Hawkeye recruiting mailbag: How might Iowa football's tailspin affect recruiting?

Matthew Bain
Hawk Central

Welcome, once again, to the Hawkeye recruiting mailbag. Long one today. Lots going on this week.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz looks at the scoreboard while playing Purdue in the second half of an NCAA college football game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018.

So, we'll get straight to the questions. 

How much will Iowa’s drop-off at the end of the season and their unwillingness to explain the (Noah) Fant situation hurt them in the 2019/2020 classes? — @JonnyHawkeye

There are a couple different aspects to consider here. One: Will Iowa's tailspin affect recruiting? Two: Will the Noah Fant situation, and Iowa's handling of it, affect recruiting?

(As our Chad Leistikow pointed out Tuesday, these two go hand-in-hand. We're not talking about Fant as much if Iowa is 8-2 or 9-1.)

Let's start with the tailspin. During one of our "Recruiting Class" Facebook live shows, I remember being asking how losses in marquee games can affect the way targets might see Iowa. My answer then is the same it is now: Individual losses here and there —  like Penn State and Wisconsin — won't do much, as long as the season is still strong. But if the season falls off a cliff? That's a different story.

And the Hawkeyes have just about teetered over the edge after that languid loss to Northwestern.

This is no longer a season where the top 15, Big Ten title game or Rose Bowl feel within reach. It's about pride and avoiding embarrassment now. Doing everything to prevent another 7-5 tally. Or, gulp, 6-6.

Which brings us to recruiting. This season is more of an obstacle for the 2020 and 2021 classes. (Especially 2020 kids, as there's more time to recover with 2021 kids.) Those prospects are still forming opinions of schools. A year where the bottom falls out — and with the Fant situation headlining its conclusion — hurts Iowa here.

It won't, however, do as much with 2019 guys. The Hawkeyes have most of their recruiting class verbally committed. And, for the most part, high school seniors have already developed their relationships with college coaches, gone on their visits and formed their opinions of the schools pursuing them.

Although, if a senior is splitting hairs, of course this season doesn't help.

Iowa tight end Noah Fant (87) reacts after an incomplete pass during a Big Ten Conference football game on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

Now, onto Fant. This whole thing is ... bizarre. Kirk Ferentz is now calling Fant a "specialist." The head coach insists there's no character issue, and that they'll be "a better team if we can get (Fant) the ball."

Fant, a future first-round NFL Draft pick, has said he wants to be on the field more. And that he still trusts his coaches. And that he's not injured.

Then there's this tweet from Willie Fant, Noah Fant's dad, who spent Tuesday retweeting stories about his son's lack of usage with the Hawkeyes.

This is weird and messy, and yes, it can and likely will affect recruiting in some way — more than a poor conclusion to a season. Because, whether accurate or not, the narrative is that Fant is being wronged, that Iowa is misusing the country's most talented tight end and its most talented skill player.

When Fant only plays nine second-half snaps ... that doesn't look good.

High school stars don't want to think they'll be held back in college. If a prospect sees what's happening to Fant and thinks it might happen to him, that will have an impact.

Final thing here: The world isn't ending for Iowa recruiting. Program stability is a huge asset, and the Hawkeyes have arguably the best stability in the country. Iowa is in a better spot than many programs that have had a tendency to underwhelm. Why? Its track record with NFL talent. This season won't change the fact that Iowa is known to produce professional linemen, tight ends, linebackers and defensive backs. That will help minimize any consequence of this season, at least among those positions.

This isn't some "Overreaction Monday" piece saying all is lost for Ferentz because of a bad end to this season and a strange dynamic with a star tight end.

But, among younger prospects, and especially among out-of-region or national-level prospects who didn't grow up around Iowa's program, this can only hurt the Hawkeyes. 

Lorne Bowman is announcing on Friday. Do the Hawks have a legitimate chance of landing him? — @insiderhawk

In case you missed it: Lorne Bowman, a 2020 point guard from Detroit, is announcing his college commitment this Friday. He's considering Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Valparaiso. The Hawkeyes offered during Bowman's unofficial visit in October.

I talked with Bowman for a while on Monday, going in-depth on each of his finalist schools. You can read all that here. As a teaser, here's part of what he said about Iowa:

"(Head coach Fran McCaffery) lets them play their game. They have a really free-flowing offense. They like to shoot a lot of 3s, which is part of my game, and they know how to get to the basket and make plays."

Lorne Bowman Jr. of Orchard Lake St. Mary’s with a drive to the basket during the Purdue Elite Basketball Camp Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018, at the France A. Cordova Recreational Sports Center in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Bowman told me he's "95 percent sure" where he'll commit on Friday.

If you were to ask today where Bowman commits, I'd say Wisconsin. Timing isn't everything in recruiting. But it can mean a lot in certain cases.

Such as this one.

Bowman's only official visit? Wisconsin. Bowman's most recent visit? Also Wisconsin, two weekends ago. He didn't announce he'd be picking a college after his October visit to Iowa. He waited until after he got his offer from the Badgers, which came during his official. Bowman also has the longest relationship with Wisconsin, which first entered the picture during the high school season last March.

Does Iowa have a shot? It probably owns the lion's share of the other 5 percent. 

Who does the attention realistically turn to? — @JoshBlock2

Josh is referring to which 2020 backcourt targets Iowa will focus on if it misses on Bowman. Hawkeye coaches have their eyes on a bunch of junior guards. They likely would have still had an eye on all their targets even if they landed Bowman, as the 2020 class is going to be large; they've already offered 16 2020 guards.

A few names names that come to mind, though:

  • Caleb Love, top-40, four-star St. Louis product
  • Ty Berry, top-120, four-star kid out of Missouri
  • Desmond Polk, top-130, four-star Wisconsin product who's playing this season for La Lumiere
  • Anthony Leal and Trey Galloway, four-star shooting guards out of Indiana
Trey Galloway of Culver Academy steals the ball from Matt Krause of West Lafayette in the basketball regional championship Saturday, March 10, 2018, in LaPorte, Indiana.

Josh mentioned Chicago four-star point guard Tyler Beard on Twitter. I was probably annoying how much I wrote about that kid this summer. His defense and grit stood out, and I thought he'd be a great player to headline Iowa's perimeter defense in the future.

There hasn't been much tying him to Iowa lately, though. He hasn't been in the news much at all, actually. Not since his August visit to Villanova and his South Florida and West Virginia offers in August and September. I haven't heard from his dad since August. Beard did tell 247Sports in September that DePaul was probably recruiting him the hardest, with Iowa also in the picture.

If (Jeff) Brohm goes to Louisville, does the David Bell recruiting landscape change? Do Iowa's chances go up? — @Dial54

If Purdue loses any traction with David Bell, Penn State will be the major benefactor. Not Iowa. This is thought to be a two-dog race between the Boilermakers and Nittany Lions. 

Whether Jeff Brohm's potential departure to Louisville impacts things depends on how much Bell likes Purdue because of Brohm.

No doubt, the head coach is a major aspect of why a prospect is considering a school. Bell speaks highly of the offensive system Purdue runs. He loves the current players. He's impressed with Purdue's 2019 recruiting class. How much those aspects change, if Brohm leaves, would influence where Bell commits.

Jeff Brohm has Purdue a win shy of reaching back-to-back bowl games.

If Brohm does leave, who Purdue hires to replace him could also have a major impact.

So, if Brohm is no longer in West Lafayette, sure: Iowa's chances, Indiana's chances and Ohio State's all probably go up slightly. But I'd still say it'd come down to Purdue and Penn State.

Any update on T.J. Bollers from Clear Creek Amana? — @MPSchwenk

I was talking with Bollers the other night about all the sports he plays. Obviously, it's football in the fall — plus lots of recruiting visits. He'll visit Nebraska this weekend, then Michigan State the following weekend.

In the winter, it's basketball. He'll be Clear Creek Amana's starting power forward this year. At 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, he'll do some damage.

In the spring, it's track and field. He runs the 200-meter, the 2x200 relay and the 4x400 relay. He threw discus last year, and he'll throw discus and shot put this year.

In the summer, it's baseball. He'll be the Clippers' starting catcher. He's thought of as one of this state's best young baseball talents, too.

And on top of all that, Bollers is also a strong student who wants to major in some kind of engineering in college.

So, I joked with him: "You don't like free time, huh?"

"What's free time?" Bollers quipped without missing a beat. He laughed, then continued: "When I commit, I’ll obviously take advantage of my free time. But just staying busy — I don't know, it’s fun. Don’t ever really get bored. There’s nothing to be bored about. Life is an adventure."

Clear Creek Amana's T.J. Bollers (88) talks with a coach on the sideline during a Class 3A varsity football game on Friday evening, Oct. 5, 2018, at Clear Creek Amana Stadium in Tiffin, Iowa.

Bollers, a 2021 defensive end with offers from Iowa, Iowa State, Minnesota and Nebraska, just visited Minnesota last weekend and Northwestern the weekend before. He's got interest from those two, plus Notre Dame, Michigan, Penn State, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, among others.

The newest development? After showing interest very early on, Stanford reached out the other day, and there's early discussion about Bollers potentially going out west for a Cardinal junior day.

Bollers also just finished making his sophomore year film. He hasn't picked up any offers since Iowa State tipped the scales last January and Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska followed suit in May. While his recruitment has still remained busy with visits, things could start picking up more this spring and summer — when teams have wrapped up their 2019 classes and can pay more attention to a high-level 2021 prospect.

Iowa and Iowa State are obviously positioned well here. Bollers, whose father, Trevor, played for the Hawkeyes in the 1990s, last visited Iowa City for the Maryland game. He last visited Ames for the Texas Tech game.

As I've said before, this kid is still a long ways from a decision. And he should be. He's got a lot of recruitment left.

"Right now, I’m not going to downplay any schools because I still have a year or two years before I make a final decision on where I’m going to go," Bollers said. "I’m going to give everybody a chance to make an impact."

(By the way, he said that quote in response to a question about what he thinks watching Iowa's season go off the rails lately. So, Hawkeye fans, that's probably an encouraging answer for you.)

Bollers said he doesn't know if he'll take any winter visits to Iowa or Iowa State.

Why does Iowa State so easily recruit skill players, while at Iowa it's like pulling teeth to get them? — @puffbach

First of all, I don't think it's this black-and-white. The Cyclones have had more recent success at wide receiver. At running back, Iowa and Iowa State have had pretty comparable success recently. You'd have to say Iowa has had better recruiting success at quarterback over the past five years. (Although, yeah, Brock Purdy looks like a hit.)

But, yes, there's a disparity at receiver. That mostly boils down to the type of offense both schools use.

Iowa State runs a spread offense where receivers are focal points. Iowa runs a pro-style offense that relies more on running backs and tight ends as its major pieces. It's easier to appeal to a high-end receiver when you can point to recent examples such as Allen Lazard, Hakeem Butler, Marchie Murdock or Trever Ryen having major impacts. 

That's just not what Iowa can sell right now.

I may have written this before, but if I have, I'll write it again: The whole Iowa/receiver recruiting deal is a bit like the chicken or the egg situation. Do the Hawkeyes need to change their offense in order to attract top-tier receivers? Or does a top-tier receiver need to take a chance on Iowa, be so good that the offense adjusts and, thus, give the Hawkeyes more credibility with high-end receivers?

Matthew Bain covers college football and basketball recruiting for the Des Moines Register. He also helps out with Iowa and Iowa State football and basketball coverage for HawkCentral and Cyclone Insider. Contact him at mbain@dmreg.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.