 pounds) has a chance to statistically surpass one of Iowa’s all-time great running backs, Tavian Banks. Wadley (2,784 rushing yards, 34 total touchdowns) needs 193 rushing yards to match Banks’ No. 4-in-school-history career total of 2,977 and is two touchdowns shy of Banks’ school record of 36.
His goal in the Bronx? “End the season with my best performance.”
Kirk Ferentz has quietly and steadily gotten to within one win of Hall of Fame coach Hayden Fry’s school-record 143 wins at Iowa.
Ferentz enters the Boston College matchup with a 142-97 mark in 19 seasons. Fry, Ferentz’s predecessor, went 143-89-6 in his 20 seasons here.
It’s a milestone that Ferentz, 62, was recently made aware of. Obviously, he’ll surpass Fry at some point; he’s signed at Iowa through the 2025 season.
But he deflected the importance behind a possible 143rd win.
“You know, I'd like to send all of our seniors out with a win, first and foremost,” Ferentz said. “That's one of many benefits of winning the bowl game. That's a good starting point right there.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has 142 career wins at the school, one shy of tying Hayden Fry. The Hawkeyes play in the Dec. 27 Pinstripe Bowl.
How many Hawk fans?
It’ll be interesting to see how much black-and-gold will show up inside Yankee Stadium. The university’s ticket allotment is 7,500, with prices ranging from $55 (bleachers) to $140 (field level).
Iowa athletics director Gary Barta touted some 20,000 alums within a short drive to New York. The weather (expect temperatures to be in the mid-30s), the timing of Christmas and the expense of the Big Apple — it’s tough finding a one-bed hotel room in Manhattan for under $250 a night — present a challenge that Barta understands.
In the Pinstripe’s seven-year history, attendance has ranged from 37,218 (in 2015 for Indiana-Duke) to 49,012 (in 2014 for Penn State-Boston College).
Barta was confident game attendance would top 37,000.
“I don't know if many of our fans have been there during the holidays,” Barta said. “It's amazing, with the Rockefeller Center, the 9/11 Museum — a chance to reflect back on that. It's just a great place to be.”
Iowa is headed to the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City.
BC’s 240-pound running back
The Hawkeyes have faced their share of excellent running backs this year, from Iowa State’s David Montgomery to Penn State’s Saquon Barkley to Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins to Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor.
They’ll face another in Eagles true freshman AJ Dillon.
The Atlantic Coast Conference newcomer of the year is a tremendous runner with a lot of size — 6-foot, 240 pounds — who racked up 1,432 yards on 268 carries, a 5.3 average.
BC's strong 5-1 finish correlates with more Dillon usage. He racked up 1,099 yards and 11 touchdowns in those six games. He'll certainly test an Iowa run defense that has allowed 4.14 yards per carry, which would be the program's second-highest season average since 2000.
The quest for 4.0
On the other side of the ball, it might come as a surprise that the typically-stingy Eagles have one of the ACC's worst rush defenses. They are allowing 4.99 yards per carry and nearly 200 rushing yards a game.
The Hawkeyes have been hit-or-miss when trying to run. But they’re coming off their best run-game performance of the season in a 56-14 win at Nebraska, in which they rushed 47 times for 313 yards. That increased Iowa’s per-carry season average from 3.53 to 3.87.
There would be something satisfying about getting that number to 4.0 by season’s end. Iowa hasn’t rushed for less than 4.0 per carry for a season since going 4-8 in 2012, when the number was 3.65.
Iowa’s center James Daniels discusses the Hawkeyes' second-half domination of Nebraska.
While we know non-playoff bowl games have a ceremonial bent to them, the statistics do count.
And beyond the aforementioned pursuits of Wadley, there are some other notable milestones within reach:
Quarterback Nate Stanley is two touchdown passes away from tying Chuck Long’s single-season record of 27 in 1985. And with 162 passing yards, the true sophomore would become just the ninth different Hawkeye to reach 2,500 for a season.
Jewell (426 career tackles) needs nine tackles to tie Brad Quast for No. 4 in school history. Jewell averages 11.4 a game and Boston College averages 47.9 rushing attempts a game. The Big Ten defensive player of the year should get there.
Wide receiver Matt VandeBerg needs two receptions to tie Ed Hinkel (135) for ninth-most in school history. By taking a snap in New York, VandeBerg will become Iowa’s all-time leader in games played with 54.
Big Ten defensive back of the year Josh Jackson needs one interception to tie the school record of eight in a season shared by Desmond King (2015), Lou King (1981) and Nile Kinnick (1939).
The Iowa cornerback talks about his bowl opponent, extra practices and a first visit to New York City.
For the first time, there’s a National Signing Day for high-school prospects during bowl preparation.
The first early-signing day since new NCAA legislation was enacted is Dec. 20, and the Hawkeyes expect all 14 current verbal commitments to sign then.
This new December wrinkle also means there might be more attrition coming sooner rather than later. Iowa has been actively pursuing quarterback options in the Class of 2018. Redshirt junior backup Tyler Wiegers would have the option to leave as a graduate transfer, and it’s also worth noting that redshirt sophomore third-teamer Ryan Boyle didn’t travel to Nebraska.
The Hawkeyes also hope to add Iowa Western Community College defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon to the ranks soon. The Kenosha, Wisconsin product signed with Iowa as part of the Class of 2017 but fell short academically before heading to Council Bluffs (where he is listed at 6-4, 305) for his freshman season. He has an offer from Alabama.
As always in recruiting, there’s probably a little drama still ahead.
Daviyon Nixon discusses excitement for Iowa, hectic period after Alabama offer.
A rare bowl favorite
Ferentz remarked Sunday that “typically, we’re not favored in bowl games.”
He’s right. In 12 of his previous 14 as Iowa’s coach, he’s brought a Vegas underdog into a bowl game.
But if the current line holds, he’ll be presiding over a favorite. The Hawkeyes opened Monday as a 3-point choice against BC, with the over/under point total set at 46½.
According to Oddshark.com’s database, Iowa is 1-1 as a bowl favorite under Ferentz — losing to Florida in the 2006 Outback Bowl and beating South Carolina in the 2009 Outback.
For what it’s worth, the Eagles seem excited to be playing in New York, which is just over 200 miles from their campus. Motivation is always a factor in bowl-game results.
“If you asked our kids … ‘Where do you want to be?’ They'd say we want to be in New York and play in the Pinstripe Bowl,” BC coach Steve Addazio said. “I don't know that there's anything better than being in New York that time of year.”
Stay or go pro?
The final elephant in the Hawkeye locker room is whether Jackson or any other juniors decide to turn pro in the hours or days after the game.
Jackson (6-1, 192) will likely get a grade this month from the NFL's College Advisory Committee. Players are either given a first- or second-round evaluation or a "stay in school" recommendation (third round or later).
Ferentz mentioned "a couple guys that have some thinking to do," which probably means Jackson and James Daniels, a talented true junior center who is just 20 years old.
Jackson, though, is the more likely candidate to leave early. He's on track to graduate in May. And it's easy to find the Jim Thorpe Award finalist in the first round of many 2018 mock NFL Drafts.
"It's like recruiting," Ferentz said. "I always tell recruits: 'It's not my job to decide what's best for you, because how the heck would I know? I think that, ultimately, has got to be up to the individual, and we don't want anybody staying here if they are not (all in with) both feet in the ground.'"
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.