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In his 37 years of tracking college football recruiting, Tom Lemming has yet to discover anything that attracts prospects more than winning.
Sure, the blue-chippers want a school with fancy facilities and a track record of sending players to the NFL, too.
“But winning is the thing that tops it all,” Lemming said. “When you win, everything else kind of follows automatically — big games, bowl games and a lot of publicity. That’s what the kids want.
“Everybody always talks a great game about academics, but you don’t see too many of them don’t going to Harvard.”
Iowa is 6-0 for the second time in 30 seasons and up to No. 17 in the national rankings heading into Saturday’s clash at Northwestern (5-1). The Hawkeyes stamped themselves bowl eligible last week and each victory from here on out moves them onto a higher-profile postseason destination.
What that means for recruiting, though, is hard to quantify.
Iowa landed commitments from 23 high school seniors before kicking off the season. The Hawkeyes have just two scholarship vacancies left to fill for 2016.
“There’s a couple positions we’ve got our eye on,” Iowa recruiting coordinator Seth Wallace said. “But at the same time, we’re obviously still making sure we keep our options open on our end and don’t pigeonhole ourselves.”
In recent weeks, the Hawkeyes have been connected primarily to offensive tackles and defensive backs. They’re in the running for South Dakota standout offensive lineman Matt Farniok, Michigan offensive tackle Alaric Jackson and Florida cornerback K.J. Sails, all three-star prospects, according to Rivals.com.
Winning certainly isn’t hurting Iowa’s case with any of the above.
“That matters a lot,” said Sails, who has the Hawkeyes in his top three, along with Wisconsin and Cincinnati. “I’m a competitive person. I love to win. … They’ve moved up (my list since the start of the season.)”
Jackson, a 6-foot-7, 285-pound tackle from Detroit, has Iowa in his top four, along with Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Farniok, whose brother, Tom, played at Iowa State, hasn’t tipped his hand since listing Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan State and Florida State as his top four in August.
“There’s some natural things you could say match up with him (and Iowa),” Rivals.com Midwest analyst Josh Helmholdt said. “He just seems to have a really strong vibe with that program, with the coaches and I fully expect come decision time, they’re going to be one of the last teams he’s thinking about.”
Wallace said the Hawkeyes are “extremely comfortable” with the 2016 group they’ve assembled to this point.
Iowa’s class is currently ranked 32nd nationally by Rivals. It includes 15 three-star prospects. Based on the program’s track record under coach Kirk Ferentz, Helmholdt anticipates several Hawkeye recruits could trend upward when Rivals updates its rankings after the high school season.
“In general, more guys rise than fall (nationally),” he said. “I think that’s even been accentuated, in my experience, with Kirk Ferentz-recruited players. That shows me do a good job of evaluating talent early.”
Those with a finger on the industry pulse say a recruiting windfall typically comes a year after an on-field surge. Most of the top prospects have already committed and the ones who haven’t already have a short list of schools in mind.
In Iowa’s case, that might not be a bad thing with limited space left for 2016 and a burgeoning in-state crop coming in 2017.
“I think it’s going to give them another (push) for 2017,” Lemming said. “There’s been some negative stuff about Iowa, (mostly) from their own fans in the last year. Now that they’re 6-0 and the fans have jumped on the bandwagon, everything seems to be positive right now.”