Decorah-native Josey Jewell was that guy — a two-star recruit among a who's who of Big Ten linebackers like Ohio State's Raekown McMillan, Michigan State's Riley Bullough, Northwestern's Anthony Walker Jr. and Wisconsin's Vince Biegel.
On Monday, it was announced that Jewell was one of five finalists for the prestigious Butkus Award, given to the nation's top college linebacker. He was the lone Big Ten representative on the list.
Despite missing almost all of Iowa's opener against Miami of Ohio because of a targeting penalty on the game's first punt return, Jewell ranks second in the Big Ten in tackles, with 105. He's been the heart and soul of a Hawkeye defense that has been inconsistent, but in the past two weeks has held Michigan (201) and Illinois (198) to under 400 yards combined.
The other four finalists are from the Southeastern Conference: LSU's Kendall Beckwith, Vanderbilt's Zach Cunningham, Florida's Jarrad Davis and Alabama's Reuben Foster.
"He’s just one of those guys," Ferentz said after Jewell's 10-tackle game against Illinois. "At that position, we’ve had some really good mike linebackers. He’s really following that path. I tell you, he’s really a great football player."
The Butkus Award selection committee is comprised of a who's-who of NFL talent evaluators, including several top scouts and veteran head coaches Bill Belichick (New England Patriots) and John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens). There are three college head coaches on the committee, too: Ferentz, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Alabama's Nick Saban.
Big Ten honors
Iowa is starting to clean up in the Big Ten's weekly honors. After getting three awards last week, the Hawkeyes got two Monday.
Running back LeShun Daniels Jr. was named co-offensive player of the week after he ran for 159 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday's 28-0 win against Illinois. And Riley McCarron was named co-special teams player of the week after his 55-yard punt return for a touchdown broke a scoreless tie in the second quarter.
A week ago, after the 14-13 upset of Michigan, Iowa's Jaleel Johnson (defense), Keith Duncan (special teams) and Manny Rugamba (co-freshman) were honored by the conference.
Iowa's depth chart Monday revealed two changes from last week's in advance of Friday's regular-season finale against No. 15 Nebraska (2:30 p.m., ABC).
Junior strong safety Miles Taylor is back on the two-deep after missing the Illinois game, although he is now listed as sharing the starting role with fifth-year senior Anthony Gair. Ferentz said Taylor was cleared Friday, but didn't play against the Illini because he hadn't practiced.
On the offensive line, right tackle Ike Boettger wasn't listed. He didn't travel to Illinois after suffering a lower-leg injury in the fourth quarter against Michigan. Levi Paulsen is listed as the No. 1 right guard, where he started for the first time in Champaign, and Sean Welsh is the No. 1 right tackle. Ferentz indicated he didn't think Boettger or Cole Croston, who combined to start Iowa's first 10 games at right tackle, would be back this week.
Cornerback Greg Mabin (lower-leg fracture) is out until the bowl game. Ferentz didn't rule out tight end George Kittle for the Nebraska game, but the fifth-year senior isn't listed on this week's depth chart.
Ferentz meets the Iowa media at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday.
Nebraska QB injuries
It sounds like Tommy Armstrong could return against Iowa, but if he plays the senior quarterback's mobility may be limited with a hamstring injury that kept him out of Saturday's 28-7 win against Maryland.
Backup Ryker Fife, who started against Maryland, had surgery to repair a broken left (non-throwing) wrist Sunday. He also should be available but limited. Clearly, the 9-2 Cornhuskers are less than 100 percent at quarterback.
"We have a good feeling that Tommy is going to be able to do something. We have a good feeling that Ryker is going to be able to do something," Nebraska coach Mike Riley said before Monday night's practice. "We’re going to have to assess tonight, get the offense installed, let both of them take some turns. ... This will be the biggest juggling act we have to start a week."